Netflix hopes to spark buzz at TIFF with big stars, major awards hype

Netflix hopes to spark buzz at TIFF with big stars, major awards hype

Eight Netflix films will screen at TIFF in the coming days, marking the largest number of movies the company has ever brought to the festival.

While Netflix has successfully reshaped how we watch TV series, its foray into film hasn’t achieved anywhere near the same level of water-cooler chatter.

But that may change this week as the streaming giant heads to the Toronto International Film Festival with a heavy slate of movies that could bolster its reputation with cinephiles, appeal to mainstream audiences and grab some Oscar buzz along the way.

Eight Netflix films will screen at TIFF in the coming days, marking the largest number of movies the company has ever brought to the festival.

Its lineup includes historical epic “Outlaw King,” starring Chris Pine, which becomes the first-ever movie from a streaming giant to open an international film festival with its debut Thursday.

After that, Netflix showcases world premieres of the thriller “Hold the Dark” as well as a Quincy Jones documentary and the mid-life crisis drama “The Land of Steady Habits.” But it’s “Roma,” a new black-and-white film by “Gravity” director Alfonso Cuaron, that’s riding high on accolades from a debut at the Venice Film Festival last month. Critics predict it’ll be a contender at the next Academy Awards.

All that positive attention bodes well for Netflix if the company wants to strengthen its image as a home to prestige films, and not a factory that’s pushing mediocre movies into the marketplace, said Hannah Woodhead, a U.K.-based film critic.

“Netflix is trying to demonstrate to all the naysayers that they’re a viable studio and not just any streaming service,” said Woodhead, who writes for the Little White Lies film site.

“It almost seems like a public relations offensive.”

But Netflix’s track record hasn’t exactly helped its regard in some corners of the film community.

Unlike other streaming giants like Amazon, the company has notoriously shunned a theatrical release for most of its films, agreeing only to the smallest rollouts in order to qualify certain movies for the Oscars.

It was enough to push organizers at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival to effectively boot Netflix from its red carpet premieres last May. A new rule banned any films from competing for the festival’s most prestigious prize if they weren’t playing in France’s theatres.

The decision singled out Netflix and led the company to walk away from the Cannes festival.

Netflix isn’t hitting it out of the park in Hollywood either.

Even though it’s thrown significant money behind award campaigns for movies such as “Mudbound” and “Beasts of No Nation,” the company has failed to capture any trophies in a major Oscar category. Will Smith’s big-budgeted “Bright” didn’t impress critics and quickly vanished from the conversation.

Related: TIFF stresses ‘zero tolerance’ policy, plans women’s rally in #MeToo era

Instead, Netflix has seen a number of its most buzzworthy titles in lighter fare, like the holiday romance “A Christmas Prince” and teen comedies “The Kissing Booth” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.”

Dozens of other films, some which were hot off film festival buzz, have fallen off the radar within days of appearing on the streaming platform. Netflix doesn’t provide viewership figures, which makes it impossible to accurately gauge how many people watch their films.

Those detractions haven’t necessarily hurt Netflix’s position with filmmakers who sometimes just want to get their dream project off the ground. Many boast about their creative freedom under the streaming giant’s roof — but the sentiment isn’t always positive.

The Netflix brand took another knock this summer when the filmmakers behind “Crazy Rich Asians” acknowledged they turned down a steep offer from the company in favour of a traditional Hollywood distributor who promised a full theatrical release and the promotional thrust that comes with it.

Jason Gorber, a film critic based in Toronto, doesn’t think experiences like the one with ”Crazy Rich Asians” will threaten Netflix’s posture because it was such an anomaly in the film market.

Most small or mid-sized movies are lucky to see any sort of major release without getting trampled by blockbusters, he said. He considers Netflix’s relationship with organizers at TIFF as mutually beneficial to both of their interests.

“The festival is providing the showcase, glitz and the glamour for a bunch of films that probably wouldn’t have done spectacularly well theatrically anyway,” Gorber argues.

“Each gets their chance to be a theatrical experience, the attention that comes with it and then Netflix gets the advertising.”

Rounding out the eight films Netflix plans to screen at TIFF this year are movies that might’ve never seen a theatrical release anyway.

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s “The Kindergarten Teacher” is a challenging drama that was warmly received at other festivals but lacks real commercial prospects, while “22 July” follows the story behind Norway’s deadliest terrorist attack, and “Girl” chronicles a young ballerina considering gender reassignment surgery.

Gorber believes movies like these, which don’t have major box-office prospects, have a chance to thrive on streaming services where they can be discovered over time. He said if Netflix continues to invest in a diverse lineup of commercial and riskier projects, he’s prepared to call himself a supporter.

“I think it’s spectacular the films they put their money behind,” he said.

David Friend, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The COVID-19 pandemic had an effect on film production on central and north Vancouver Island, says Vancouver Island North Film Commission. Pictured here, production of TV series Resident Alien in Ladysmith earlier this year. (Black Press file)
Film commissioner says COVID-19 cost central Island $6 million in economic activity

Jurassic World: Dominion, Chesapeake Shores among productions halted due to pandemic, says INFilm

Chelsey Moore’s character Chloe in the upcoming virtual reality game Altdeus: Beyond Chronos. Screengrab
Vancouver Island actress finds success in a virtual world

Black Creek’s Chelsey Moore lends her voice to a new video game set for release in December

Ceramic artist Darrel Hancock working on a clay jug in his home studio in Qualicum Beach. (Submitted photo)
Qualicum Beach potter Darrel Hancock celebrates 40 years in business

‘It’s wonderful to do what you love and make a living at it’

Artist Daniel Cline discusses his sculpture, Harmony Humpbacks, during the June 20 walking tour of Oak Bay’s 2019 ArtsAlive sculptures. Harmony Humpbacks was purchased by Oak Bay as the 2019 people’s choice winner and is permanently installed at the Beach Drive entrance to Willows Park. (Kevin Murdoch Photo)
Influx of donated art a ‘fantastic problem to have,’ says Oak Bay mayor

Oak Bay goes from zero to 10 permanent art pieces since 2015

Stephen Laidlaw, prepator with Nanaimo Art Gallery, hangs a photograph of Anna Wong, a B.C. print maker whose works are on display at the gallery. The exhibit opens Friday, Dec. 4, and runs until Feb. 7. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo Art Gallery exhibit explores life work of overlooked B.C. printmaker

‘Anna Wong: Traveller on Two Roads’ features more than 70 art works and personal belongings

Nanaimo rappers Konfidential and Teus released their first joint album, <em>The Invasion</em>. (Photo courtesy Raymond Knight)
Nanaimo rappers Konfidential and Teus release first joint album

Duo plan elaborate live-streamed CD release for ‘The Invasion’

Next month Nanaimo musician Spencer Hiemstra releases his solo debut album, ‘Wildlife.’ (Photo submitted)
Nanaimo musician Spencer Hiemstra releases solo debut album

New record ‘Wildlife’ about taking chances and going through changes

Dover Bay Secondary School student Victoria Hathfield’s poem <em>Dear Santa</em> appears in<em> Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas is in the Air</em>. (Photo courtesy Darren Lee)
Nanaimo high schooler has first poem published in ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’

Victoria Hathfield’s ‘Dear Santa’ appears in new Christmas-themed edition of anthology series

Nanaimo graphic designer Amy Pye has written and illustrated her first children’s book, <em>G is for Grizzly Bear: A Canadian Alphabet</em>. (Photo courtesy Amy Pye)
Nanaimo graphic designer releases first children’s book

Amy Pye teaches the Canadian alphabet in ‘G is for Grizzly Bear’

The Vancouver Island Symphony’s Back Row Brass Quintet – including trumpeter Mark D’Angelo, tuba player Nick Atkinson and French horn player Karen Hough (from left) – were scheduled to tour the Nanaimo area with Christmas Under the Big Tent, but the concert series has now been cancelled. (Photo courtesy HA Photography)
Symphony brass quintet’s Christmas concert series cancelled

Performances were to happen at venues in Parksville and Lantzville next month

The Sheringham Point Lighthouse, near Shirley. (Contributed - Lee-Ann Ruttan)
New book shines a light on Sheringham Point Lighthouse

Publication examines history, lightkeepers, and volunteer society

Victoria-based guitarist Eric Harper performs at the Port Theatre on Nov. 27. (Photo credit Tatum Duryba)
Classical guitarist to play at the Port Theatre

Eric Harper to play new songs composed during the pandemic

Most Read