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Toronto opts for informal commerce

To market or not to market. That is the question that plagues the Toronto International Film Festival.

Despite an opening day registration of some 1,200 industry buyers and sellers through its Sales Office, the fest – which runs Sept. 7-17 – has been steadfast about keeping a distance between the art and commerce of movies.

‘There are a lot of reasons why Toronto shouldn’t have a market,” says fest director Piers Handling. “But chiefly we want to control the 225 films that are screened. If you create an official market, there will be stands where cassettes will be screened and participants will set up private screenings of other product. It would take away from the heart of the event.”

Presently the Sales/Industry Office is housed in the Sutton Place’s former dining room. It had been operating in prior years in a smaller hotel suite. A market would necessitate a physical move, likely to another hotel or convention site.

But the current strain on organizers from industry attendees is palpable. Christine Yankou, director of the operation, notes that by opening day they had registered as many people as had signed up for the entire run of last year’s event. For the moment, they’ve simply stopped accrediting new people.

“It’s impossible to be precise, but it looks like we’re attracting more people from outside North America,” Yankou says. “The other area where we can see real growth is in talent. More people involved with a film that’s screening are coming up.”

So, Toronto operates as an “informal” market with the Office acting as a facilitator between buyers and sellers. However, the staff does more than just set up meetings and distribute information: There’s a lot of handholding activities that span everything from lining up tickets for sold out performances to suggesting day care services.

“You can sense the pressure in the Sales Office ” a longtime fest attendee observes. “When it was smaller a few years ago this type of ad-hoc set-up was kind of refreshing. It’s now grown to a point where you simply don’t have the luxury to be casual. Success has kind of undone it.”

More to the point, the fest is servicing industry visitors without appropriate financial compensation from the sector. Handling admits that the value to the industry is far greater than registration fees can cover. He says that because the festival has shied away from setting up a formal market, it’s also failed to capitalize on a method to be reimbursed from individuals and production entities.

But that’s changing. This year, the European Film Distribution Office has organized a pan- European initiative to rep 45 films playing at the fest and set up a stand in the Sales Office. Handling says that it hopes it’s a trial balloon for other like co-ventures.

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