With some films, even the studios are reluctant to use the word “premiere,” because in many cases they are contractually bound to bring in the film’s talent. They’ve found a way around that by labeling some screenings as a “work-in-progress.”
SXSW had the world premiere of “The Lookout.” But “Knocked Up” was termed a “special screening” despite it being essentially a premiere — and one where major press (including this publication) filed their reviews.
Some distribs don’t want to blow their audience on a festival screening, especially when the film is months away from opening. Sony Classics picked up “I Served the King of England” and yanked the film from Denver fest. “We had already started when they pulled it,” said Denver’s Britta Erickson. “The seats were already sold, so we had to give out free tickets to closing night and refunds to others.”
For the big fests, booking premieres isn’t an issue. Mostly they’re found through their own R&D departments, and not open submissions.
“The number of unsolicited projects that we show in a given year can be counted on one hand,” says Toronto CEO Piers Handling, whose 15 globe-trekking programmers are assisted by a larger number of pre-screeners.
Years after Robert Redford famously called the competing Slamdance fest “parasitic,” the midlevel fests close to Sundance feast on the scraps for their premieres. SXSW’s Matt Dentler picks roughly 60% of his titles through open submissions, and the calendar helps. “We are more interested in finding the gems,” Dentler says. “Given our time of the year — being right after Sundance — most of the good things we get are premieres.”
For the smaller fests, it’s an uphill battle, even for non-premieres. Specialty distrib utors will rarely consider these events, especially fests with no big names on their advisory board. And they won’t go near festivals in cities they have no desire to open in, unless the fest pays a fee. “Some festivals come to us and say that they should test the waters for a film,” one exec says. “Which is ridiculous. The festival aud i ence is our audience.”