Reorganized festival gets back to its global roots

By the Numbers

What: 27th Montreal World Film Festival
When: Aug. 27-Sept. 7
Total number of films: 439
No. of feature films: 224
No. of medium-length films: 21
No. of shorts: 174
Countries represented: 68
World and int’l premieres: 115
North American premieres: 58
Canadian premieres: 34
First features: 72
Web: www.ffm-montreal.org

MONTREAL — The 27th edition of the Montreal World Film Festival will have a more global perspective than before.

But the way fest president Serge Losique sees it, the changes are all about reaffirming the maverick Canuck fest’s original mandate: to showcase the best art pics from around the world.

“In reorganizing our sections according to geographical regions, we wanted to emphasize to the public and to the industry the importance we place on the international aspect of our festival and on our mission to reflect and support the cinemas of all continents,” says Losique. “We had already devoted sections to Canada, to Latin America and, most recently, to Africa. The natural evolution was to expand this concept to include all the continents.”

Getting with program

This year’s festival has built its programs around geography, with categories for Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania. The Americas section is subdivided into categories for Canada, the United States and Latin America. There also will be a section called Documentaries of the World.

The public will vote for their favorite film in each category, with the winners receiving Golden Zenith awards.

The kudos were originally meant to have cash prizes attached, but prize money became a point of controversy earlier this year when two prize winners from last year’s festival said in June that they had not been paid.

Chilean helmer Raul Ruiz had won the Glauber Rocha Prize for Latin American film for “Chilean Rhapsody” and Tunisian helmer Raja Amari for African film for “Satin Rouge.” Both prizes were to come with C$25,000 ($18,200) in cash and the fest paid them in July.

Shortly afterward, the festival announced there would be no cash prizes attached to the Golden Zeniths.

Several former fest categories have been retired, notably Cinema of Today, Cinema of Tomorrow and Films For Television, but two key Montreal sections remain basically unchanged. The main event remains the competition — now renamed the World Competition — with an international jury set to hand out a host of prizes, including the Grand Prix of the Americas for best picture. There will be a prize for best first feature film, decided by a four-person jury to be headed this year by Iranian helmer Samira Makhmalbaf.

The fest also retains the noncompeting Hors Concours section for high-profile films from established directors that have already competed at fests like Cannes and Berlin.

This year’s Montreal competition will include as opening-night selections “Gaz Bar Blues” from Montreal helmer Louis Belanger (“Post Mortem”), the story of a guy running a small gas station; Los Angeles-based Russian helmer Vladimir Alenikov’s “The Gun (from 6 to 7:30 p.m.),” which follows the life of one firearm; and “French Men,” a pic from first-time feature writer-director Marc Esposito about four middle-aged men.

Other films set to unspool in Montreal include Italian helmer Gabriele Salvatores’s Miramax release “I’m Not Scared,” Mark Rucker’s Sundance entry “Die Mommie Die,” Gus Van Sant’s controversial Palme d’Or winner “Elephant,” and Bobby Roth’s “Manhood,” which stars Nestor Carbonell, Janeane Garofalo, John Ritter, Tom Arnold, Bonnie Bedelia and Anthony LaPaglia.

The festival will also have tributes to helmer Martin Scorsese, who is currently in town shooting “The Aviator” with Leonardo DiCaprio; Swedish actor Erland Josephson; and hot Canuck producer Denise Robert (“The Barbarian Invasions”).

In recent years, the festival has become an important showcase for homegrown Quebec cinema. Guy Gagnon, president of Quebec film distributor Alliance Atlantis Vivafilm, said the Montreal fest remains a good place to promote Quebecois cinema.

“It’s a great launch pad,” said Gagnon. “Look what we did last year with (opening-night film) ‘La Turbulence des Fluides.’ It can also be good for French cinema and other European films. ‘Life Is Beautiful’ premiered there and we did huge numbers with that here in Quebec.”

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