Low-key Montreal nixes bells, whistles

Biz notably sluggish at film market

MONTREAL — Going into the 25th anniversary edition of the Montreal World Film Festival (Aug. 23-Sept. 3), maverick fest president Serge Losique promised there would be no special fireworks to mark the milestone — and he wasn’t kidding.

The fest was even more starved for star wattage than usual, there were no major bashes to celebrate the silver anniversary, and business was notably sluggish at the film market.

It all combined to bring even less heat to a fest whose Achilles’ heel is the fact it continues to elicit so little media attention south of the border.

One of those who made the trek to Montreal was “Amelie From Montmartre” director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who accompanied the Gallic hit for its first screening on this side of the Atlantic.

Most observers judged the official competition selection to be stronger than usual, and pics that garnered generally positive word of mouth included socially conscious opening-night film “Tar Angel” from Montreal helmer Denis Chouinard; “Baran,” Iranian director Majid Majidi’s look at Afghan refugees in Iran; and “Maya,” Digvijay Singh’s take on some horrendous Indian social practices.

Italian actress Sophia Loren dropped by to pick up a lifetime achievement award, Spanish thesp Francisco Rabal also was honored (he died suddenly on the flight back home; see obituary, page 55), Benjamin Bratt breezed in on the final weekend for the world preem of the Miramax biopic “Pinero,” and French thesp Emmanuelle Beart attended as jury president.

Few big names

But big names were so thin on the ground, it was a major blow when producer Dino De Laurentiis dropped out at the last minute as chairman of the market conference.

The top U.S. specialized film players — including Miramax and Sony Pictures Classics — all send execs to Montreal, but the Montreal market is almost never the site of major U.S. deals.

It is, on the other hand, an important pit stop for some industryites, notably the Latin Americans. Montreal has an annual program devoted to Latin American cinema, and the lack of major Hollywood product in Montreal gives the Latin Americans more room to highlight their pics.

“In Toronto, it’s so geared toward the market and dominated by the Americans,” says Donald Ranvaud from Rio-based Videofilmes. “Montreal is great for Latin American films. It’s useful, and it’s also fun.”

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