Misstep in Montreal

Venice, Toronto squeeze shifted Canuck fest

MONTREAL — Nearing the end of the Montreal World Film Festival’s run, it’s obvious that prexy Serge Losique’s controversial decision to change its dates has hurt the former A-list fest.

Many industryites are in Venice, which will wrap the night before Montreal’s Sunday closing celebrations. And those that were here, including the vital critics and international press corps, have decamped to the much higher-profile Toronto, which began Thursday.

The festival has little in the way of momentum. A problem for years, the lack of marquee thesps and helmers is even more marked this year, with one wag that “L.A. Law” alumnus Alan Rosenberg is the biggest U.S. star in attendance.

Antagonism between Losique and the local media has led to much less coverage of the event than ever before.

Montreal’s French-language daily La Presse, which Losique is suing after it was sharply critical of him over the past year, is devoting more space to the Venice Film Festival than its homegrown event.

“There’s no question (the date change) was an unfortunate thing,” said fest spokesman Martin Malina. “In hindsight, it was probably a bad decision. But the effects are not all that apparent. Sure, there are some press people leaving. A festival is movies showing and people going to see them. The fact the press is affected is not our primary concern.”

However, he confirmed that next year’s edition will return to its usual dates, ending Labor Day Monday (Sept. 6). This means it will not overlap with Toronto, which always starts the Thursday after Labor Day.

Although the date change has caused problems with industryites, the fest is popular with Montreal moviegoers and attendance at the cinemas is up slightly, Malina said.

Opening film “Gaz Bar Blues,” the sophomore feature from Montreal helmer Louis Belanger, has attracted the most buzz so far, earning critical raves and good audience reaction.

But there are complaints that there is little Quebec presence at this Quebec fest. “Gaz Bar Blues” is the only major made-in-Quebec French-lingo feature. Several Quebec pics bypassed Montreal to unspool at Toronto, including Canadian-French co-production “Pere et fils” and writer-helmer Robert Lepage’s latest, “The Far Side of the Moon.”

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