Amidst sold-out film premieres and star-studded red carpets, another side of the Toronto International Film Festival unfolded at venues like the Soho Metropolitan Hotel on Wellington Street.
“Every hotel room has a different sales representative,” said Laurie May, co-chairman of Elevation Pictures and a TIFF board member.
Behind the scenes, distributors and studios met with sales representatives and filmmakers. These meetings, as well as word from the festival, can decide when, how and sometimes if a film will one day be seen by a wider audience.
While they like high profile studio movies The Fablemans, The Woman King, and The Glass Onion: The Mystery of the Knives should all have relatively conventional premieres in the coming weeks and months, what will happen to some of the other 200-plus films on TIFF’s lineup now that the festival is over?
Some films may never find a wider audience, but others have found deals to make it to the big screen—though in many cases, when, when, and for how long are still up in the air.
Chat and hotel meetings
The audience at TIFF isn’t just cinephiles. Even at shows open to the public, deals could trickle down.
“Distributors will go to a public screening of the film,” said Geoff MacNaughton, senior director of industry and theater programming at TIFF. “[They] they leave the screening, they all gather in their little huddles and talk about if this is something they really want to apply for and pursue.”
Some films are screened exclusively for buyers and industry professionals, such as Door mouseCanadian thriller about a comic book writer working in a nightclub who investigates the disappearance of a series of young women.
“These kinds of screenings, [they’re] fun because it just makes sure everyone is paying attention,” said Todd Olsson, president of international sales for Highland Film Group, who sell Door Mouse.
A changing landscape
MacNaughton says that in the past more completed films have sought buyers at the festival.
“Now I think what the industry is doing more and more is buying content that is at an earlier stage of completion, something like a project package or script stage,” he said.
In addition to the films on the screen, TIFF provides an opportunity to meet and broker deals on projects that have not yet been created. One of the examples of this phenomenon at this year’s festival is stupid money May said a movie about the GameStop stock saga, which will star Seth Rogen, Paul Dano and Pete Davidson, has yet to be made.
According to May, Elevation investor and partner Black Bear Pictures planned to be in Soho selling international rights to the film to various distributors.
He compares financing an independent film to building an apartment.
“You pre-sell 60 percent of the apartment and then you go to the bank and borrow the remaining 40 percent, knowing that it’s a small gap that you have to cover,” she said.
It can be difficult for Canadian films at TIFF to convince distributors that they are commercially worthy of being shown to a wider Canadian audience.
According to April message from the Motion Picture Association – Canada, Canadian films accounted for only 2.6 percent of theaters in the Canadian English market last year.
“Despite the large number of Canadian productions out there, theatergoers still flock to Hollywood films,” said Tom Alexander, director of theatrical distribution for Mongrel Media.
Director Ashley McKenzie shoots the films on their native Cape Breton Island, often using up-and-coming actors and crew members who live in the community. He feels that this local approach can make it difficult to reach distributors.
McKenzie was at TIFF with Queens of the Qing Dynasty, drama about a neurodiverse teenager in a remote small town who is found unable to live on her own after attempting suicide.
He feels part of the challenge is because investors are hesitant to take risks on films with unknown actors from first-time filmmakers, but he also feels a geographic barrier to finding distribution in an industry he describes as centralized around major urban centers, especially Toronto. .
“I’m aware that many filmmakers make films in their communities like I do,” she said. “I’m hoping that there may be other options available … in viewing and distributing some of these films.”
When McKenzie headed to the festival, he was looking for a distributor for it Queens of the Qing Dynasty and has struck a deal with Toronto-based distribution company MDFF that may lead to a theatrical release in late 2022 or early 2023. It also has a pre-sale licensing deal with CBC Films that will eventually provide a landing spot for the film.
Buzz (or not)
Attention to TIFF can affect release plans for films even if distributors already have the rights, said John Bain, head of distribution at levelFILM.
“If you get particularly positive buzz, does that mean we should rush it while it might get a lot of attention?” he said.
The opposite can be true for movies that don’t command attention.
“It takes a long time to get a distribution deal unless the film gets that critical buzz from the festival,” MacNaughton said.
Some films at the festival may never see distribution, Alexander says.
“Certainly there will be a lot of movies, and very good movies. But for whatever reason, distribution companies may simply not see the potential for audiences.”
Finding a wider audience
MacNaughton says TIFF’s Film Circuit program will bring the festival’s films to more than 140 communities, relaunching this September after a multi-year hiatus.
“We work closely with community partners across Canada to ensure these films are seen not only by audiences in Toronto, but audiences across Canada,” he said.
Some of the Canadian films have domestic distribution lined up in advance, as unblocking financing may be a common requirement, although this does not guarantee a wide release.
Mongrel Media distributes i like movies about an awkward teenager working at a video store in Ontario in the early 2000s. Alexander says the company tries to release its films in theaters whenever possible.
“We see audiences coming back to theaters and we continue to play movies in theaters when possible,” he said.
But he said those releases tend to be limited and focused on major urban centers, so it may be easier to see some of these films in theaters in Vancouver than Viking, Alta.
Last year’s schedule can provide a rough guide to when Canadians might watch some of this year’s Canadian TIFF selections.
Scarboroughwhich won the 2022 Canadian Screen Award for Best Picture, was distributed by levelFILM and opened in theaters in February before hitting Crave this summer.
night raiders, the dystopian film about a mother trying to rescue her daughter from a state institution was named one of TIFF’s top ten Canadian features last year. It was released in more than It also hit Crave earlier this year and opened in 80 theaters in October 2021, a total record number for an Indigenous film.
FOLLOW| Scarborough won the 2022 Canadian Screen Award for Best Picture:
Learn to swim, which was named to TIFF’s Top Ten Canadian Feature Films at last year’s festival and opened in theaters this March. It was recently made available in the US on Netflix and is available to rent or purchase on various video-on-demand platforms in Canada.
While the film festival is important, it is one step, and not the last, in the long journey a film takes from inception to reaching a wider audience.
“Half the movies that are out there get done right. And then half of that half get into festivals, and then a quarter of that half get distribution, right?” May said.
“It’s a long journey … but when you get on that journey and the journey turns out well, it’s a beautiful thing.”
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