Few majors among Montreal's 307 pix

MONTREAL — Competition is slimmer this year at the Montreal World Film Festival, with the selection dipping to 19 pics from 24 last year, and with North American and big Hollywood pics keeping a low profile in the official slate.

The U.S. is repped by two pics in the competition, including opening-night film “Mansfield Park,” a Miramax production directed by Canuck helmer Patricia Rozema, based on Jane Austen’s novel.

The other U.S. entry vying for the Grand Prix of the Americas is helmer Hampton Fancher’s indie pic “The Minus Man.”

The Canadian contingent has dropped to two from four in ’98, and both are Quebec productions. “Memories Unlocked,” from veteran French-Canadian helmer Jean Beaudin, stars James Hyndman and Pascale Bussieres in a tale of a disabled painter; “Post Mortem,” from first-time feature director Louis Belanger, toplines Gabriel Arcand and Sylvie Moreau in the story of a mother who tries to cheat the system to help her 5-year-old daughter.

Fest president Serge Losique announced the lineup of the 23rd edition of the Montreal World Film Festival at a press conference Tuesday. There are 307 films from 68 countries in the event, which runs Aug. 27 to Sept. 6. The opening has been shifted from its traditional Thursday to Friday, and although the fest is shorter by one day, there are roughly the same number of screenings as usual, per fest organizers.

This year, the festival will not be using Place des Arts, which has hosted the competition screenings in the past, due to a labor dispute at the venue. Those screenings have been shifted to the Loews Cinema on Ste. Catherine Street.

Majors absent

There was a particularly strong Hollywood presence at last year’s festival, with several studio pics in non-competitive slots. But the majors are shying away from Montreal this year.

As previously announced, Universal’s “The Bone Collector” will have its world preem at the Montreal fest, but it is the only high-profile studio title on the schedule.

Miramax, however, has several high-profile specialty items on the menu, including the hot Sundance entry “Happy, Texas,” star-studded documentary “Get Bruce!” and the May-September romance “Guinevere,” toplining Sarah Polley and Stephen Rea. Fox Searchlight brings to the competition “Dreaming of Joseph Lees,” a pic set in late-’50s England from first-time British director Eric Styles.

Talent already confirmed to make the trek to Montreal are Denzel Washington and helmer Phillip Noyce for “The Bone Collector”; “Mansfield Park” director Rozema; and Gerard Depardieu and Carole Bouquet, who appear in the competition film “The Bridge” (which was co-directed by Depardieu). The festival will hold at least two tribute evenings, which will be announced in the coming days.

Official competish

Other pics in the official competition include: Italian helmer Ettore Scola’s “The Dinner,” set in a busy trattoria; “The Color of God,” the latest from Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi, who won the Grand Prix of the Americas in 1997 for “The Children of Heaven”; Mario Camus’ “The City of Marvels,” set against the backdrop of the Universal Exposition in Barcelona in 1888; and prolific Spanish helmer Carlos Saura’s “Goya in Bordeaux,” toplining Francisco Rabal.

As usual, the Hors Concours (World Greats) section contains many of the better-known pics at the event, most of which have already unspooled at other festivals. The section includes the Cannes multiprize winner “Humanity” from Bruno Dumont; Portuguese vet Manoel de Oliveira’s “The Letter”; Raoul Ruiz’s well-reviewed “Time Regained”; Bertrand Tavernier’s “It All Starts Today”; Werner Herzog’s bio of Klaus Kinski, “My Best Fiend”; Israeli director Amos Gitai’s “Kadosh”; and Australian drama “Siam Sunset.”

The all-Canuck Panorama Canada sidebar is lacking in high-profile entries this year, while the annual Latin American section features an eclectic selection of 16 features from 11 countries.

This year’s spotlight country is Ireland, with a program featuring 17 pics from Irish filmmakers.

The Montreal Intl. Film, TV and Video Market will be held concurrently with the festival and will be anchored by a two-day symposium on national and international distribution.

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