Hollywood goes north

U.S. pix rep bigger presence at Montreal fest

MONTREAL — There will be more of an American presence than usual at this year’s Montreal World Film Festival and, for the first time in years, there will be several studio pics unspooling at the Canadian festival.

At a press conference in Montreal on Tuesday, festival president Serge Losique unveiled the entire lineup, including the 24 features from 19 countries in the official competition. The 22nd edition of the Montreal festival is set to take place Aug. 27 to Sept. 7.

Hollywood, which has kept its distance from the festival in recent times, is repped by four films. Twentieth Century Fox weighs in with helmer Kevin Sullivan’s romantic comedy “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” toplining Angela Bassett, Whoopi Goldberg and Taye Diggs; and the Fox Searchlight release “Among Giants,” a comedy about high-wire, electrical-tower painters directed by Sam Miller starring Pete Postlethwaite, Rachel Griffiths and James Thornton.

Buena Vista will be screening “Simon Birch,” writer-director Mark Steven Johnson’s loose adaptation of John Irving’s acclaimed novel “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” which stars Joseph Mazzello, Oliver Platt, David Strathairn and Ashley Judd. Warner Bros. will be coming up to Montreal with helmer Gregory Nava’s “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?,” the story of ’50s teen sensation Frankie Lymon, starring Halle Berry, Vivica Fox and legendary rocker Little Richard.

‘Southie’ to compete

The U.S. has one entry in the competition, “Southie,” an indie pic about a South Boston native’s attempt to escape his roots. It marks the directorial debut of thesp John Shea, who won the best actor award at the Montreal festival in 1984 for “Windy City.” Cast includes Boston-bred actor Donnie Wahlberg, Rose McGowan, James Cummings and Shea.

Homegrown Canadian cinema also has a higher profile at this year’s edition, with four Canuck pics in the competition, along with a Vietnamese/French/Canadian co-production.

First-time feature helmer Manon Briand’s “2 Seconds,” which is also screening at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival, is in the race for the Grand Prix of the Americas. Briand’s drama about a mountain biker in the midst of an emotional crisis stars Charlotte Laurier and Yves Pelletier. Also from Canada, there’s “Hathi,” an ambitious project from director Philippe Gautier about a young man in a village in India learning to become an elephant trainer.

Romanian-born Montreal-based helmer Shimon Dotan is competing with his latest, “You Can Thank Me Later,” a Montreal-made pic starring Ellen Burstyn, Genevieve Bujold, Amanda Plummer and Mary McDonnell.

As previously announced, Quebec auteur Robert Lepage’s “No,” a political drama set at the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka, will officially open the festival and is also in the competition. “The Eleventh Child,” from Vietnamese director Dai Sijie, is a slice of magical realism set in rural Vietnam.

Cannes films

As usual, many of the top titles at the festival are set to screen in the non-competitive Hors Concours section, which always features a number of films from the Cannes Festival. This year’s Hors Concours program includes “Eternity and a Day,” the Palme d’Or winner from Greek helmer Theo Angelopoulos, Roberto Benigni’s “Life Is Beautiful,” which won the Jury Grand Prize at Cannes in May, and “The Celebration,” the Danish pic from director Thomas Vinterberg that picked up the Jury Prize on the Croisette.

Other Cannes pics in the Montreal selection include writer-director Paul Auster’s “Lulu on the Bridge,” with Harvey Keitel, Mira Sorvino, Willem Dafoe, Vanessa Redgrave, Mandy Patinkin and Gina Gershon; French director Francois Ozon’s “Sitcom”; Nanni Moretti’s whimsical comedy “Aprile”; and Rolf de Heer’s Australian pic about a woman with cerebral palsy, “Dance Me to My Song.”

Other pics in Hors Concours include: John Dahl’s “Rounders,” a New York poker pic with Matt Damon, Edward Norton, John Turturro, Gretchen Mol and John Malkovich; Paul Schrader’s adaptation of novelist Russell Banks’ “Affliction,” toplining Nick Nolte, Sissy Spacek, James Coburn, Dafoe and Mary Beth Hurt; Ted Demme’s “Monument Avenue” (preemed at Sundance under the title “Snitch”), a Filmline production with Billy Crudup, Denis Leary, Colm Meaney and Martin Sheen; Belfast-set Irish-U.K. co-production “Titanic Town”; and scripter-turned-helmer William Nicholson’s “Firelight,” a 19th century melodrama starring Sophie Marceau and Stephen Dillane.

Sidebar events

Other sections include Cinema of Today, Cinema of Tomorrow, the 10-pic Latin American Cinema section, the nine-pic Focus on Korean Cinema, the 19-film Panorama Canada sidebar, and 15 additional productions in the Films for Television and Multimedia program.

Losique said that the festival will pay tribute to Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, with the screening of several Bergman pics, including the North American preem of his latest feature “In the Presence of a Clown.” The fest will also be organizing a tribute to French producer Anatole Dauman, who died in April.

The Montreal Intl. Film, TV and Video Market will be held during the festival, and, for the first time, the market will also set up an Intl. Market of New Technologies, to take place Aug. 31 to Sept. 3. The market will host a number of conferences, including a symposium on producing without subsidies and another on new techniques in film restoration. On Sept. 1, following the film-restoration panel, the fest will unspool a newly restored print of Canadian director Ted Kotcheff’s 1974 film “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.”

Film funding agency Telefilm Canada announced that it will be handing out a C$25,000 ($16,500) award to the best Canuck feature based on public voting. In all, 20 pics will be in the competition for the Telefilm award.

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