Film Festival Scramble: Telluride Loses Its Surprises as Toronto Gets Tough

The Toronto schedule reveals what will probably screen in Telluride (“The Imitation Game,” “Rosewater”) and what won’t (lots of things)

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game
"The Imitation Game"

Tuesday morning’s announcement of the first set of films for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival was more than just a blast of programming from the biggest of the fall’s film festivals. It was also a blow to the element of surprise on which the smaller Telluride Film Festival has built its reputation.

Telluride has always been an intimate, casual, carefully curated festival that attracts avid moviegoers who trust the fest’s programming decisions. They have no choice but to trust the fest, because Telluride doesn’t announce its bookings until the day before it begins.

That means festivalgoers have to buy their passes (not cheap) and make their travel arrangements (ditto) without knowing which films will be there.

Also read: Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jessica Chastain Films Headed to Toronto Film Festival

In the past, it also meant that Telluride could get around the world-premiere game played by other festivals. Since Telluride didn’t announce ahead of time, and since it held back some of its titles even after releasing the schedule, movies could book themselves into Toronto as world or North American premieres, but then play Telluride first. Everyone agreed to look the other way, honoring the convenient fiction that a Telluride premiere didn’t really count as a premiere.

But no longer. Toronto, a far bigger festival with an enormous media and industry presence, imposed a new rule this year: If a film is playing Telluride, it can’t bill itself as a world premiere or a North American premiere at Toronto, and it won’t get a coveted booking during the first four days of that festival.

The rule forced filmmakers and distributors to make a choice — but it also had the side effect of giving away some of Telluride’s secrets.

Also read: Toronto Film Festival to Studios: It’s Telluride or Us

For instance: The Telluride lineup isn’t scheduled to be announced until just before the festival begins on Aug. 29, but we already know that Jason Reitman‘s “Men, Women and Children” will not follow his “Juno,” “Up in the Air” and “Labor Day” to Telluride.

That’s because Toronto is billing the Reitman film as a world premiere — and according to a TIFF spokesperson, this year’s premiere designations do take Telluride into account.

So if a Toronto film is billed as a world premiere or a North American premiere, it can’t play Telluride. If it’s a Canadian premiere, it can.

“Men, Women and Children,” then, is out. So are Noah Baumbach‘s “While We’re Young,” James Marsh’s “The Theory of Everything,” Liv Ullman’s “Miss Julie” and Ed Zwick’s “Pawn Sacrifice,” along with 46 other films.

And the late-September New York Film Festival took David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” and Paul Thomas Anderson‘s “Inherent Vice” off the table for every other festival by landing those films’ world premieres.

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Among the 59 films announced by Toronto on Tuesday, only one gala and seven special screenings are billed as Canadian premieres — and four of those are films that played previously at the Cannes or Sundance Film Festivals: “Foxcatcher,” “Mr. Turner” and “Wild Tales” at the former, “Whiplash” at the latter.

Telluride now seems likely to book those films, and to land Jon Stewart’s directorial debut, “Rosewater,” and Morten Tyldum’s World War II drama, “The Imitation Game.” And while director Jean-Marc Vallee is Canadian, his film “Wild” is listed as coming from the USA, and is designated an “International Premiere” — meaning that it will have played in the U.S. before Toronto. That makes it a lock for Telluride.

Ramin Bahrani’s “99 Homes,” with Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon, is a possibility as well.

Also read: ‘Foxcatcher’ Review: Bennett Miller Makes Another Great Film About the American Dream

The bigger question is whether Telluride can land some major films that aren’t going to Toronto, as it did last year with “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “All Is Lost” and “Nebraska.”

Among the movies yet to be claimed by any festival are Angelina Jolie‘s “Unbroken,” Stephen Daldry’s “Trash,” Ava DuVernay’s “Selma,” J.C. Chandor’s “A Most Violent Year,” Tim Burton’s “Big Eyes,” Thomas Vinterberg’s “Far From the Madding Crowd,” David Ayers’ “Fury,” Anton Corbijn’s “Life,” Werner Herzog’s “Queen of the Desert” and Todd Haynes’ “Carol.”

The Venice Film Festival, which already opted for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Birdman” as its opening-night film, will announce the rest of its program on Thursday. New York and Toronto will add to their lineups in the coming weeks, although NYFF’s showcase slots are now filled.

And Telluride will wait for about five weeks, by which time it may not have too many secrets left.