Telluride Film Festival Won’t Back Down from ‘Sneak Preview’ Premieres

Telluride Film Festival

The Telluride Film Festival will not change its approach toward offering premieres — despite growing pushback from the organizers of the Toronto and Venice festivals.

Julie Huntsinger, Telluride’s exec director, told Variety on Wednesday, “The Telluride Film Festival has achieved its esteemed reputation with 40 years of dedication to a carefully curated program and a relaxed, no-hype environment where the filmmakers and the audience are placed first and foremost. We are committed to continue this effort in the same tradition we always have, with passion and integrity.”

Huntsinger was responding specifically to the Toronto Film Festival’s announcement that it would tighten rules for premieres during the first four days of this year’s festival — insisting that Toronto premiere titles cannot be shown first at Telluride. TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey has been spelling out the policy in meetings in Los Angeles in recent days.

“Filmmakers are going to have to make a choice,” Bailey told Variety. “This is an ongoing conversation in the festival world. We’re in a landscape of instant communication.”

Telluride, which opens a week before Toronto and runs concurrently with Venice, avoids use of the word “premiere” but showed several films last year — “12 Years a Slave,” “Gravity” and “Prisoners” — that were subsequently shown at TIFF as North American premieres.

Venice Film Festival topper Alberto Barbera disclosed last September that he was upset about Telluride stepping up the number of its world-premiere “sneak previews” and announced that for a movie to be in competition in Venice, it would have to  screen at his festival first.

Huntsinger, who did not mention the other festivals, indicated that Telluride will continue pursuing top-profile films.

“A festival’s success is determined by the artistry on the screen,” she said. “Telluride Film Festival believes the artists are deserving of any and all glory coming out of a festival – we are simply the platform used to tell their stories. We don’t believe in limiting a film’s exposure. Film festivals are all involved in the same basic endeavor — to showcase excellence in cinema both past and present. We hope the works shown in the small mountain town of Telluride will ultimately be embraced by the widest audience possible so that film may maintain its standing as an important and significant modern art form.”

TIFF’s rules require that all films playing in the first four days of the festival must be world premieres or North American premieres — with “world premiere” being the first public screening of the film anywhere in the world and “North American premiere” meaning the first public screening anywhere in Canada, the U.S. or Mexico.

Telluride has served as the launching pad for “Argo,” “The King’s Speech,” “The Descendants,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Juno,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Capote” and “The Last King of Scotland.”

Unlike the Venice and Toronto fests, however, Telluride continues to opt for a straightforward presentation without red carpets or awards competitions, and the organizers do not tout any titles as a “premiere.” It keeps the lineup under wraps until a day before the festival opens.

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  1. Very eloquently stated, Julie. As the Executive Director of Durango Film, also a Colorado film festival, I wholeheartedly agree that film festivals are involved in the same basic endeavor but our focus should be providing the platform for the artist to tell their story not beating everyone else to it. We’ve had world premieres and we’ve been forced to show sneak peeks but this year, we lost 2 local interest films and filmmakers because they had to abide by the “premiere” rules of other festivals. One of the filmmakers promised another Colorado festival a “Colorado” premiere even though I saw their film at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival just a few months before! I believe that this type of ruling and attitudes will only hurt filmmakers who rely on the festival circuit. Films don’t get distribution because they premiered at TIFF or Sundance, they get distribution because of the quality and marketability of their art. I’ve been attending Sundance since 1994 and I have seen a lot of changes over the years. When I saw the short film “Spider” at Sundance after I saw it at AFI, I was happy it was experiencing a long life in the festival circuit…as it should! Festivals that insist on world premieres may eventually eat up the smaller regional festivals in towns and cities that depend on the economic impact of the festival and limits the reach that many independent filmmakers rely on. When Oscar® nominees are announced, does anyone really care about where the film premiered? No, the focus is on the film, as it should be. Julie, your response is spot on!

  2. Paul Sev says:

    Advertising a surprise screening is creating a hype environment; and there is no integrity in underhandedness, and theft. If only Telluride had its own uniqueness and vision.

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