Toronto Film Festival shows Netflix some love
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Toronto Film Festival shows Netflix some love

In March of this year, the world’s most famous film festival, Cannes, snubbed streaming video on demand (SVOD) market leader Netflix. The festival effectively banned Netflix from its competition by requiring all films eligible for awards had to be released in local theatres. Netflix, of course, insists on making its films available online at the same time as in theatres – meaning the release is not exclusive. The world’s second most-famous film festival has taken a different tack.

graph 1009 torontofilmfestival

Piers Handling, who will step down as director and CEO of the Toronto Film Festival after this year, has picked a Netflix film to kick off the event (a biopic of Scottish national hero Robert the Bruce, who fought against the English in the first war of independence). This is an explicit acceptance of Netflix’s role in the modern movie industry. While SVOD may be responsible for outcompeting theatres, there is no doubt that the company, which has committed to an annual content spend of $8 billion, is too big to ignore.

Handling said: “We pursue talent as opposed to studios. We’re not looking for a Disney film or a Paramount film or a Warner Bros. film. If it happens to be from that studio, that’s great.”

It’s the latest development in a series of moves that make Netflix a more prestigious choice for serious filmmakers. Earlier this year, the company won its first Oscar, after it allowed theatres to show its films – but allowing them to show films first is a step too far for the streaming giant, which is eager to maintain its loyalty to subscribers.

The old guard is not a fan of Handling’s choice. In a statement, Europe’s International Confederation of Art Cinemas said: “A prestigious film festival allowing in its official selection lineup titles that will not be seen on the big screen internationally encourages practices that endanger an important sector of the film industry.” Handling disagrees, and says his decision reflects important new opportunities for directors, which are gaining traction.

Frederico Jusid, who has worked with Amazon Studios in a musical capacity, commented: “I’d much rather have options and a more stimulating film menu on video-on-demand than being forced to watch the latest blockbuster movie.” Increasingly, it looks like the market agrees with him.


Dominion holds Netflix and Amazon in its Global Trends Ecommerce Fund.

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