How TIFF business affects when the rest of Canada can see the films

Amid sold-out movie premieres and star-studded red carpets, there was another side to the Toronto International Film Festival taking place at places like the Soho Metropolitan Hotel on Wellington Street.

“Each hotel room has a different sales agent,” said Laurie May, Elevation Pictures Co-Chair and TIFF Board Member.

Behind the scenes, distributors and studios met with sellers and filmmakers. These encounters, along with festival buzz, can determine when, how and sometimes if a film can ever be seen by a wider audience.

While high-profile studio films like The Fablemans, The Woman King, and Glass onion: a mystery at loggerheads should all have fairly conventional releases in the weeks and months to come, what will happen to some of the more than 200 other films in TIFF’s lineup now that the festival is over?

Some films may never find a wider audience, but others have found offers to land on the big screen – although in many cases where, when and for how long are still up in the air.

Hotel Huddles and Meetings

It’s not just moviegoers in the TIFF audience. Even at screenings that are open to the public, offers could seep in.

“Distributors will go to a public screening of the film,” said Geoff MacNaughton, senior director of industry and theater programming at TIFF. “[They] will leave this screening, everyone will meet in their small groups and discuss if this is something they really want to bid on and pursue.”

Some films are screened exclusively for buyers and industry professionals, such as Mouse Holdera Canadian thriller about a comic book writer working in a nightclub who investigates the disappearances of several young women.

Canadian thriller Door Mouse has selected potential buyers and industry professionals through TIFF’s Industry Selects program. (Highland Film Group)

“These kind of projections, [they’re] fun because it just makes sure everyone pays attention,” said Todd Olsson, president of international sales at Highland Film Group, which sells Gate Mouse.

changing landscape

MacNaughton says that in the past there were more completed films looking for buyers at the festival.

“Now I think what the industry is doing more and more of is buying content that’s at an early stage of completion, kind of like a project package or a script stage,” he said. -he declares.

In addition to films on screen, TIFF offers the industry the opportunity to meet and negotiate deals for projects that have not yet been made. An example of this phenomenon at this year’s festival is stupid money, May Said, a yet-to-be-released GameStop stock saga movie that will star Seth Rogen, Paul Dano and Pete Davidson.

Laurie May is co-founder and co-president of Elevation Pictures. (Elevation pictures)

According to May, Elevation’s investor and partner, Black Bear Pictures, planned to be in Soho to sell the film’s international rights to various distributors.

She compares financing independent films to building a condominium.

“You sell 60% of the condo, then you go to the bank and borrow the other 40% knowing that it’s a small gap you need to cover,” she said.

WATCH | The female king premiered at TIFF and is now playing across Canada:

The Woman King wowed at TIFF, now open across Canada

The Woman King stars Viola Davis as Nanisca, a military general of the Agojie – the famous all-female warrior group tasked with protecting the kingdom of Dahomey in West Africa in the 19th century.

Cancon Challenges

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 an April report According to the Motion Picture Association – Canada, Canadian films accounted for only 2.6% of theatrical revenues in the Canadian English-language market last year.

“Despite the large number of Canadian productions that exist, theatrical audiences still flock to Hollywood films,” said Tom Alexander, director of theatrical distribution for Mongrel Media.

Director Ashley McKenzie makes films in her home island of Cape Breton, often using rookie cast and crew members who live in the community. She thinks this local approach can make it harder to appeal to distributors.

McKenzie was at TIFF with Qing Dynasty Queens, a drama about a neurodiverse teenage girl in a remote small town who was deemed unfit to live on her own after attempting suicide.

She thinks part of the challenge is because investors are reluctant to take risks on films with unknown actors from emerging filmmakers, but she also thinks there’s a geographic barrier to distribution in an industry that she describes as centralized around major urban centers, especially Toronto. .

A young man and a woman are seated across from each other at a table.
Ashley McKenzie’s Queens of the Qing Dynasty was filmed in Cape Breton. McKenzie thinks distribution can prove a particularly difficult challenge for filmmakers working in small communities with local, often less experienced, cast and crew members. (Courtesy of FIN – AIFF)

“I know a lot of filmmakers make movies in their communities like me,” she said. “Hopefully there may be other options available…for some of these films to be seen and distributed.”

Prior to the festival, McKenzie was looking for a distributor to Qing dynasty queens and has struck a deal with Toronto-based distribution company MDFF, which could 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)

The attention at TIFF may affect film release schedules, even if distributors already have the rights, said John Bain, head of distribution at levelFILM.

“If you’re getting particularly positive buzz, does that mean we should air it when it might get a lot of attention?” he said.

The reverse may be true for films that do not command attention.

“It takes a long time for a distribution deal to be done if a movie doesn’t get that critical festival buzz,” MacNaughton said.

Geoff Macnaughton is the Senior Director of Industry and Theater Programming at TIFF. (George Pimentel/TIFF)

Some films from the festival may never be released, says Alexander.

“Certainly, a lot of films and very good films will be released. But for whatever reason, the distribution companies may simply not be able to see the audience potential.”

Find a wider audience

MacNaughton says TIFF’s Film Circuit program will bring festival films to more than 140 communities, starting again in September after a years-long hiatus.

“We work closely with community partners across Canada to ensure that not only audiences in Toronto see these films, but audiences across Canada see them,” he said.

Some of the Canadian films have national distribution planned in advance, as this can be a common condition for unlocking funding, although it does not guarantee wide release.

Mongrel Media distributes I like movies, about a grumpy teenager working in a video store in the early 2000s in Ontario. Alexander says the company seeks to release its films theatrically whenever possible.

“We’re seeing audiences coming back to theaters and we’re continuing to play movies in theaters when we can,” he said.

However, he said these 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.

Past examples

Last year’s broadcast may provide a rough indication of when Canadians will be able to watch some of this year’s TIFF Canadian selections.

Scarboroughwhich won the 2022 Canadian Screens Award for Best Picture, was distributed by levelFILM and hit theaters in February, before heading to Crave last summer.

night raiders, a dystopian film about a mother trying to save her daughter from a state-run institution was named one of TIFF’s top ten Canadian feature films last year. It was released in more than It also made its way to Crave earlier this year and opened in 80 theaters in October 2021, a record total for an Indigenous film.

WATCH | Scarbarough won the 2022 Canadian Screen Award for Best Picture:

Learn to swim, which was on TIFF’s Top Ten Canadian Feature Films list at last year’s festival and hit theaters last March. It was recently made available in the United States on Netflix and is available to rent or purchase on various video-on-demand platforms in Canada.

While important, the film festival is just one step, not the last, on the long journey a film takes from its inception to reach a wider audience.

“Half the movies that come out are well made. And then half of that half goes into festivals, then a quarter of that half gets distributed, right?” said May.

“It’s a long road…but when you go down this road and this road works well, it’s a beautiful thing.”

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