Magazine article Variety

Colliding Festivals and the Battle for Hot Filmsq

Magazine article Variety

Colliding Festivals and the Battle for Hot Filmsq

Article excerpt

THE SCHEDULING CRUNCH of three prominent film festivals - Venice, Toronto, Telluride - in the first half of September has traditionally led to battles for big-name movies. But could a new spirit of cooperation, or at least a truce, be in the offing? Alberto Barbera, artistic director of the Venice Film Festival, which begins Aug. 31, hopes so. Three years ago, Barbera was caught in the crossfire of an escalating conflict between Toronto and Telluride, and risked being edged out altogether by their no-holds-barred fight for world premieres of American films.

Since then, the climate has cooled, and Venice appears safe in its position as an awards-season springboard; in fact, the last two Oscar best-picture winners - "Birdman" and "Spotlight" - launched from the Lido.

After Venice wraps Sept. 10, Barbera hopes to sit down with Piers Handling, CEO of the Toronto Intl. Film Festival, to make a plea for continued cooperation. "Christ, let's stop competing uselessly. It just complicates our existence!" Barbera says. "Let's make an agreement to exchange information, to tell each other what the movies are [that we both want]. If we can work together on promoting certain titles, it's best for both of us."

Whether Handling will agree is unclear; a TIFF rep had no comment. But unprecedented promotional cooperation between Venice and Toronto is already evident. Sony Pictures this year placed Antoine Fuqua's remake of the classic Western "The Magnificent Seven" as the opener in Toronto and the closer in Venice - a feat that has never before been accomplished.

Barbera says he was initially "a bit perplexed" by the proposal from Sony publicity strategist Susan Van Der Werff. "But then I thought that Sony absolutely wanted to do Toronto, for obvious American-market reasons, and I said, 'Why not, if you guarantee that you will bring Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt to Venice?' It's good for the movie, it's good for us, and it serves the purpose of alleviating tensions with Toronto."

Both Van Der Werff and Sony executive VP of marketing, Sal Ladestro, who negotiated with Barbera over another hotly anticipated release, Denis Villeneuve's sci-fi pic "Arrival" - which will world-premiere in Venice and then segue to Toronto - declined to comment, suggesting that the rivalry remains a sensitive issue. …

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