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“TIFF Is On”, CEO Says; Fest Hopes For SAG-AFTRA Clearance Of Stars In Indie Pics – Deadline

Tiff is on,” beamed the Toronto International Film Festival CEO Cameron Bailey to Deadline, “Our dates are the same, the films are coming.”

With a dual strike by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA gripping Hollywood, grey clouds and paranoia from awards strategists have wondered how the fall film festival troika of TIFF, Telluride and Venice will be rocked. Word is despite an opening of Luca Guadagnino’s Zendaya R-rated romance, Challengers, on the Lido, that Venice will be booking more foreign titles.

Bailey calmly tells us that TIFF’s upcoming line-up of 200+ features, which will outstrip last year’s total when the first phase of programming is unveiled next week, a lineup that’s comprised of the fest’s standard 70% international films and 30% Hollywood/awards season films.

In sum, the major studios aren’t curbing their awards season contenders. Already playing the fest is Oscar winner Taika Waititi’s soccer comedy, Next Goal Wins.

Not only are the Hollywood pics on tap, but the red carpets aren’t getting rolled up, plus King Street is getting closed down. During the first in-person TIFF 2021 post Covid shutdown, the festival kept the trolleys running on King Street, which typically closes for the first four days of the festival. Already, advance festival passes are outpacing last year’s, that TIFF edition attracting 400K attendees.

Festival publicists have told Deadline that if the SAG-AFTRA strike lasts more than four weeks, it will impact stars showing up at the fall fests.

But there’s hope — and it’s in those starry independent acquisition titles that SAG-AFTRA could deem as not being struck-worthy since they’re not from AMPTP companies.

“We have a bumper crop of sales titles, coming to the festival as independent films with A list actors on screen,” says Bailey about that supply from the talent agencies. And it’s more than last year per the TIFF boss; one of the bigger fest pick-ups being a package, not a programmed film: Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers which Focus Features snapped up for $30M as Deadline first told you. Focus is planning on giving that movie an October theatrical release.

As Deadline has heard, so has Bailey, and that is if SAG-AFTRA deems these acquisition titles as non-struck worthy, stars could be cleared to promote such movies at festivals. It would just take one star to step out and make others feel comfortable that it’s OK to support their indie, non-major studio work.

“There are some films that are not from the companies that are being struck by SAG-AFTRA. What’s their reality? It depends on each film and each actor,” Bailey tells Deadline.

“Every member of SAG-AFTRA will make their own decisions on this even if an interim agreement is in place,” he adds, “We’re just working that through with all the filmmakers and directors of the films, and the actors.”

“For many people, it’s all new territory. There are some things that are very clear and there’s a bunch of gray areas, people need to navigate.”

“We’re anticipating an opportunity for actors in independent films to be able to present their work, but it’s really a choice actors will make that we’re just trying to understand more about right now,” the TIFF CEO continues.

In another pivot this year, there aren’t any film press conferences. Bailey says that wasn’t a foresight on TIFF’s part due to the SAG-AFTRA strike, rather feature press conferences often conflict with the busy screening schedule for journalists. While Cannes has press conferences for their competition titles and prolific out of competition big fare, TIFF always had a handful of curated press conferences. This year they’re putting the brakes on them. The festival’s awards gala is also on right now despite the SAG-AFTRA strike. Expect directors onstage and international talent who aren’t impacted by Hollywood union labor restrictions.

In the meantime says Bailey, “We have to prepare for the possibility that the strike will extend into the fall.”

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