“Fall festivals are screwed.”
It was a studio executive’s stark assessment of the impact an actors’ strike would have on the rapidly approaching Telluride, Toronto and New York film festivals. Presenting Oscar contenders at these annual events is going to be a lot tougher now that SAG-AFTRA has joined the WGA on the picket lines.
“You can’t make movies anywhere without your stars,” the exec said. “No stars, no movie.”
And SAG-AFTRA has made it clear that its members should not do any promotional activity around their films until a new contract is finalized and ratified. So that means the red carpets that turn these festivals into massive media events will be a lot less celebrity-studded. So why would studios shell out hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars to launch a movie at one of these gatherings?
The first is the Venice Film Festival, which runs from August 30 to September 9. Films such as Michael Mann’s ‘Ferrari’ starring Adam Driver and Yorgos Lanthimos’ ‘Poor Things’ are set to premiere at the rally, though it’s unclear if the studios behind those films will go ahead with them. plans if a strike is still in progress.
The Telluride Film Festival is scheduled to begin its 50th edition on August 31 and last until Labor Day. The Colorado festival has traditionally only announced its lineup the day before its launch, but it usually features most of the major award contenders. Again today, press credentials were sent to the media present.
Of all the upcoming festivals, Telluride is perhaps the least affected by the SAG and WGA strikes. This is because there are no lavish press conferences and rehearsals outside of the various venues around town. You could, in theory, find an A-list star walking around town and attending one of the selected films, as long as they’re not technically promoting it. However, under SAG-AFTRA rules shared on a call with publicists earlier this week, studios can’t foot the bill to send them to the pricey film festival, and actors can’t attend sponsored parties. by the studio. Of course, the actor couldn’t present or participate in any of the Q&As or receive one of the three festival tributes he gives each year. Traditionally, the festival has favored filmmakers over stars for their winners. Directors Sarah Polley (“Women Talking”) and Mark Cousins, along with actress Cate Blanchett (“TÁR”), paid tribute in 2022.
“Telluride will be virtually unaffected,” said a studio executive Variety. “I can’t say the same for others.”
One group of talent that won’t be affected is the filmmakers themselves. That’s because the Directors Guild of America has already secured a new contract, but will Mann and Lanthimos get enough attention to garner the attention these films need to break into the cultural conversation? Internally, studio executives are considering delaying the release of some high-profile films, saying they need acting talent to generate excitement.
As for the Toronto International Film Festival, it’s a bespoke launch pad for mainstream and award-winning titles such as Taika Waititi’s upcoming sports film ‘Next Goal Wins’ starring Michael Fassbender. TIFF will likely be the most impacted if an agreement is not reached with both guilds. Without stars, sponsored photo and video studios will disappear and media presence will dwindle considerably.
An awards and publicity strategist said studios are already considering pulling their films from TIFF if a deal isn’t struck quickly, saying, “Why would they spend all that money sending directors and producers to those expensive places? It’s not worth it to them.
They are not alone in this feeling. Several sources in different studios also indicate Variety the ability to shoot raw is not off the table. Directors and producers could find out the hard way how “unrecognized” they really are in the eyes of consumers.
Led by TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey, the Canadian international festival has been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. After canceling in 2020 along with every other festival, 2021 was muted with very few movie stars, and 2022 saw a slight uptick but also faced the Primetime Emmys in its first weekend (which is would happen again this year).
TIFF has a proven track record of spotlighting films that dominate awards season, such as ‘Nomadland’ and ‘Green Book’, but that probably won’t be enough to convince studios to pay for a splashy premiere in the biggest city in Canada.
And suppose a strike continues to drag on later in the fall. In this case, the likes of the New York Film Festival, which heralded Todd Haynes’ “May December” as its opener, and regional festivals that have become integral parts of the awards machine, such as Middleburg, Mill Valley and SCAD, can all have trouble finding movies to fill their screens.
A lingering question is for non-English language titles from international territories, whose cast and writers may not have guild affiliation but already have distribution in the United States. How would the striking industry view those brought to the region by the studios? Would guilds feel slighted? A publicist shares, “If the major publications are still around and A-listers like Leonardo DiCaprio aren’t out to suck all the oxygen, maybe they can have a bigger breakthrough or launch.”
We remain in limbo.