The Toronto International Film Festival is backing down from its feud with Telluride, though it's not entirely willing to concede defeat.
On Wednesday, TIFF revealed that it will once again allow movies that have previously screened at the Telluride Film Festival to run during the Toronto festival's coveted opening weekend, when media coverage and distributor interest is at its peak. That reverses a controversial 2014 policy aimed at blunting the emerging influence of Telluride, a comparatively small, insider-centric confab held in the Rockies that was starting to steal TIFF's thunder, sneaking in premieres of such hyped films as 12 Years a Slave and Gravity days before they were scheduled to make their world or North American premieres in Toronto.
According to a statement released by TIFF on Wednesday, "when we put this policy in place, our goal was to provide clarity pertaining to premiere status for the filmmakers, the public, the media and the industry. After the festival concluded we reached out to a number of key stakeholders that were impacted by the policy and solicited their advice. Based on that feedback, we have made some minor adjustments to the policy to ensure that Toronto continues to do what is best for the filmmaker and the film while at the same time providing Toronto audiences with a fantastic festival experience."
While the move appears to ease tensions between the festivals, TIFF has also added a new wrinkle: Any films scheduled to play the festival's first four days that aren't true world or North American premieres (basically, films that play Telluride) are barred from the festival's glitziest venues: Roy Thomson Hall, Princess of Wales and the Visa Screening Room at the Elgin Theatre.
On the face of it, the shift can be viewed as a humble admission of defeat for TIFF. Last year, the festival witnessed the Oscar-winning Birdman play Telluride but skip Toronto, while such highly touted films as Wild, The Imitation Game and Foxcatcher were shunted to the back half of TIFF thanks to their Telluride screenings. It was clear the festival's edict was not working, upsetting both fans and industry insiders (Tom Bernard, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, slammed the approach as "imperialistic.")
Yet by restricting access to its top theatres, TIFF is still not willing to let the fight die. Although the festival emphasizes the new policy "does not affect the selection of titles, only the scheduling of them," TIFF is still sending a warning to studios thinking of sneaking in their Oscar contenders elsewhere. After all, a red carpet premiere at the luxurious Elgin is a far more attractive prospect than a screening at the overcrowded Scotiabank multiplex – no matter what day in the week it happens.