TORONTO: The red carpet has been rolled out for the 39th Toronto International Film Festival, which opens Thursday amid criticism over new rules meant to cement the event’s reputation as an Oscar kingmaker.
The legal drama “The Judge” — starring Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr. as father and son — will kick off North America’s largest film festival, which runs through September 14.
Over the next four days, organizers will for the first time showcase only world premieres, including from directors Noah Baumbach, Susanne Bier, Frangois Ozon, Lone Scherfig and Chris Rock.
The new policy was put in place as festivals compete to land more buzz-creating film debuts, explained the Toronto event’s co-director Piers Handling.
“There’s a lot more focus on film festivals and a lot more prominence,” Handling said.
”It doesn’t affect the selection of the films at all — it only affects the scheduling.”
Critics however accuse Toronto organizers of using their considerable clout to lure high-profile films, to the detriment of smaller events like the Telluride festival in the US state of Colorado.
Actors are usually contractually obligated to show up for premieres — with top names drawing big media and critical attention. It could thus be devastating for other festivals if stars decide to only attend the Toronto fest.
Distributors have also expressed fears that the new rules could result in less critical attention to their films.
Organizers in Toronto say there is a need to clarify what actually counts as a world premiere, after complaints in past years that some films had first screened at the Venice or Telluride film festivals, which overlap with the Canada event.
At stake are bragging rights for showcasing films that go on to win awards, especially the coveted Oscars.
Several films that were said to have premiered in Toronto in recent years went on to win a best picture Oscar, including “12 Years a Slave,” “Argo,” “The Artist,” “The King’s Speech,” and “Slumdog Millionaire.”
But those films had all first quietly screened to film industry crowds at Telluride.