On Thursday, the Telluride Film Festival kicked off their 33rd addition by announcing, as is the custom, this year's line-up on the day that most visitors were starting to arrive in the mountain resort town.
In addition to the roster of high profile Oscar bait films like Todd Field's Little Children (which David Poland has annointed as the Best American Film of 2006 - to date),
Stephen Frears' The Queen & Alejandro Inarritu's Babel - a trio of documentaries made the Telluride list this year - Asger Leth's Ghosts of Cite Soleil, David Leaf and John Scheinfeld's The U.S. vs. John Lennon and Louise Osmond and Jerry Rothwell's Deep Water.
Ghosts, which has its official world premiere in Toronto this Saturday - more on that in a moment - is the story of the violent last months of the regime of Haiti's Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Wyclef Jean of the Fugees is one of the composers and is also featured in the film. So far, the reviews seem to be very positive and I'm looking forward to seeing it in Toronto.
As I noted a couple of weeks ago, the new John Lennon documentary played Oscar qualifying runs in several U.S. cities in August, and now it's screening in Telluride, but will have its North American premiere - again, I'll get to this - in Toronto, also this Saturday. The film recently had its world premiere (after paying customers were able to see the films in theatres in the U.S.) in Venice. David Hudson at GreenCine has the early response - including an early rave from the Hollywood Reporter's Martin Grove which forecasts a possible Oscar nod.
Now, as I mentioned above, this seems to be high season for the annual "you say premiere, I say preview" shell game. It seems that nothing actually screens at Telluride - even though anyone can attend and members of the press and distribution companies are out in force. It's treated as if it's a press screening, I suppose, or even a cast and crew screening that happens to be open to the public and followed by a press conference.
These are the types of things that I can never explain to my mother in Illinois.
"What do you mean it's the premiere? I thought it already played."
"Well, yes, mom, but that didn't count."
"Well, because, see, it's... Hm."
"I don't understand."
"Neither do I."
It's not just the docs either. Little Children, Kevin MacDonald's The King of Scotland, Babel and Almodovar's Volver are all scheduled for their North American premieres at Toronto, following their screenings at Telluride this weekend. And Steven Shainberg's Diane Arbus bio Fur will have its world premiere next month at the inaugural Roma Cinemafest. It played yesterday in Colorado.
So why do it? What's with the crazy word games?
For one thing, members of the press seem to like it. They can catch the big movies at Telluride and focus on the undiscovered jewels to be unearthed in Toronto.
It seems to work for the distributors. Take Picturehouse, for example. Just in case the press don't hoof it over to Rome next month to see Nicole Kidman walk down the red carpet, he's already got them seeing the film in Telluride. If there is Oscar buzz to happen, better to start it in early September than in mid-October.
It works for the festivals. Everyone gets to have the same collection of high profile films - they just tweak the language depending on what helps them sell tickets. And really, is it really a premiere if Entertainment Tonight isn't there?
And I suppose it's better - in this case - for filmmakers too. Do I really want to have every single critic skipping out on my film because they have to get a head start on their review of Todd Field's latest? Isn't it hard enough to draw attention to an independent film without having to compete with the crowd of Oscar hopefuls. (This is not to say that I have deluded myself into thinking that all of the stories coming out of Toronto will be about the doc program - unless it's a fauxcumentary about killing a world leader.)
But at some point, all the maneuvering over premieres and previews of all shapes and sizes (international, European, North American, east coast, west coast, southeast, et al) gets to be a bit maddening for us filmmakers. Without getting into specifics, one European festival wrote us to say that they were very interested in showing our film, that there was a good chance that they would program it, that if we hadn't played any other festivals in Europe there was a possibility that they would put it in competition, that if we played another European festival before their festival then we could not be in competition but it was very possible that they would still program the film.
But if it's just a preview...
Update Monday afternoon - Anne Thompson has her Telluride wrap-up posted and points to possible Oscar nods for the narrative projects, no mention of whether she took in any docs. But Variety's Todd McCarthy raves about Ghosts of Cite Soleil in his recap, saying "grabbed viewers by the throat and wouldn't let go". Both make special mention of the German film The Lives of Others, with both saying it was fest viewers' number one film of Telluride "by far". It is due to be released by Sony Pictures Classics and screens starting Thursday in Toronto.
Update Monday night - Eugene Hernandez now has his own sum-up posted at Indiewire.
Update Tuesday morning - Anne Thompson adds to her Telluride coverage with a report on her blog about Ghosts of Cite Soleil:
Among the films that lacked distribution, only thrill-seeking documentarian Asger Leth's Ghosts of Cite Soleil generated any interest from buyers. A shocking cinema verite, it follows a fearless blond French relief worker into the inner sanctum of the vicious gangs running Haiti's notorious slum, Cite de Soleil. A sizzling soundtrack by Haitian rapper Wyclef Jean should enhance its marketability.
Ghosts entered Telluride with a production deal with Sony BMG, which will likely do a theatrical run if another distrib doesn't come in. After the rapturous Telluride response, that seems unlikely.