Road to 2016: Toronto Kicks Off but How Important Is It, Really?

The Toronto International Film Festival is one of the big three festivals that typically mark the start of awards season, alongside Venice and Telluride. This year has seen a roster of films screened, with many getting significant Oscar buzz.

Toronto is generally considered the place to start an Oscar campaign, and this year is no different with many contenders including last night’s opener – Jake Gyllenhaal starrer Demolition – banking on a great reception to kick start their season. Though Demolition may not even be eligible until 2017, it nonetheless demonstrates the festival’s ‘pulling power’, attracting biggest stars in Hollywood, who use this crucial platform to do some early promo.

But how effective is Toronto, and is the conversion rate really as good as it seems?

The People’s Choice Award is not voted on by jury, but by a variation of popular vote by the festival populace. There is no official competition, which makes it the ideal springboard for Oscar contenders, who typically build their campaigns around the modest message of ‘I didn’t expect to be nominated, it’s just nice to be here, everyone else is awesome blah blah blah’. This tact is now commonplace, and with Toronto not having a jury or competition, it purports this sports day style everyone gets a pat on the back but some pats are bigger mentality.

Anyway, back to the stats. The People’s Choice Award has become synonymous with imminent Best Picture nominees. In the last seven years three films – Slumdog MillionaireThe King’s Speech and 12 Years a Slave – have gone on to win the Academy Award, and a further three have been at least nominated for Best Picture.

However, barring a small spate of correlation in the late 90s, the conversion rate from People’s Choice to Best Picture is not as great as the hype suggests. In the 31 years from 1978 – 2008 inclusive, only two PC winners have gone on to win BP – Chariots of Fire and American Beauty – with only a further five even being nominated.

Could it be, that Toronto’s influence over the Academy Awards is actually the result of more voters believing the hype about Toronto, for what is essentially a high profile, popular film festival. It seems the correlation has only increased, or existed at all, in the last few years, thus giving credence to the claims that it really matters, when actually all it suggests is when everyone tells voters to look to Toronto for BP contenders they do.

To summarise, Toronto is now a place to go to witness the birth of Oscar campaigns, but it wasn’t always the case.

This year sees many potential hopefuls screening their movie for necessary exposure in front of the Academy’s elite, but with over five months still to go until the big day, this correlation may just be more of a coincidence than a fool-proof guide.


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