Pandemic Dims Excitement at Fall Film Festivals Do Fall S Big Film Festivals Still

By Whipp, Glenn | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), September 11, 2020 | Go to article overview

Pandemic Dims Excitement at Fall Film Festivals Do Fall S Big Film Festivals Still


Whipp, Glenn, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


fea_200911_film festivals

^$^Bong Joon Ho's twisty thriller "Parasite" premiered at Cannes last year, winning the Palme d'Or, before heading to the Telluride Film Festival and then Toronto, where the ticket line snaked around the Ryerson Theatre, the air thick with the smell of pot and the kind of heady anticipation that draws movie lovers to festivals.

Could "Parasite" have gone on to win the best picture Oscar without first building buzz on the festival circuit? And "Moonlight," Barry Jenkins' delicate, introspective portrait of a young Black male at three stages in his life, which built word of mouth shuttling from Telluride to Toronto to New York?

Eight months from now, when (if?) the Oscars are presented at a ceremony that has been pushed back two months by the motion picture academy because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we might have the answers to those questions.

The pandemic wiped out Cannes and Telluride this year. The Venice festival is underway with temperature checks, physical distancing, designer face masks and a reduced lineup of mostly European films. Toronto began Thursday, a mostly virtual event that includes 50 movies, down from the 333 in 2019.

"With the festivals diminished, it's going to be an odd Oscar year," says veteran awards consultant Cynthia Swartz, whose firm, Strategy PR, worked on the 2019 campaigns for "Joker," "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood" and "Little Women."

High-profile, star-driven pictures like those three titles will be absent from this year's festivals, as studios monitor the performance of Christopher Nolan's big-budget brain-teaser "Tenet," which opened in the U.S. on Friday after doing well overseas.

If moviegoers return to cinemas to see Nolan's film and if theaters open soon in Los Angeles and New York and if the pandemic eases during winter, we could see contenders like Steven Spielberg's adaptation of "West Side Story" and Denis Villeneuve's take on "Dune" open by year's end.

"Right now, it's "after 'Tenet' opens," says a longtime Oscar campaigner. "Spielberg isn't going to open unless theaters stay open and people decide it's safe to attend."

That leaves space this year for more indie films ("It's going to be an indie Oscars," predicts one consultant) - a space that Searchlight Pictures has leaped into with Chloe Zhao's drama "Nomadland," which will premiere at Venice and play at Toronto and the New York Film Festival and screen at the Rose Bowl onFriday as a Telluride From Los Angeles drive-in experience.

The movie stars two-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand as a woman traveling the country in a van along with other casualties of the 2008 recession looking for work.

Zhao has been holed up for the last month on the Disney lot finishing post-production on "Nomadland" and "The Eternals," a Marvel Studios superhero movie slated for next year. The Beijing-born filmmaker has just two other movies on her resume: indie efforts "Songs My Brothers Taught Me" and "The Rider," the latter a 2018 western drama that won the National Society of Film Critics' best picture prize.

Because she's unknown to most audiences, Searchlight decided to go big with "Nomadland," putting it at the four fall festivals and slotting it at regional and international events in coming months.

"Chloe's on the cusp," says Searchlight's executive vice president of marketing, Michelle Hooper, "and these festivals will be a good way to get her on the world's collective radar."

Conversely, everyone knows Regina King, who won an Oscar for Jenkins' "If Beale Street Could Talk" and this month might win her fourth Emmy, having been nominated for her lead turn on the HBO limited series "Watchmen."

But after several years directing episodic television, King is moving into new territory, bringing her feature directorial debut, "One Night in Miami," to Venice and Toronto.

It's a fly-on-the-wall, fictional depiction of a real event - the night Cassius Clay, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown met in a motel room after Clay (shortly before he took the name Muhammad Ali) beat Sonny Liston for the heavyweight boxing title. …

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