Embattled Montreal fest short on top titles

MONTREAL — The 29th edition of the embattled Montreal World Film Festival will be a scaled-down event, with 30 fewer features than last year and no high-profile pics with North American distribution.

Leading Canuck distribs — including Alliance Atlantis, Christal Films, Seville Pictures and TVA Films — are not giving the fest any new movies. However, six previously released Alliance pics will unspool for free on the street.

All four distributors have close ties to the upstart New Montreal FilmFest, a rival event that kicks off in mid-September and aims to replace the World Film Festival.

Canadian film funders Telefilm Canada and Quebec’s Sodec have withdrawn the C$1 million ($824,000) they usually give to the World Film Festival and handed it over to New Montreal.

World Film Festival prexy Serge Losique unveiled the lineup for his event, which runs Aug. 26 to Sept. 5, at a press conference in Montreal on Tuesday attended by few industryites.

As in previous recent editions, there is little A-list U.S. fare. The bulk of the programming — which includes 180 features from 70 countries — focuses on pics from lesser-known helmers and up-and-coming talent, with a smattering of titles from longtime Montreal faves Raoul Ruiz and Miguel Littin.

Fest veepee Daniele Cauchard said the event’s mandate is to boost little-known pics.

“The World Film Festival is open to the world’s cinematography,” said Cauchard. “We’re supporting the notion of cultural diversity. A festival shouldn’t be closed and only focused on a small number of filmmakers.”

The only Canadian pic in the world competition is “Kamataki,” from seasoned Montreal helmer Claude Gagnon, who won the Grand Prize of the Americas at the fest in 1987 for “The Kid Brother.”

Competition also will screen French director Christophe Otzenberger’s “Itineraires,” Russian helmer Valery Akhadov’s “Greenhouse Effect” and Australian pic “Three Dollars.”

There will be a strong Chinese presence, part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Chinese cinema. Helmer Chen Kaige will be the subject of a tribute, and the competition has two Chinese pics: Feng Xiaogang’s “A World Without Thieves” and Teng Wenji’s “Sunrise, Sunset.”

Competition lineup also includes controversial U.K. pic “Red Mercury,” helmer Roy Battersby tale about Islamic bomb-makers in London.

The out-of-competition program features some higher-profile directors, including Littin with “The Last Moon,” Ruiz with “The Lost Domain” and Marta Meszaros with “The Unburied Man.”

The controversy over “Karla” –a pic about two notorious Canadian killers that the fest programmed then nixed — continued to dog organizers. Last week, the fest axed the pic under pressure from its corporate sponsors. Tuesday, Losique refused to comment.

But under intense questioning, Cauchard admitted: “We underestimated the reaction from the public in Ontario (the province where the murders took place).”

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