Montreal favors small pix

It was the year of the tribute at the 19th edition of the Montreal World Film Festival, with fest prexy Serge Losique handing special lifetime achievement Grand Prizes to a host of international actors and helmers, including Chinese director Zhang Yimou, French vet Jean-Luc Godard and Gallic star Gerard Depardieu. The public press conference featuring Depardieu drew well over 1,000 vocal fans, who turned a downtown shopping mall into a mob scene.

Brian De Palma was on hand to officially inaugurate the fest Aug. 24 and Jennifer Jason Leigh turned up to talk about her pic “Georgia,” but, as usual, the event was short on big-name Hollywood star presence. There were few studio pics in the lineup, and it seems increasingly clear that Montreal has conceded the Hollywood field to the Toronto fest and is moving in the direction of showcasing more off the beaten track film product from all corners of the globe.

But Montreal did have a strong slate of films by hot up-and-coming U.S. directors this year, notably the hip caper-gone-wrong “Things To Do in Denver When You’re Dead, ” the Bryan Singer thriller “The Usual Suspects” and Edward Burns’ Irish-American comedy “The Brothers McMullen.”

“We have good films from many countries that are not necessarily commercial,” said fest veepee David Novek.

There was more activity this year at the Montreal Intl. Film, TV and Video Market, with several hundred buyers and sellers attending. Close to 200 mostly Canadian titles screened at the market, including 150 pics not in the regular fest sked. The sexy French-lingo thriller “Black List,” one of two Canadian entries in the official competition, was the one homegrown film that generated the most interest from buyers at the market, according to market head Gilles Beriault.

“It’s not Mifed or Cannes or the AFM, but people have been coming in and doing business,” said Beriault. “I’ve tried to focus on quality European buyers and quality Asian film buyers. There was also a big delegation from Israel.”

The industry presence at the Montreal festival increased thanks to a much-expanded symposium, Multimedia 95, and the business event drew large crowds during its two-day run.

One of the highlights of the symposium was a debate pitting Euro and Canuck industry leaders against Motion Picture Association of America president Jack Valenti.

Alliance Communications topper Robert Lantos lashed out at Hollywood’s propensity for overspending and the Los Angeles-based majors’ hostility toward protective quotas in Canada and Europe.

“When it comes to motion pictures, some Hollywood studios have spent money like drunken sailors,” Lantos told a room filled mostly with sympathetic Canadian industryites. “Hollywood is engaged in an obsessive drive for market share… and the great national cinemas of countries like Italy and Britain, and the nascent cinemas, such as our own, are the roadkill casualties of this careening behemoth.”

Valenti seemed uncharacteristically subdued in his reaction to complaints from the canada and European filmmakers.

“We are in storytelling business”, said Valenti. “If you tell stories that a lot of people want to see, you’ll do well. We make 500 films a year in the U.S. and only 15% of them are any good. There is no formula.”

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