Toronto and Venice: a tale of two remarkably civilised film festivals

For all the similarities between the two big autumn film festivals, their relationship remains balanced rather than competitive

The Toronto film festival opens on 8 September. The Venice film festival closes on 10 September. The three-day overlap – when press focus ping-pongs back and forth across the Atlantic – has been mirrored in the festivals' lineup announcements. As Toronto's co-director, Cameron Bailey, hit Twitter yesterday to announce the first stage of Tiff's programme, Variety leaked an unconfirmed list of Venice's world premieres. In the space of a few hours, a swath of high-profile world premieres we'd been speculating might be ready, could be featured, may be shown, were suddenly confirmed or close to confirmation (Venice officially announces on Thursday).

The proximity of the announcements makes it tempting to see this as a competition – the young fighter (Toronto, est 1976) against the veteran (Venice, in the ring since 1932). Each has some big-hitters (Besson's The Lady, Winterbottom's Trishna, Bennett Miller's Moneyball at Toronto; Clooney's Ides of March, Soderbergh's Contagion and Polanski's Carnage at Venice), but neither's going to land a body blow. Venice's closing film – Whit Stillman's Damsels in Distress (a quirky lo-fi comedy starring mumblecore graduate Greta Gerwig) – will be low on the news agenda. Toronto too has a relatively low-key opener – Davis Guggenheim's U2 documentary, From the Sky Down – when it could have stolen the show with Moneyball.

It all seems remarkably civilised. Toronto has its star vehicle (Moneyball will likely bring Brad Pitt, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jonah Hill to town), Venice has its star vehicle (Steven Soderbergh's Contagion should take Matt Damon, Kate Winslet and Gwyneth Paltrow to Italy). Toronto has its left-field oddity (Francis Ford Coppola's murder mystery, Twixt). Venice has its left-field oddity (Yorgos Lanthimos's Alps – the follow-up to the deeply weird Dogtooth). Toronto may have Clooney (he's starring in Alexander Payne's The Descendants), but Venice will also have Clooney (his fourth film as director, The Ides of March, opens the festival). It's a very civilised game of one for you, one for me, with Toronto reserving the right to label its screenings of films first played in Venice the week before (The Ides of March, Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud's Chicken with Plums, Madonna's W.E.) as "North American premieres".

The hype-festival-release cycle shrinks as our access to industry gossip grows. And as leaked production stills and cast members with itchy Twitter fingers start to steal the scoop on premieres, it can get harder for festivals to generate buzz. This season it seems like there's enough mystique surrounding the exciting films out there to allow both Toronto and Venice to play nice. Nobody's winning, bar the lucky souls who'll be on the Lido in August and the Bell Lightbox in September.

What do you think? Is one festival or the other higher on your agenda this year? Which films (from both festivals) are you most looking forward to?


Henry Barnes

The GuardianTramp

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