Quality and premiere status, key to big festivals

Jane SchoettleAccording to Toronto International Film Festival Senior Programmer Jane Schoettle, both quality and premiere status are the main factors that determine a film’s entry into the big festivals.

“The key thing is quality, and – not a lot of people say it, but it’s very true – premiere status,” Schoettle told Encore.

Schoettle believes the world of festivals can be mysterious, confusing and intimidating to emerging filmmakers, so it is important for her to demystify the process and make them understand how it works and how important it is to build a strategy around international festivals.

“Even before they start shooting they need to think about the kind of film that they have, and identify the festivals that would be best for it. Sometimes the biggest festivals are not the best place to launch a particular film; for example, there are many festivals that are better to launch a genre film,” she explained.

Toronto programmers are responsible for a number of specific territories, which allows them to know the local players, the social and filmmaking trends, and become immersed in the country’s culture.

Schoettle is in charge of Australia, New Zealand, Israel and American independent cinema. It was her who selected a record number of Australian films for last year’s edition, but there is no guarantee there will be as many in 2010 because there is no established quota for any country, and because the festival has to respond to what’s happening in the international arena.

“Each programmer has a finite number of slots. Two years ago I turned over one of my slots to a colleague because we had a very strong year out of Latin America. And last year was a very strong year for Australia, but we also did a series called City to City with a focus on Tel Aviv, so I moved many of the Israeli films that I would have absorbed into my program to that other program, which allowed me to have a significant slate from Australia,” she explained.

According to Schoettle, last year was a “perfect storm” of Australian films that combined established and emerging filmmakers. Australia also benefited from a year that was “not very strong” for American independent cinema, but the latter is “looking much better” in 2010, which might reduce the amount of Australian entries.

Working constantly with Australia, Schoettle has established relationships with key industry figures and filmmakers, but those relationships would never guarantee entry into Toronto.

“We would never get away with that and it doesn’t work over the long term. Good filmmakers sometimes make films that are not very good, and if I still show them because I have a relationship with that filmmaker, the audience, the press and my boss are all going to know that there’s been a compromise. That’s not acceptable.

“I’ve had to say ‘no’ to people that I know very well, because it’s either not their best work, or I think it’s not going to be well received. If I can’t be honest with somebody, then we have no relationship,” she said.

This attitude is essential because festivals can determine the destiny of independent films, a responsibility that Schoettle says she cannot take lightly – the power to make or break a film.

“It can keep you up at night. Toronto is known for finding films like American Beauty, Slumdog Millionaire or The Hurt Locker. We believed in them but the industry and the market didn’t know what to do with them,” explained Schoettle

As an outsider turning her attention at Australia during the year, Schoettle says she has noticed “very fresh voices” coming out of the country, “a lot of energy”

“The work is not perfect,” she admitted, “but it’s interesting; a new generation of entrepreneurial filmmakers who are just making their films.

“I like to know about a film and its story, how it was financed, but in the end, it’s absolutely about the finished product.”


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