TELLURIDE, Colo. — You can’t blame writer-director Ariel Vromen for not knowing what time it is.
Soon after the world premiere of his crime drama “The Iceman” last week at the Venice Film Festival, the filmmaker traveled for nearly 24 hours — flying from Venice to Frankfurt to Chicago to Denver to Montrose, Colo., then driving two hours on vertiginous roads — to reach the Telluride Film Festival, for another screening of his movie.
Despite a five o’clock shadow and a giddy manner attesting to his trek of 6,000 miles, the filmmaker confessed to little weariness. “I’m feeling OK,” Vromen said before the first North American screening of his film Saturday night in Telluride. “I’m ready to go.”
He needed to be: On Monday, Vromen would fly from Montrose to Los Angeles and this weekend he will jet 2,100 miles to the Toronto International Film Festival.
With so many movies competing for a shrinking audience — this summer’s U.S. movie attendance was the lowest in 19 years — filmmakers and their financiers are desperate to find any possible advantage. That has a handful of filmmakers looking to complete the trifecta of the prestigious Venice, Telluride and Toronto film festivals, as grueling as that may be.
This year, two films beside “The Iceman” are making the circuit. And even though invitations to Telluride, Venice and Toronto, which opened Thursday, can be cause for early celebration, the exultation is quickly followed by the epic logistical headaches and festival fatigue of transporting directors, actors, studio executives, publicists and physical copies of the films to three countries in the span of two weeks.
The stakes are particularly high this time of year, when scores of new movies are coming into release, vying for box-office receipts as well as attention from Oscar voters.
“Venice is a major launching pad internationally for your film, especially when it comes to Europe,” said Michael Barker of Sony Pictures Classics, who last year traveled to all three festivals in support of David Cronenberg’s movie “A Dangerous Method” and is following the same path with the farmland drama “At Any Price.” “Telluride is very important as a place where new films are discovered. It’s an audience of movie lovers. And then Toronto is very, very important to the launching of any film. Toronto covers all the bases of the media in North America.”
The three festivals, unfolding in a very small window between late August and mid-September, were never intended to share movies and talent, having launched well before such rapid globe-trotting was possible — Telluride will celebrate its 40th anniversary next year, Toronto was founded in 1976 and Venice launched in 1932. But each festival gives a film a particular advantage.
Two years ago, Darren Aronofsky’s dark ballet movie “Black Swan,” made on a small budget of $13 million and initially seen as a strange mash-up of horror flick and dance film, also hit all three festivals, setting the standard for how fruitful the triple play can be. “Black Swan” went on to gross more than $329 million at the global box office, and Natalie Portman took home the lead actress Oscar.
“It worked perfectly,” said Brian Oliver, a producer of “Black Swan.” “But there are only a certain few films that need or want that trifecta.”
Vromen isn’t the only director going around the world in 80 hours on a three-festival bender in recent days: Filmmakers Ramin Bahrani and Sarah Polley (with a 6-month-old daughter in tow) have been following a similar passport-stamping itinerary, hoping to generate publicity, garner some positive reviews and find buyers for their new movies. (Polley has a quasi documentary called “Stories We Tell,” a complex look at her family history, while Bahrani’s “At Any Price” stars Zac Efron and Dennis Quaid.)
While “Iceman” and “At Any Price” already have distributors who will release the films in U.S. theaters, Polley’s “Stories We Tell” is looking for a buyer. That sales element can add an extra element of pressure to the whirlwind tour.
“I’ve gotten very little sleep,” Polley said in Telluride, where she walked around with her infant daughter strapped to her chest, nursing her every few hours. “But that’s par for the course in being a new mom, so it hasn’t made much of a difference.”
Polley, who directed 2006’s Oscar-nominated “Away From Her,” said travel arrangements can be anxiety-inducing. “I have a phobia of changing planes. That’s been the only difficult part. I’m always afraid I’ll never figure out how to get on the next plane and I’ll die in the airport,” she said.
Pulling off an effective festival threepeat can be especially tough when actors and others involved in the film have other commitments. Because Michael Shannon, the star of “The Iceman,” is about to star in the Broadway play “Grace,” he could attend Venice for only a few hours. Owing to rehearsals, the “Boardwalk Empire” actor skipped Telluride but will make a brief appearance on Toronto.
Work conflicts similarly kept Quaid, who is starring in the television series “Vegas,” from attending Venice with director Bahrani to tout “At Any Price,” though Efron was able to go. Quaid did make it to Colorado with Bahrani, but Efron didn’t. Both actors plan to be in Toronto.
Last year, Cronenberg journeyed from Venice to Telluride to Toronto in support of “A Dangerous Method” but wasn’t accompanied at all stops by stars Viggo Mortensen (who was doing a play in Madrid) and Keira Knightley (who was filming the upcoming “Anna Karenina”).
“It’s in the nature of things,” Cronenberg said. “Ideally you’d have everybody everywhere, but the promotion of a festival film goes on for six, seven months. You can’t have everybody all the time, it just never happens.”
Though nice for bragging rights, getting into all three festivals is no guarantee of commercial or critical success. If a title screens poorly in Venice, it can be difficult to shake off that early taint on this side of the Atlantic, especially now that buzz travels at the speed of Twitter. But if the movie is embraced in Italy — Polley’s “Stories We Tell” is the best-reviewed of the trio of three-festival titles so far — the long hours in airports and taxis can feel less agonizing.
“It’s been the most thrilling week,” Polley said between screenings in Telluride, a day before she was set to head to Toronto with her film. “I’m a little overwhelmed and shocked by the response. It’s been such a huge gift since I wasn’t expecting it.”
Vromen said his “If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium” schedule reminded him of when he was an nomadic DJ during law school playing gigs on a global circuit. He’d wake up one day in London, then go to Thailand, Canada or India. At least in his festival flights, he was flying business class. Said the director of his newest round of travels: “I think the flight attendants might remember me.”
Staff writer Rebecca Keegan contributed to this report.
©2012 Los Angeles Times