No guarantees for New Montreal FilmFest

Telefilm may not finance second edition

Telefilm Canada executive director Wayne Clarkson said Friday there is no guarantee that the troubled New Montreal FilmFest will receive financing for its second edition next year from the Canuck film funder.

The new festival was set up by Telefilm and Quebec film agency Sodec in an attempt to take the place of Serge Losique’s Montreal World Film Festival. But the first edition of the New Montreal FilmFest last month was a bust, with films playing to near-empty cinemas and fest program director Moritz de Hadeln openly warring with fest prexy Alain Simard.

“It’s premature to make a decision,” said Clarkson, in his first public pronouncement on Montreal’s bitter film festival feud since taking the top job at Telefilm last December. “They’ll have to give us performance measurements. That’s true of all film festivals. They’ll have to apply for next year.”

Clarkson spoke to journalists Friday after a speech to the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, during which he criticized certain aspects of the New Montreal FilmFest.

“The selection of films needs to be improved,” said Clarkson. “There has to be a mix of world premieres and the best films of other major film festivals.”

De Hadeln decided to focus on nabbing world preems for the festival, but he clearly had trouble snaring A-list titles, and the lackluster programming was one reason ticket sales were so poor. Clarkson also suggested the fest should have offered lower ticket prices.

But the Telefilm boss said there is no question of returning funding to Losique’s festival, which managed to stage an edition in August despite the loss of C$2 million ($1.7 million) in government funding.

“I strongly support the process and decision taken by Telefilm and Sodec to withdraw financial support from the Montreal World Film Festival,” said Clarkson. “There were legitimate concerns surrounding the governance and financial accountability of the World Film Festival. There was also concern expressed by professionals from the Quebec film industry and media regarding the drop in the national and international stature of this festival. Telefilm, as an administrator of public funds and a partner in the film industry, had an obligation to act. We couldn’t stand by and do nothing knowing the seriousness of the problems.”

Clarkson praised the city’s third international film fest, the Festival du Nouveau Cinema, currently running, and hinted that Telefilm would like to see the Nouveau fest merge with the New Montreal FilmFest. The two fests spent months negotiating a merger earlier this year, but those talks fell apart.

Clarkson said it is possible Telefilm would step in to help the New Montreal FilmFest with its deficit, a cash shortfall caused by the paltry ticket sales. Clarkson, who was head of the Toronto Intl. Film Festival in the late 1970s and early ’80s, recalled that Telefilm bailed out the Toronto event in 1979 when the fest was bankrupt.

“Montreal deserves a world-class major international film festival that’s accountable and transparent,” said Clarkson, who admitted he has no master plan as to how that goal can be achieved.

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