Television Comes to TIFF: TV at Film Festivals and the Possibility of a TV Festival That’s Good

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This year the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) will include a block of television programming and I think that’s weird. Its TV programming, Primetime, includes screenings of Casual (USA) from Jason Reitman, CROMO (Argentina) from Lucía Puenzo and Nicolás Puenzo, Keith Richards: Under the Influence (USA) from Morgan Neville, The Returned (France) from Fabrice Gobert, Trapped (Iceland) from Baltasar Kormákur, and… Heroes Reborn (USA) from Tim Kring and company.

Ugh. UGH. I have some reservations. Enough that I took it to the group.

What do you think of TV at film festivals?

Megan Purdy: TV DOES NOT BELONG AT FILM FESTIVALS. It’s a bad idea and the people pushing for its inclusion should feel bad. TV is not film. They are different mediums and each deserves their own independent celebrations. TV can only be a sideshow at a film festival, no matter how much critical attention “prestige” TV is currently receiving, or how many filmmakers are now working in TV. No. I reject it. This shall not pass.

Claire Napier: Film festivals, as a concept, make me nervous. “Festival” is a very busy word; I feel like, if I am to attend at all, I must see ONE HUNDRED films. But as anybody who’s ever been to a sleepover knows, “watching a lot of films” takes way too long and you’re probably only going to manage two. And fall asleep during a third. Then the feeling is of failure! A TV festival would not have this effect, I think. It’s quite natural to watch a lot of television.

Wendy Browne: There’s a reason why there’s a big award event for television and a separate one for film. They are very different mediums and meant to be consumed by viewers in different ways (yes, I know you can watch movies on television, but that is not their originally intended medium). With the inclusion of these shows at TIFF–particularly Heroes Reborn–it feels less about celebrating TV than it does about promoting the hell out of the show. It’s bad enough that advertising has to poke its head into everything we watch, thanks to commercials and product placement, but now the TV shows themselves have become the product to be spammed wherever they can find an outlet.

Megan: Claire, film festivals can definitely be overwhelming. Luckily, TIFF is organized into programs that you can follow–Midnight Madness, Vanguard, Cinematheque–and you can even have the festival choose a block of screenings for you. That takes some of the pressure off.

Claire: Even watching a lot of films within a week or two, all on separate days, takes a toll. When do you find time to properly think about each one? Films are designed to be longer than television, so they’re in a higher gear; a lot of episodes of the same show played at once, even without opening/ending credits to break the flow, seems like it would take less of an emotional toll. There’s a more regular release, with an increased number of intended endings, right? Although that said, watching a lot of television all at once can sort of immunise you. It seems a good idea to, for example, watch ⅔ of Twin Peaks in two weeks. But now I can’t go back because it was like being crushed by a beautiful, horrible mountain.

Megan: Film festivals are usually too expensive to watch until the mountain comes down on you. So there’s that.

J.A. Micheline: I’ve only been to one film festival and I went by myself, which I think is kind of a weird thing to do? Although maybe it isn’t since I go to the cinema by myself semi-frequently, but I think it felt weird at the time. I think it’s cool that there’s access to so many films at so many times all at once, but it also does seem exhausting, so I definitely agree with Claire. I only went to two films on two separate days, but I can’t imagine doing a load bigger than that? I even struggle watching marathons of things I like–Lord of the Rings, for example–so I can’t imagine watching a marathon of something I wasn’t sure about. So, now I have questions about what people’s regular practices are at a film festival. A TV festival, on the other hand, sounds perfect.

Kat: I feel like it makes a film festival seem even more overwhelming–there’s already so much on the slate to consume; adding television to the mix means people will have to make even more decisions on what to see. I’m also wondering how selections would be made–would the criteria be similar? I feel like there’s not an equivalent to indie theatre yet, which would give you a pretty mainstream lineup at a festival that’s normally a mix of prestige and independent movies. Web shows might count, but I think lower production values might make it harder for them to compete.

Ardo: I love film festivals. I’ve only ever been to TIFF, which is well organized, and that’s ultimately what you want in a festival. There are film festivals with a specific focus (horror/indie etc) but what I love about TIFF is being about to see independent films–especially foreign films outside of North America. It’s a great way to broaden your viewing experience. I’ve been to one TV festival, Canadian International Film Festival, that’s normally held in November so this TV portion of TIFF makes no sense.

Would you attend an all TV festival?

Wendy: If well organized, I think a TV festival could be a lot of fun. There are so many kinds of genres in TV and then different kinds of shows within those genres and then the different fandoms for each show. It would be interesting to see all of that in one place — but I can’t even wrap my head around how that would be put together cohesively.

Megan: I think, yes, if there were TV festivals of the same calibre as our great film festivals (both the big international ones and the small, local gems), then I’d love to attend a TV festival. I’m not a con booster, so an alternative to those flea market, sweat factories sounds great.

Claire: Yes. In a hot minute. For some reason I’m picturing a Charmed festival? Why? But constant (or staggered? I am not an organiser) play of a season in a big hall, with themed sideshows out in the surrounding wings of a building, panels, guests, episode readings, cosplay, all that stuff. It would have to be heavily themed, like, not just “a festival for all TV”. That’s much too vague. But you could go with one show, or one genre, or one network, or one well-known writer, or… It would have to be longer than just one or two days, though, definitely more ~culture festival than nerd con. Otherwise you’d lose your mind.

JAM: Absolutely. No concern about exhaustion and it’s also a short enough investment where you might be more willing to give things a try. I’m imagining something more along the lines of genre, network, or well-known writer/director than a single show, since that seems super boring–and basically just having your mates over for a Netflix binge. I’ve always appreciated screenings as being parts of other cons as well. It’s a good way to decompress while still being a “part” of the con. And I’ve seen a lot of things for the first time at cons. I saw Akira for the first time at a con, I think. As well as Appleseed–and Blade, too!

Kat: Yes, but only if it was bringing something interesting to the table aside from ‘watch the premieres early.’ Like, I’d definitely be interested in a foreign television festival, or something that highlights shows that don’t have the marketing budget of something like Heroes Reborn. Web shows and independent animation and that kind of thing would bring me there a lot faster, because I want to discover something cool if I’m paying for a convention.

Ardo: Yes! I had fun last time and would do it again.

What would an awesome TV festival involve?

Wendy: Live studio audience presentations. I complained about advertising overload above, but at a TV festival, I would expect to see a lot of sponsors and think there could be some really fun events centred around them (read: I want to be fed). I’d love to see cast and fan interaction–not just in typical panel presentations, though. A little more up close and personal (but not too personal). The thing about television shows is that you often spend so much time with the shows–whether through binge watching or regular weekly watching–that the characters become like friends and family. Within reason, I’d love opportunities that expand on that by letting the viewers be part of the show, i.e. hang out on a set, make lunch with the stars of Hannibal, plan a murder with Viola Davis…

Megan: International TV. Not very much American TV. Experimental, weird, and uncomfortable TV, but without the snobbery of the “prestige” bro club. Introductions from knowledgeable programmers and Q&As after with writers and directors. Panels that dig into process, themes, trends, and the nuts and bolts of making a TV show. What I’d like in a TV festival is what I like in a film festival: a chance to see new material, to try on different glasses and see the medium in new ways, and to experience these shows with TV fans. Also, fancy food. This is important.

Claire: Fancy food is definitely important. I think also just the atmosphere, the “this is our place and we’re adults” feeling that a film festival, or even film screenings at a larger festival (like FrightFest is, I think?) allows the public to attach to film. Or Film, even. We should have that for television. It’s a huge part of our social and private lives. It shouldn’t have to feel sly, to discuss a television show as adults, and I’ve often found that it does, outside of places that are already defined as fandom or fandom-adjacent.

Megan: Yes, Claire, it would be great to have a space where TV could be appreciated with sincere passion, and not necessarily within the existing confines of “geekdom” or “nerdom.” There are show specific and genre specific conventions for that and I think they appeal only to certain types of viewers. A festival doesn’t require a performance of “fandom,” it requires interest and feeling.

JAM: It’d have to be all about environment for me. Options for people to watch silently or to watch in small discussion groups w/people who don’t mind chatting about stuff, maybe. I’d want a lot of snacks too. And great seating. Also, I think there should totally be room for the boring-American shit, but kind of as a transition and/or base for people to use to find other shows. Kind of like a, ‘oh did you like this American detective series? perhaps you should check out the Swedish detective series screening that’s taking place across the hall.’ Enough to attract casual TV watchers but also introduce them to other things.

Kat: Definitely screenings for talkers, because I am one of those people everyone hates who likes to talk through watching movies and TV and I want to find more of my people. Also, comfortable seating; I normally skip out on screenings at conventions because convention chairs are the worst. So big comfy couches. I’m not sure if I’d want to see more than one episode of a show when checking it out–some shows need to take you over that intro hurdle, so maybe some two-show screenings? I’d like some creator and actor Q&As that are meant to appeal beyond “here are cute teasers and jokes,” that go into craft, like Claire said.

Ardo: This but with more foreign TV. Fan events. Screenings. Cool panels. I want it to be anti-San Diego Comic-Con in a lot of ways. It should be an opportunity to support local talent (Canadian for me), fan favourites and also shows you wouldn’t have access to normally (like the Danish show RITA that I love so much).

Is this a weird lineup or what?

Megan: WEIRD WEIRD WEIRD. Too many American shows. I don’t approve.

Claire: Heroes Reborn is a weird reality.

JAM: Why Keith Richards? Why Heroes Reborn? Why?

Ardo: Lol Heroes Reborn and the Keith Richards ones are weird. Heroes Reborn? Really? The international shows are far more interesting although I’m not sure why CROMO is showing us the first two episodes and then episode 8 randomly. Will this just be screenings or will a panel/Q&A follow afterwards? Questions, questions…

Megan Purdy

Megan Purdy

Publisher of all this. Megan was born in Toronto. She's still there. Philosopher, space vampire, heart of a killer.