RKS Film: Are Review Embargos Self Defeating? The Early Bird Catches the Worm!

I am in the midst of reviewing some films that are showing at the 2023 Toronto Hot Docs Festival. With over 200 documentaries showing between April 27 and May 7 as a sole reviewer I hope to review 15 or so films.

Often with releases of films before their release date or very close to that release date films may be made available to film reviewers. A public relations firm, distributor, film festival management or producer will invite reviewers to receive a link or “screener” to the film. There is usually a description of the film, who the actors/producers/directors are and their previous credits. There is a trailer or “scene clips” which offer a visual summary of the film. If the reviewer is interested in reviewing a screener or link will be provided assuming there is some degree of trust or professional integrity of the reviewer.

In numerous instances there will be an embargo date for the release of the review unevenly applied to reviewers. The well known and well-read reviewing sites such as IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes or Variety somehow get to review the films prior to the secondary or tertiary levels of reviewers.

For small fry reviewers like me I am faced with an embargo date for single non-festival films that most often is the release date or a day or two prior to that date. Does this make sense that a review is permitted so close (or too close) to the release date? How can my readers decide to watch the film so close to the release date? It must be because the film producers don’t want the review to “spoil” the film prior to its release but in so doing they are limiting the extent or effect of reviews and reducing viewership, hence decreasing their revenue. Of course, major reviewers seem immune from embargo dates.

The problem is compounded for festival films. For example with over 200 films at Toronto Hot Docs showing from April 27-May 7. If all the films have embargo dates the reviewer must release reviews in a short period of time during festival dates. This places a hardship on smaller reviewers forced to release review postings in a clump particularly if they require a regular flow of reviews for their review sites.

The problem intensifies for the reviewer who receives festival films for review very close to the screening date. The late invitation effectively cuts out many films from an in-festival review. How can a plethora of films be reviewed within days to meet embargo dates and post the review prior to the release date?

In some cases less fulsome “curtain teaser” reviews can be released earlier than full reviews.

A film review I write can take anywhere from 5-10 hours to prepare. On occasion I have to stop the film and rewind to capture important scenes or even watch the film multiple times.

In my case the eager beavers provide screeners and links weeks prior to their screening which gives me the time to watch and write the review. It is the early bird that catches the worm.

Published by Robert K Stephen (CSW)

Robert K Stephen writes about food ,drink, travel, film, and lifestyle issues. He also has published serialized novels "Life at Megacorp", "Virus # 26, "Reggie the Egyptian Rescue Dog" and "The Penniless Pensioner" Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden and the University of Toronto. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he has established this publication. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."

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