Toronto film festival blurs line between TV, movies

Michel Comte
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Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur poses at the Venice International Film Festival on September 2, 2015

Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur says it was once taboo for true filmmakers to consider doing a television show.

Now, with the premiere of the pilot of his first TV series "Trapped" on the big screen at the Toronto film festival that wraps up this weekend, he exults at the blurring of the line between the two.

"I think cinema and TV are friends now. When I started in cinema, they were enemies. You couldn't go to TV, or you would ruin your (film) career," Kormakur told AFP.

"I think at the end of the day it's the same thing," he said. "It's just a different length... For me, it's (all) story-telling."

Streaming content giants like Netflix -- which is making the rounds at film festivals in Europe and North America with its original movie "Beasts of No Nation" -- are changing the game.

"With Netflix and Amazon, you have two new big players in the mix who are driving demand" for more content, said Isabelle Giordano, chief executive of distributor Unifrance Films.

"It's a sign that the industry is undergoing a rapid transformation, and it's very exciting."

But high-level talent is also migrating back and forth from the big to the small screen -- something that was not done very often even a decade ago.

A-list directors like Martin Scorsese ("Boardwalk Empire) and Steven Soderbergh ("The Knick") have embraced television.

Oscar winner Halle Berry is starring on a science-fiction show on CBS. Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn and Rachel McAdams signed up for HBO's "True Detective."

On the flip side, "Mad Men" star John Slattery walked the red carpet in Toronto with McAdams to promote the film "Spotlight" about reporters who uncover a child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

It has resulted in a "cross-pollination of these two moving image cultures," said Piers Handling, the chief executive of the Toronto festival, which is the biggest in North America.

- TV in spotlight in Toronto -

This year, the festival developed a new program dedicated to television, highlighting a half dozen television shows in the inaugural line-up, including Kormakur's "Trapped."

Berlin did the same earlier this year.

"Television has entered an artistic renaissance," Toronto festival programmer Michael Lerman said.

"The strongest storytellers are masters of change, and TV offers a narrative flexibility, a platform and a luxury for filmmakers to explore ways of telling longer stories that delve deeper into their characters."

The Toronto line-up presents serial storytelling from broadcasters, streaming services and independent filmmakers from France, Iceland, Argentina and the United States.

Beyond "Trapped," it includes Jason Reitman's new comedy series "Casual" for streaming site Hulu, "Heroes" reboot "Heroes Reborn" from NBC, and episodes from season two of the hugely popular "Les Revenants" ("The Returned").

Series producer Caroline Benjo said screening television shows at film festivals is a great opportunity to win new viewers.

"Film lovers are television lovers (and vice-versa)," she told AFP.

Benjo is herself an example of the blurred lines.

She is also co-producer of the film "The Lobster," starring Farrell and Rachel Weisz, which is screening in Toronto this week after winning the Jury Prize at Cannes in May.

While the industry is adjusting to these changes, filmmakers are enduring some growing pains.

For a filmmaker used to cramming a story into 90 minutes, shooting a 10-hour-long television series can be a bit "overwhelming," Kormakur said.

"I am not trained to do that," he said, noting he recruited three other directors to work with him.

After Toronto, Kormakur says he plans to release the series in Icelandic cinemas, before it eventually hits television screens.