Veteran and emerging talents of world cinema are converging on Thursday at the 33rd Montreal World Film Festival, a revitalized event that eschews Toronto's celeb-soirees, promising easy access to 400 films (240 features) from 78 countries.
The festival's future once looked bleak, but the event has bounced back over the past few years, repositioning itself as a launching pad for new blood with its exciting First Films World Competition, keeping budget-conscious cinephiles happy with a low single ticket price ($10) and by upping free sidebar events. (Earlier this month, various Quebec government agencies sounded their approval with $720,000 of new support.) The official "European-style" World Competition, the only one of its kind in North America and still the festival's centrepiece, offers 20 world premieres including Quebec director Roger Cantin's A Cargo for Africa, about a man whose plans to return to Africa on a cargo ship are thwarted by his pet monkey and a pesky kid. The film stars beloved actor Pierre Lebeau (the hits Séraphin and the Les Boys series), whom the fest is honouring with its Grand Prize of the Americas this year.
Of the 64 first-time directing efforts, the 20 fiction features in competition span the globe and include Romania-born Alexandre Iordachescu's hotly anticipated The Childhood of Icarus. The film marks the final screen performance of the late Guillaume Depardieu (Gérard's son), who plays a young man attempting to "rewind" his life to an accident that left him disabled and bitter. Also in competition is Toronto-based Josh Koffman's debut The Jazzman, starring Michael Ironside. The story of a young drummer struggling to escape from the shadow of his musician father was inspired by the director's real-life father, celebrated Canadian jazzman Moe Koffman.
While the festival's fictional and documentary features, and shorts deliver a comprehensive picture of today's global cinema, there remains a commitment to homegrown achievement. The festival opens with Ricardo Trogi's ( Dodging the Clock) semi-autobiographical memory piece 1981, and also presents the world premiere of John N. Smith's Love and Savagery, about a geologist poet (Newfoundland-born Allan Hawco, star of the new CBC-TV series Republic of Doyle) who woos an Irish lass while visiting a small village.
While Love and Savagery is set in 1969 Ireland, and was filmed there and in Newfoundland, Smith, best known for the acclaimed and controversial docudrama The Boys of St. Vincen t, says the film's rich hues and intimate milieu come from the heart of Quebec cinema. "[Cinematographer]ierre Letarte has shot all of my films since Boys and I often use a core Quebec crew, wherever I'm shooting," Smith says. "There is a love of and dedication to filmmaking in Quebec and the standards are very high.
"What struck me about taking Quebec crews to Newfoundland is that it is an eye-opening experience for them to go a place that is as different from the rest of Canada as Quebec is from the rest of Canada." Smith adds. "It blows their minds and they love it, and Newfoundlanders love Quebeckers. There is a shared joie de vivre and a similar way of confronting things head on."
That quality informs National Matters, one of more than 40 films in the festival's strong World Documentary features program. Sure to inspire post-screening conversation, the film is a dissection of the state of Quebec's sovereignty movement, examining central questions behind Quebec's "hesitation" to become independent, featuring key interviews with active and former politicians, academics and journalists, and including footage shot during recent elections.
Rather than navel gaze, co-directors Roger Boire and Jean-Pierre Roy also examine separatist movements in Scotland (tracing the fate of the Scottish National Party during recent elections) and the autonomous region of Catalonia in Spain. Mingling discussion of language, culture, business and history, National Matters gives local interests a global spin - a perfect representation of the festival's enduring spirit.
The Montreal World Film Festival runs from Thursday to Sept. 7 at the Imperial Cinema, Le Quartier Latin and Théâtre Maisonneuve. For program descriptions, times and ticket information visit http://www.ffm-montreal.org.
Cinema Under the Stars
The festival's popular free, nightly, outdoor screening program
presents classics from European, Canadian and American cinema at Place des Arts.
National Film Board Hits
In addition to presenting five world premieres at the festival, the NFB celebrates its 70th anniversary by offering a selection of its vintage and award-winning animated shorts before each Cinema Under the Stars feature, and at the screening tent on Emery Street.
40th Canadian Student Film Festival
For a look at the next stars of domestic cinema, this annual event
presents the best in student work at the NFB Cinema (1564 St. Denis St.), Aug. 29 to Sept. 3. J.P.