Why Midnight’s Children won’t open TIFF?

July 11, 2012 - All News

Number of titles announced thus far for the 37th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival: zero.
But the movie I am most eagerly awaiting, Midnight’s Children, will reach the big screen at Roy Thomson Hall as a gala presentation on Sunday, Sept. 9. Based on the celebrated Salman Rushdie novel — concerning the fate of two children born on the same day that India gets its independence from Britain — it’s the most ambitious movie so far from director Deepa Mehta, one of the most talented South Asians ever to move to Toronto.
The last time Mehta made a movie about the country where she was born and grew up, it was called Water. It had its premiere as the opening gala of TIFF in September 2005, received glowing reviews, and earned an Oscar nomination in the category of best foreign-language film.
So why, you may be wondering, would Mehta’s new epic not be TIFF’s opening night gala on Thursday, Sept. 6?
Well, that is a long and disheartening story, but the short answer is that TIFF’s opening night gala slot — once the most coveted honour of the event — has become a No Fly Zone for many producers and distributors.
It would be no surprise if Mehta, David Hamilton (her producer/husband) and Hussain Amarshi of Mongrel Media (her distributor) made it clear to TIFF that they don’t want opening night.
After decades of waving the Canadian flag on opening night, TIFF ran into a problem. Industry players who came to Toronto for TIFF from Hollywood and the rest of the world slept through too many dull openers. Many of them got into the habit of skipping opening night, which was considered a strictly Canadian chauvinist night, and checked into their hotel suites the morning after opening.
Then, with foreign buyers mostly absent, opening night became a slot to avoid for Canadian industry operators who hoped the TIFF spotlight would help them sell their movie to film distributors elsewhere in the world.
In the summer of 2009, the problem was compounded by the fact that TIFF was quietly battling Canadian distributors over such matters as who should cover their costs of participating in the festival, and how many of their titles would be in the lineup.
Cameron Bailey, the festival’s artistic director, broke with tradition by choosing a non-Canadian movie. The opening night gala that year was Creation, a rather dull British film about Charles Darwin.
In 2010, the high-buzz Canadian movie of the year was Barney’s Version. But producer Robert Lantos opted to have the world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, and to have its TIFF gala screening on the Sunday of the first weekend.
Another Canadian movie was chosen for opening night — Score: The Hockey Musical. It played well and got a lot of hoopla. But when it opened its regular theatrical run five months later, the audience stayed home.
The moral: Having a big night at TIFF does not necessarily translate into ticket sales your local cinema after festival mania subsides.
The upshot: In 2011, TIFF did not open with a Canadian movie. Instead, the opening night crowd got From the Sky Down, a rock-doc about the ups and downs of the band U2. It was watchable but hardly memorable.
And for 2012? If I were Cameron Bailey, I would focus my attention on Argo, which happens to be that rarity, a Hollywood movie with a Canadian hero. It’s the story of six Americans who escaped from Iran after others at the U.S. Embassy were taken hostage by violent revolutionaries. With major help from Canada’s ambassador, Ken Taylor, the six — disguised as filmmakers — were smuggled out of the country.
Ben Affleck is the director of the film as well as a prominent member of the cast, which also features Alan Arkin, Victor Garber, Bryan Cranston and John Goodman.
The timing would be right, since Warner Bros. has set the release date for mid-October. And what could be a smoother solution than opening TIFF with a Hollywood movie that celebrates a Canadian?
— Torstar News Service