TIFF Highlights Equality in Your Entertainment

“When no one is to blame, everyone is to blame.” – Pope Francis, “The Two Popes,” Netflix, 2019

Because of the global pandemic, we were unable to go to this year’s Venice Film Festival.

Couldn’t go in years past because we couldn’t afford it.

Nice to have a new reason.

Actually, we’ve never minded missing over the top film festivals like Venice and Cannes. But having to pass up September’s TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) hurt.

Next to Sundance, TIFF is one of the events where they really focus on new, different and great indie filmmaker projects.

Plus, it reminded us we weren’t able to visit Amsterdam and IBC.

Next year?

BAM! we’re there.

But for this year, we were more than satisfied with the virtual event because we didn’t have to fight the throngs of lookie-looks.

We were able to focus on the messages the panel/Q&A sessions that participants were sharing and their anecdotes/experiences.

We got to see great flicks without cramming into the huge Ryerson Theater with a mob of folks who weren’t there to celebrate indie’s work but to be entertained … or not.

The things you miss most are the cheers and chatter that validated your opinion…darn that was good or not!

We still haven’t decided if we like the fact that TIFF showcased what judges thought were the 50 films this year rather than the firehose of 333 last year.

The 50 were good, some great even, but the other creative teams will miss the key reason for submitting to film festivals…the event’s buzz that buyers need to reinforce their acquisition opinions/decisions.

As for the parade of Emmy/Oscar contenders and personalities, they can stay in Cannes and Venice because we feel film festivals should be reserved for indies, not studios.

Studios and networks focus on safe ideas like remakes, franchise extensions.

Heck, they probably rejected 80 percent of the story ideas that folks just “had to make,” like natural films about racial and sexual equality.

Of course, if they happen to buy one, guess who becomes the leader of the shift?

Yeah!

Different Twist – It’s surprising and understandable that something as minor as sitting astride a horse can change the vision of the rider and the perception of the viewer, but it works – beautifully.

Our first surprise was Concrete Cowboy, the story of a father trying to build a connection with his son in Philly.

We thought it was going to be a documentary based on the book about Southern California’s Compton Cowboys; but instead, it followed the father/son struggle formula but with an enlightening twist. It was about getting by in the inner city, the subtle and not so subtle challenges of being black and the understanding of just being on a horse set people on an equal footing with people they encountered.

It turns out there’s a serious lack of movies about black cowboys who did so much to open this country but were largely ignored or overlooked when the stories were told.

It always makes us wonder what else we don’t know about appreciating our diversity.

Can’t wait to see it again on one of our streaming services; and heck, who knows, maybe even in a theater … someday.  We’ll just have to see who snaps it up.

Power Evening – It’s interesting to think of four of the most visible black men in recent years together in the same evening. You can’t help but be drawn in by their views of today, tomorrow and life in general.

We’re not certain if One Night in Miami is as advertised – inspired by true events – but Regina King in her directorial debut did a fantastic job of making it feel as though it really happened or should have happened.

It’s difficult to imagine four iconic and different black men coming together – Casius Clay, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and James Brown; but seeing/hearing them share their personal experiences of black struggles was enlightening.

Ms. King struck just the right tone in showing their self-doubts and pride in heroes we never really knew.

The great thing is we’ll be able to see it again on Amazon Prime and share/better understand how much further we have to go to really be anti-racist. It’s a convincing case for an organic debate in which the stakes are personal for each of the participants and the issues no less relevant today.

While the Academy still struggles to get past its whitish male views of the world, events like TIFF give the community a great platform to prove that women are equal and often superior in telling compelling visual stories.

Fresh from its win in Venice, Chloe Zhoa’s Nomadland had its premiere at TIFF plus a Telluride drive-in premiere in LA.

It’s an intriguing and captivating look at how an older widow finds new life on the road during the Great Depression.  Frances McDormand makes you think about what happened to America, the land of promise, and how the American dream got lost.

It will be interesting to see how the film that was snapped up by Searchlight Pictures actually does in theaters in December.

Battler – Working behind and in front of the camera, Haley Barry strives to show the raw side of handling life, society and family in Bruised.

After hearing Halle Berry talk about her directorial debut with Bruised, we’re looking forward to seeing the film on Netflix.

It was interesting to hear her discuss gender parity, skills development and the potential for female creators during TIFF’s Share Her Journey.

Obviously attractive and talented, it will probably be uncomfortable to watch her struggle to succeed in something as brutal as MMA while balancing her outside chaotic life.  We’re sure we’ll enjoy her triumphs (hopefully it has a happy ending) but the idea of a woman – any woman – getting beat up isn’t our idea of fun entertainment.

The rumor is Netflix dropped $20M for the rights and that was just one of the big checks they signed at TIFF.

But since the Hastings/Sarandos team had a large number of international productions put on hold because of the pandemic, they’ve been really aggressive about grabbing original features that are already “in the can.”

Everyone In – After showing the content industry how to reach and retain viewers around the globe, every studio and content owner is suiting up for the market share battle. Few appreciate the value of listening to customers first.

And with folks like Disney+, Amazon Prime and the horde of other streamers getting beat-up by shareholders to duplicate their global reach (currently 183M plus), it’s a good thing they have one thing going for them … subscriber data.

While TIFF was different this year, it did meet its “obligation” … highlighting indies and projects that may not have been mainstream or gotten the exposure they needed to be appreciated.

Film festivals like studios, networks, content owners and distributors miss something when they get distracted by the bright lights and big names of the tentpoles.

While a budget of $10M for most indies we know is only a dream, they still create the lion’s share of good stuff that doesn’t get the marketing push and visibility to be seen and appreciated.

Time and opportunities need to be set aside for these smaller indies that either have a compelling (and well executed) story or expose/educate people that diversity and equality are important.

If you think about it; the different, even quirky, films are the reason TIFF, Telluride, Sundance, Tribeca, Berlin, Atlanta and smaller festivals around the globe exist.

For all the talent in the industry, it still boils down to being in the right place at the right time with just the right message to gain “instant” stardom/acclaim.

It’s a poorly kept secret that cinemas are having “modest” turnouts; and with second wave Covid-19 illnesses popping up around the globe, it is painfully obvious that only the brave (or foolhardy) will hesitantly put seats in seats.

We’ll Wait – Theater owners don’t want to hear it but although most folks want to go to the movies, they’re waiting until next year.

Of course, the financially starved chains insist things are good and getting better if only the studios would quit looking at viewer options.

While the CinemaSafe guidelines that theater chains all agreed to were designed to assure/reassure frequent and occasional moviegoers that it’s safe to return to their former evening out entertainment habit, it isn’t quite working.

Even with nationally recognized epidemiologists and infectious disease experts endorsing a safe, enjoyable return, it just isn’t working.

That’s because entertainment viewers have options and they’re ready, willing and able to use them.

New Normal – Now that consumers have multiple ways of seeing movies, especially tentpoles, theater owners are having to “adjust” their business model to attract content and viewers.

Seeing an opportunity (and sluggish reception), studios were finally able to revisit the time-honored theatrical exclusivity window.

Recognizing that only about 60 percent of the public went to the cinema even before the pandemic, the shortened window enables them to put “really wanna see it” content on their streaming services earlier to grow their subscription base.

Perennial box office champion Disney (a long-time champion of the traditional theatrical window) broke ranks, announcing it would bypass theaters and offer live-action Mulan to consumers in the home next month.

Nathanson said the theatrical business has been Disney’s domain for years (64 percent of all industry pre-tax earnings in 2019, according to Nathanson), and CEO Bob Chapek’s decision to alter traditional distribution models will “ripple” through the industry (including home video) for years to come. The analyst contends the country has too many movie screens operating under current market conditions.

“The number [of screens] has to fall,” he said in response to the slate of original movies moving to SVOD and other digital channels. The analyst said that trend will accelerate as studios and their media parents roll out digital distribution platforms such as HBO Max, Peacock and Disney+.

Nathanson said he believes Disney has no plans to abandon the theatrical window altogether since the studio makes money ($1.4 billion operating profit) on most of its major releases at the box office. And theatrical releases often inspire amusement park rides and consumer goods.

Options – With the global lockdown, consumers are learning that they can still enjoy great entertainment – at a pretty reasonable cost, in the comfort of their home. The trend will continue.

In some ways, the pandemic did indies a favor since the major studios were venturing out cautiously because management answers to “a higher power” – shareholders.

Hard-working, talented people aren’t burdened by this overhead.

Last year, more than 532 scripted projects were produced, broadcast or streamed in the US (5K more globally); and this year, even the reserves have been pressed into action.

Folks like Warner (HBO Max), Disney +, Paramount +, Peacock, CBS All Access, Canal, Sky, TF1, BBC, Stan, Hotstar, Foxtel, 7 Network and thousands of content owners brag about their extensive library of content even as their viewers tell them they want/expect new, unique, special content or …

Good Stuff – The pandemic has given consumers a welcome choice of content with ads or ad-free. While ad-supported content is still working to figure out the right mix/formula, it is working better and better.

The dearth of new content at theaters, networks and streamers has opened the door for indie filmmakers with micro to mid-level budget projects to explore a wide range of relationship opportunities around the globe.

Non-blockbuster projects will have increasing opportunities with the screen service providers but as TIFF and other festivals have indicated, it may not be that video story that has been gathering dust in the back of your closet.

Female cinema-goers – such as our workout friend, Sharon – are increasingly selective of the films they will pay to see.

The same is true of the person who controls the remote or web pointer.

They don’t mind a little testosterone, but they also expect ethnic and sexual parity or move on.

With the growing acceptance of AVOD services – Tubi, Pluto, Peacock, Vudu, Roku, Hulu, YouTube, Facebook Watch, Rakuten, Youku, Tencent Video, iQiyi, and other national/regional channels – there is increasing use of revenue-sharing vs. licensing.

Of course, that throws the marketing push back in the filmmakers’ lap, but no one ever said this industry was easy just fun … most of the time.

But what TIFF and the other film festivals around the globe are showing us is that diversity and parity can be interesting, fun.

What we’re proving is exactly what Pope Francis said in The Two Popes, “We need bridges, not walls.”

Looking forward to seeing more bridges at next year’s TIFF and IBC.

A lot more exciting than five nights of Emmys…

Or as climate advocate Greta Thunberg said during her TIFF discussion, this celebrity culture is really absurd!

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Andy Marken – andy@markencom.com – is an author of more than 800 articles on management, marketing, communications and industry trends in media & entertainment, as well as consumer electronics, software and applications. An internationally recognized marketing/communications consultant with a broad range of technical and industry expertise in storage, storage management and film/video production fields; he has an extended range of relationships with business, industry trade press, online media and industry analysts/consultants.