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Film Festival Wars: How Venice Is Turning Up the Heat on Telluride (EXCLUSIVE)

Forget about dirty Oscar campaigning. This year’s biggest awards season brawl is over which festival gets dibs on the next “La La Land.”

When the Venice International Film Festival unveils its roster of titles on Thursday, expect many of the English-language offerings to be scheduled early. That’s because organizers have been cracking down on a policy, which prevents movies from showing at Telluride unless they’ve opened at Venice first.

Although Venice has previously required that its world premieres are exclusive to the Lido — despite its remote location — this hasn’t always been the practice. In some instances, movies have debuted at Telluride as “sneak previews.”

But insiders say that for the 2017 festival, Venice has been trying to hold its ground, which has caused scheduling headaches for the seven or eight movies that are trying to screen at both venues.

Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera strongly denies any rivalry with Telluride, the upscale festival in a Colorado mountain resort that has gained buzz in recent years.

“I have done everything possible to arrange things in Venice so that movies can then go to Telluride,” Barbera told Variety. “It’s been a bit more complicated this year, because there are more titles that we have both selected.”

Despite those claims, sources say the mandate from Venice is causing scheduling problems all around. One such movie that’s been affected is Ai Weiwei’s documentary “Human Flow,” which had planned on doing both festivals. But it appears the situation has been resolved, after some juggling from distributor Amazon Studios.

Furthermore, at least one high-profile drama is still tentatively scheduled to show in Telluride before Venice. It’s not clear what Venice can do to stop this — short of cancelling the film’s premiere.

Call it the next wave of the fall film festival wars. Three years ago, Toronto caused a hullabaloo when it pushed back, reserving its coveted opening weekend slots for world premieres, and relegating those films that already showed in Telluride to less desirable dates later in the festival. This led to added stress on movie stars and their publicists, resulting in thousands of dollars of added expenses as producers had to pay talent expenses for several extra days, waiting for the next premiere.

Now, Venice’s stance could cause further travel complications. Since Telluride insists that someone from the movie (either the director or star) must be present to introduce the film, talent will have to fly from Venice to Telluride to Toronto to cover the trifecta of fall film festivals.

In most cases, this was the preferred route — though movies that went to Telluride first as sneak previews included “Under the Skin” in 2013 and “Anomalisa” in 2015. And Gia Coppola’s “Palo Alto” and Nicolas Saada’s “Taj Mahal” both screened at Telluride prior to arriving at Venice’s second-tier Horizons section.

The three fall film festivals traditionally kick off the fall awards season, as distributors unveil their Oscars favorites to journalists and small audiences. Last year, for example, “La La Land” premiered at all three on its way to 14 Academy Awards nominations.

But the timing of the festivals is so close that the jockeying for top titles between them has also gotten more cutthroat. This year, Venice runs from Aug. 30 through Sept. 9. Telluride goes from Sept. 1 through 4. And Toronto is last up, taking place from Sept. 7 through 17.

“Since the dates obviously overlap, it’s been a bit more complicated,” Barbera said. “But we’ve managed.”

Barbera insists he has a friendly relationship with Telluride, mentioning that he has many friends on its board of directors. “What’s the point of fueling these rumors of conflicts among festivals when this year there are plenty of movies, the quality level is high, and we are bending over backwards to allow directors and producers to go their preferred route?” Barbera said. “I resent the fact that all my efforts are seen in a narrative of vetoes, pressures, and competition which are not part of my professional and cultural baggage.”

Nick Vivarelli contributed to this report.

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