Why Alexander Payne and the Coen Brothers Are Skipping the Toronto Film Fest

"Inside Llewyn Davis," "Nebraska" and "All Is Lost" are playing festivals before and after TIFF, but bypassing what is usually a regular stop on the awards circuit

Last Updated: July 16, 2014 @ 3:30 PM

There's a stop missing on the film-festival path that leads to awards season for a few of this year's big contenders: the Toronto Intl. Film Festival.

Joel and Ethan Coen's "Inside Llewyn Davis," Alexander Payne's "Nebraska" and J.C. Chandor's "All Is Lost" all premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May and won raves. Generally, that means they'd be introduced to North American audiences with stops in Toronto and, often, at the much smaller Telluride Film Festival that immediately precedes it.

TIFFBut instead, all three films are skipping the early-September stop in Toronto. They are expected to show up in Telluride, which keeps its bookings secret until the day before it begins, and then will appear at the New York Film Festival, which takes place at the end of September.

And another group of films, including Paul Greengrass' "Captain Phillips," Spike Jonze's "Her" and Ben Stiller's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," is set to premiere in New York.

Also read: Toronto Film Festival 2013: The Complete Lineup

"I don't think any one festival can grab every film that's out there, not even Cannes or Toronto," Toronto festival director and CEO Piers Handling told TheWrap on Tuesday. "I think some films just decide on a different release strategy."

"It's a really big lineup, and we don't have room for even all the films we like," added artistic director Cameron Bailey of his festival's slate of 288 features. "There's a lot of really good work to go around, and I wouldn't want to see the same films at every festival."

Also read: 'August: Osage County,' 'Gravity,' 'Rush' Headed to Toronto Film Fest

Films occasionally play Telluride but not Toronto — last year, the most high-profile one to do so was the Saudi drama "Wadjda" — and others skip the Venice/Telluride/Toronto trifecta entirely to wait for New York.

Last year, for instance, Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" sat out the first three fests and premiered at NYFF; so did "The Social Network" three years ago.

But for awards contenders, playing Telluride and then skipping Toronto is rare — and for at least three significant films to do so in the same year is surprising.  

The King's SpeechAfter all, the last six Best Picture winners — "No Country for Old Men," "Slumdog Millionaire," "The Hurt Locker," "The King's Speech" (right), "The Artist" and "Argo" — have all screened in Toronto.

And this year's list of top awards contenders at TIFF is deep: "August: Osage County," "Gravity," "Rush," "12 Years a Slave," "The Dallas Buyers Club," "Labor Day," "Parkland," "Blue Is the Warmest Color" and many others are making the trek north of the border.

So why are key films skipping TIFF? Reps for the films wouldn't comment, and conversations with others involved in awards-season strategizing yielded a lot of "I don't knows" and a few "Are they really all skipping Toronto?"

Also read: Coen Brothers, Alexander Payne, James Gray Going to New York Film Fest

Still, some suggested that Toronto is such a huge festival, screening nearly 300 features over 11 days, that it can be hard for a film to stand out the way it can at a smaller, more tightly curated festival like Telluride or New York.

In addition, Telluride has established itself as one of the prime places to see contenders for the first time, and it draws enough awards-watchers to create an immediate buzz as effectively as Toronto.

And since Telluride doesn't announce its lineup ahead of time, everyone accepts the convenient fiction that allows a movie to debut there and still bill its New York Film Festival screening as a North American premiere – whereas a TIFF debut means a subsequent New York booking doesn't qualify as a premiere, and is therefore less attractive.

Inside Llewyn DavisCertainly, specific films have ties to one festival or another. "Inside Llewyn Davis" (left) is set in New York's Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 1960s – and the Coens are not only screening it as part of the festival, but also hosting a star-studded concert at which T-Bone Burnett, Joan Baez, Patti Smith, Marcus Mumford, Jack White, the Avett Brothers and the film's Oscar Isaac and Carey Mulligan will perform music from the movie.

Both the festival booking and the concert make perfect sense for New York.

"Nebraska" doesn't have specific thematic or geographic ties to New York – but Alexander Payne's decision to go to Telluride was expected, since his last film, "The Descendants," rode an enormous wave of goodwill out of that festival two years ago.

(The film also played Toronto, where it was well-received, if perhaps not quite as enthusiastically as it was at Telluride the previous weekend.)

"There's always a very healthy competition that goes on between festivals," said Handling on Tuesday. "And this was a year where we were trying to jostle for position, as always."

For now, unexpectedly, TIFF seems to have been jostled out of position on more films than usual – although if the six-year Toronto-to-Oscar streak continues, it could be bad news for "Llewyn Davis," "Nebraska," "All Is Lost" and "Captain Phillips," and good news for the contenders who are TIFF-bound.

And if another TIFF film wins Best Picture next March, don't look for too many hopefuls to skip Toronto in 2014.