Legally Speaking, It Depends – Film Festival Rules

Entertainment Attorney Christopher Schiller discusses the rules imposed by organizers in regards to film festival submission.


A brouhaha discussed among industry pundits was caused by the Toronto International Film Festival‘s director, Cameron Bailey’s gauntlet throw down statements a while ago. He in essence warned distributors and filmmakers that any submission to the TIFF that is not at least a North American premiere, will be sanctioned. The films won’t be shown during the prime slots of the first few days of the festival. The supposition by many is that Mr. Bailey was miffed by and was targeting the showings of TIFF touted “premieres” that had already been shown in the much smaller but maybe more prestigious Telluride Film Festival during the prior Labor Day weekend over the years. Telluride, to its credit as a long standing, boutique and unique film festival hasn’t officially commented on the issue.

The ripple effect, if any, is still to be seen but that doesn’t stop the prognosticators from speculating on how the statements and actions will change things. With the TIFF rolling out announcements of its selections for festival films from now until the actual festival, we’ll start to see who blinks. But what do all these film festival rules mean to the lowly filmmaker?

Ego plays, reactions and the filmmaker caught in the middle

It is a safe assumption to think that most successful film festivals have somewhere near the top of their management, a core of charismatic and opinionated leaders. It takes a strong character to will a film festival into existence out of nothing and keep it going against all odds. With that necessary character, often comes the unintended baggage of ego plays and power shuffling. I haven’t met a festival director or staff yet that didn’t think that their festival was better than others.

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Kim Kardashian

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