The Festival Circuit
While this might be great for the local public, what about the producers and other entertainment executives that are trying to make a living in this crazy business? Which festivals should they attend? Where can they most effectively mingle with industry movers and shakers to make, buy or sell their next movie?
First, a quick note: There is a distinction between film festivals and film markets. “Festivals are, for the most part, civic activities and cultural events. If business takes place it’s secondary,” explains Jonathan Wolf, AFMA (American Film Marketing Association) Executive Vice President and Managing Director of the Market. “We’re about the business of film rather than the art of film.” The AFM is a market, not a festival, which means the focus here is on business, not artistic merit and there is no selection process and no awards jury. Any film seeking distribution is welcome to screen here, for a price. Cannes is both a market and a festival, but in truth the important distinction among the events is the amount of clout wielded. One rule of thumb: where the buzz is the loudest the powerful will convene.
About a decade ago, Kelley first jumped on the treadmill that we’ll call the “Festival Circuit.” She would head off for weeks at a time to find films to acquire. While the important festivals were in North America and Europe, she also attended festivals as far away as Shanghai and Tokyo. Today, she could schedule a whole year of non-stop travel to different festivals around the world but there are still three events that form the festival troika: Cannes, Sundance and Toronto.
In terms of clout, Cannes is the mother of all film festivals (55 years and counting) and still rules the roost. The main attraction for some is that Cannes is truly a world film festival and, much like the French themselves, it makes a concerted effort to avoid the appearance of American influence. For Reynolds Entertainment, Cannes is a must-attend as we are both an American and European operation. Producers will go where the deals make the most sense, and because there are financial incentives (and lower costs) for film production in territories outside the U.S., we at Reynolds have to keep up with the latest opportunities to put together the most viable financing packages for our projects.
Sundance is a much smaller festival that has tried to keep its independent persona, yet there can be no doubt that the studios (personified by Miramax and the specialty divisions like Sony Classics and Fox Searchlight) have wrested control. If you’ve seen the South Park episode about a film festival taking over a town, you’ll understand why the townsfolk feel overwhelmed by a yearly invasion of cell-phone toting Hollywood execs. The big boys often snatch up the best films before the festival even starts. The business we do in Sundance is more developmental as we are looking to meet new filmmakers and establish relationships for projects down the line.
Which brings us to Toronto. The 2002 Toronto Film Festival takes place from September 4th-15th this year. Founded in 1976 as the Festival of Festivals, the annual movie fete rebranded itself back in the early ’90s and since then has been increasingly drawing international crowds and attention. Every TIFF includes hundreds of films, running the gamut from indie shorts to star-studded blockbusters, and draws talent and big names into town from Hollywood South and across the world. A recent poll in the L.A. Times ranked the TIFF as the number one film fest in the world and industry magazine Variety placed it second only to Cannes. Like other old-timers that have had festivals in their towns for many years, some Torontonians grumble that the film fest has become too industry oriented and has lost its street-level charm. Excuse me, but here’s a news flash that at least all Americans will understand – if it comes down to business and anything else more altruistic, business is going to win.
Example: Kelley and I have attended the Montreal Film Festival for a number of years. Because our hosts in Quebec, rightly or wrongly, have strived to keep the event accessible to the public and to filmmakers that aren’t necessarily making films with commercial appeal, business has dwindled dramatically. All the studio executives, producers and other deal makers wait for the TFF, which takes place a short time afterward.
Kelley and I look forward to attending some of the up-and-coming festivals, like Telluride and Berlin. However, Reynolds Entertainment must maintain a targeted approach, and that means going where the deals are. Toronto, here we come!
The Toronto Film Festival.