Two Netflix titles showing at TIFF leak on pirate websites

Benedict Cumberbatch is seen in a still handout image from the film "The Power of the Dog". The film, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch, is one of two major Netflix titles that leaked online after making their debut as part of the Toronto International Film Festival's digital at-home screenings. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-TIFF, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

TORONTO - Two of Netflix's most-prized 2021 festival movies have leaked online after debuting as part of the at-home digital offerings of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Jane Campion's drama "The Power of the Dog," starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and the Antoine Fuqua thriller "The Guilty," led by Jake Gyllenhaal, both appeared on pirate websites as of early Monday.

It was not immediately clear if TIFF showings were the source of the pirated copies or if they came from elsewhere. However, both movies premiered over the weekend as part of TIFF's hybrid festival model with screenings in theatres as well as virtually in homes across the country.

Representatives for Netflix and TIFF did not immediately respond for comment.

The leaks are a nightmare scenario for Netflix which opted to sit out most of last year's film festivals but returned in recent months with some of their buzziest upcoming movies.

Piracy can erode a film's prospects at the box office and derail some of the buzz that builds ahead of awards season for festival titles. For movies still looking for distribution, it can also affect the chances of a lucrative sale.

Many in the Hollywood film community have worried that making high-definition copies available through digital festival platforms almost guarantees those titles could show up on the black market.

But those same filmmakers and distributors have few options if they want to premiere their new films amid the COVID-19 pandemic, when many cinephiles are reluctant to gather en masse as the Delta variant spreads.

Virtual screenings at home became one solution but the model has been disliked by many major international film festivals that thrive on the mass gathering of film lovers.

Cannes, Venice, Telluride and the New York Film Festival, have all opted to hold only in-person screenings this year with COVID-19 testing and safety measures in place. Sundance introduced a virtual element last January, a practice it intends to continue next year at a hybrid edition.

Organizers at TIFF were put in a tougher spot as Toronto only emerged from one of the world's longest lockdowns over the summer, and its virtual component offered one way to ensure the festival wouldn't be cancelled if case numbers skyrocketed.

Not all filmmakers and distributors were on board with the idea. Some of the festival's biggest titles, including "Last Night in Soho" and "Dune," opted out of the digital component.

Organizers at TIFF took various measures to discourage piracy with warnings before all in-person and digital screenings that recording is strictly prohibited and violators could face legal action.

Digital screenings at home included personally identifiable watermarks that appeared at various points throughout the film.

A separate screening portal for accredited press and industry uses a different watermark system that includes each user's name and email address.

A copy of "The Power of the Dog" that spread on torrent sites did not include the opening Netflix logo, nor any visible watermarks. It was tagged as a "webscreener" by the pirates, suggesting it was pulled from an online source.

Both Netflix titles have release dates — "The Guilty" is set to debut Oct. 1 on the streaming service after a limited theatrical release while "The Power of the Dog" is also expected to hit theatres before shifting to the small screen in December.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 13, 2021.

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