‘Mansfield’ opens Montreal fest

Veterans announce production company High Five Entertainment

MONTREAL — The mood was upbeat on the first weekend of the Montreal World Film Festival, which kicked off Friday with the world preem of the Miramax/Hal Films production “Mansfield Park.”

Reaction to the first non-Canadian film from Toronto helmer Patricia Rozema was generally positive, with most noting that the upscale period piece was a near-perfect opening selection and one of the more high-profile curtain raisers in the history of the Montreal fest.

Local reviews were enthusiastic, with international critics on hand showing less ardor for this Jane Austen adaptation. As usual, the inaugural soiree was light on big-name, out-of-town guests and heavy on local film talent, including directors Francois Girard and Gilles Carle, producer Rock Demers and thesps Yves Jacques, Louise Marleau and Carole Laure.

More action

Last year’s edition of the festival was criticized for the absence of business activity, but the industry action kicked off in earnest on the first weekend of this year’s event.

Motion Picture Corp. of America has picked up world rights to the U.S. indie pic “The Learning Curve,” the directorial debut from seasoned second-unit helmer Eric Schwab. The pic, which had its world premiere at Montreal over the weekend, toplines Carmine Giovianazzo (“Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss”) and Monet Mazur (“Mystery Men”) in an adventure story about two kids who become scam artists. Schwab has worked as second-unit director on several Brian De Palma pics, notably “Mission: Impossible,” “Casualties of War” and “Snake Eyes.”

“Eric Schwab has a vision that’s so extraordinary,” said Brad Krevoy, head of Motion Picture Corp. “He has an incredible style. It’s very commercial.”

Runaway production

A twist on the runaway-production trend reared its head at the festival on Saturday. At a press conference, five Canadian-born Hollywood veterans announced that they have teamed up to create a new company, High Five Entertainment, to produce films, TV series and Internet programming in Canada. The company will likely be located in Montreal, though the choice of city will only be determined once they ink a deal with a Canuck film distrib. The founders of High Five are George Cosmatos (“Rambo: First Blood Part II”), Ted Kotcheff (“Joshua Then and Now”), James Orr (executive producer of “Father of the Bride”), Jim Cruickshank (writer of “Sister Act 2”) and talent manager Louis Massicotte.

High Five will be producing indie pics in the $10 million budget range and will be using Canuck talent on both sides of the camera.

“This will be a bridge to Hollywood (for the Canadian industry),” Orr said. “This will provide a direct link to the international marketplace. Most importantly, we’re glad to be home.”

On Sunday, the Prix Maurice Bessy was awarded to American film critic Manny Farber, who was unable to make it to the festival. The prize is handed out at Cannes and Montreal on alternate years.

“The Bone Collector,” the sole Hollywood studio entry at the festival, had its world premiere at the festival Sunday, and both Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie were due to make an appearance at the screening.

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