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TIFF unveils new policy aimed at securing ‘premiere’ film status

Sandra Bullock in a scene from "Gravity."

AP

The Toronto International Film Festival has announced a new policy it hopes will guarantee the "premiere" status of the films it screens during the all-important first four days (Thursday through Sunday) of its annual 11-day event. The policy, released Wednesday by the TIFF press office, states that, beginning with TIFF 2014, "all films playing in the first four days of the festival must be a world premiere or North American premiere." Most crucially, officially invited films that end up being publicly screened elsewhere in North America before Toronto "can be scheduled" for screening from Monday onwards after the opening weekend.

Further, the press office release says, "the festival's opening night film must be a world premiere and the closing night film must be a world or international premiere" – a world premiere being "the first public screening anywhere in the world," an international "the first public screening outside a film's home country."

Details of the policy were reportedly delivered in-person earlier this week to Hollywood studios and talent agencies by TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey.

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The move is clearly aimed at the Colorado's Telluride Film Festival, which is marking its 41st anniversary in late August this year, just before the start of TIFF 39. Relatively small, semi-exclusive, out-of-the-way, Telluride likes to call itself a "sneak-preview festival" rather than one orientated to premieres. Nevertheless, over the years, it's presented one-off screenings of movies that TIFF has advertised as being its premieres, thereby compromising the Canadian event's claims to exclusivity. Last year, for example, of the roughly 30 movies presented in Telluride's main program, at least 17 had been advertised by TIFF as premieres of one sort or another, including Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, as a world premiere, and Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity, as a North American premiere. both films had their inaugural public screenings during TIFF's opening weekend. Telluride in recent years has seen a swell of reporters and bloggers willing to pay its rather stiff fees to have first dibs in declaring, online and in print, what films are destined for fan approbation in Toronto or Oscar contention later in the year.

A request to the Telluride press office for comment was not returned Wednesday evening.

Asked if previous arrangements with studios and distributors for TIFF premieres actually involved signed agreements, a TIFF spokesperson said: "The process is being formalized and will be communicated to films submitting to the festival."

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