Premieres multiply as festivals flower

Global events cram year-end calendar

“World premiere” just doesn’t have the heft it used to.

With so many festivals crowded into the fall calendar, and new events emerging every year, the small pool of sought-after films is being siphoned in every direction. Bigger titles are increasingly doing double-, and even triple-duty, hopping from one fest to another for ever-less-meaningful “premieres.”

For example, David Cronenberg’s “Eastern Promises” has its world premiere as a gala presentation at the Toronto Film Fest. (Event runs Sept. 6-15, but the film doesn’t have a specific date yet.) It then heads to San Sebastian as the opening-night film on Sept. 20. A month later, it has another opening-night berth, at the Times BFI London Festival, on Oct. 17.

Cronenberg’s mob thriller has good reasons to be at each of those fests — the helmer is a Canuck, the pic lensed in London and it opens in Spain the day after its San Sebastian bow — but the situation underlines just how difficult it is for fests to retain any semblance of exclusivity.

The September-October calendar is bursting at the seams. International fests in London, Rome (Oct. 18-27), Antalya (Oct. 19-28) and Tokyo (Oct. 20-28) take place virtually simultaneously. Add in Haifa (Sept. 27-Oct. 4), Pusan (Oct. 4-12), Abu Dhabi (Oct. 14-19) and Sao Paolo (Oct. 19-Nov.1), as well as a host of smaller niche fests, and the sked is even more congested.

“It’s very difficult to get high-quality films, especially with Pusan and Rome around,” says Yoshi Yatabe, programming director of the Tokyo fest. “I’m still negotiating to get some films here for the competition, and will be (doing so) for all of August. If you look at Rome, which is the same week as us, it is physically impossible for a producer who has only one print to show the film in both Asia and Europe.”

Part of the problem has been the never-ending emergence of new, ambitious fests. Rome, for example, drew the ire of other fests last year in its inaugural edition, with claims of a budget in the region of $10 million and accusations of hefty sums paid to lure talent to attend. “We didn’t pay Nicole Kidman a million dollars to come last year,” says Teresa Cavina, Rome’s artistic director. “This was an urban legend, which was fun because it was an exciting story. It is true that the calendar is crowded, but there are a lot of films ready in the late summer. It is a good harvest for everybody.”

The wrangling between Rome and Venice has had a ripple effect on other Euro fests. Rome moved its dates to mid-October to distance itself further from Venice, only to find itself overlapping with London, which unspools Oct. 17-Nov. 1. While the friendly rivalry between the U.K.’s two main fests — London and Edinburgh — was confined to their requirement that both bow national preems, Rome’s insistence on European preems has seen some distribs send their films directly there.

Universal’s Cate Blanchett starrer “The Golden Age,” for example, will have its European preem at Rome despite a subject matter — it recounts Queen Elizabeth’s battles against Mary, Queen of Scots and the Spanish Armada — more seemingly suited to London.

That said, there can be advantages to sharing dates with other fests — namely sharing talent and press impact.

“We just need to make sure there’s a judicious balance in terms of which films premiere where. Rome and London are very different in composition and character, so our programs will only overlap to a limited degree — a good thing I think, as no one wants to see too much homogenization in festival programs,” says Sandra Hebron, London’s artistic director.

Turkey’s Antalya Film Fest was forced to move its market dates this year to avoid Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, which begins in mid-September. The result is that many of the Japanese execs who traveled there last year will be attending Tokyo instead. “We don’t think we will have a big presence from there,” says Antalya’s fest director Esra Even.

Festival overcrowding is, of course, nothing new — and certainly not confined to October. Organizers at Edinburgh announced Aug. 6 that the film fest would be moving from its traditional August slot to June next year in an attempt to boost its profile and move out of the shadow of the fall fest onslaught.

Not everyone sees the logjam as a bad thing.

“It’s actually proof that the concept of an international film festival is a runaway extraordinary success,” says Hannah McGill, Edinburgh’s artistic director. “At a time when people keep saying cinema is on its way out as a form, and that people are going to watch films on their mobiles, this clearly shows that people still need and want that communal experience of watching films together.”

No matter how bad the crunch, it’s better than trying to operate in a potential war zone.

Though Beirut’s Intl. Film Fest is still skedded to unspool Oct. 3-10, the fallout from months of political deadlock in Lebanon between pro- and anti-government factions has brought much of the cultural activity in the country to a standstill. “I’m preparing as if it’s going ahead, but we will make our final decision on Sept. 10,” says beleaguered fest director Colette Naufal. “There is talk of war in the country connected to the presidential elections on Sept. 25. The show must go on, but if there’s a physical war, we cannot host it. Even if we do hold the festival, at least we won’t have to spend too much on flying guests over. No one wants to come to Beirut now.”

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