Fest swaps Knightley pics

MONTREAL — The embattled New Montreal FilmFest announced Wednesday that helmer Joe Wright’s new take on the Jane Austen classic “Pride & Prejudice” will replace “Domino” as Sunday’s closing-night pic.

The fest’s statement said “Domino” was “withdrawn for technical reasons,” but earlier in the week a spokesman from New Line, “Domino’s” distrib, said the pic was being yanked because no talent was set to accompany the film to Montreal. New Line felt there was no point screening the pic in Montreal so far in advance of its commercial launch Oct. 14.

“Domino,” starring Keira Knightley, Christopher Walken and Lucy Liu, is a fictionalized biography of the late bounty hunter Domino Harvey, daughter of thesp Laurence Harvey.

“Pride & Prejudice” also toplines Knightley, alongside Matthew Macfadyen, Brenda Blethyn, Donald Sutherland and Judi Dench. A spokesman from Universal Pictures, which is distributing the Focus Features pic in Canada, said no talent will be making the trek to Montreal for the screening. The pic had its North American preem last week at the Toronto Film Festival.

The loss of “Domino” is only one of many problems facing the fledgling New Montreal FilmFest. Many of the pics have been screening in near-empty cinemas, with between 15 and 100 moviegoers at many of the showings. Higher-profile pics, such as opener “Russian Dolls,” have played to full houses, but most pics have sold badly. By Tuesday, fest organizers were in crisis mode, offering half-price tickets to students at nearby colleges and phoning hotel concierges to spread the word.

Fest president Alain Simard admitted he was disappointed by the ticket sales, grumbling that mid-September was a terrible time period for the fest. Event originally had been slated for mid-October, but was forced to move after a bitter fight with the Montreal Festival du Nouveau Cinema, an October stalwart.

Montrealers are in the midst of their second major international film festival in less than three weeks, following Serge Losique’s Montreal World Film Festival, which wrapped Sept. 5. Attendance was down at Losique’s event, but there were still about 200,000 tickets sold. Many believe Montreal moviegoers are simply suffering from festival overload.

“It’s a transition year,” said Simard. “It’s a big rehearsal, and for a big rehearsal it’s not all that bad. It’s not obvious to have screenings in the afternoon in September when students are studying and workers are working.”

New Montreal FilmFest program director Moritz de Hadeln blamed the lack of public support on the poor promotional work done by Simard’s L’Equipe Spectra, the company running the film festival. He made it clear he would have done things differently — if he were president.

“It is much more complicated because of my contract,” de Hadeln said. “It is limiting me to being program director, which doesn’t give me the possibility to act as I like.”

“I have the impression that I will remain a foreigner in this whole organization,” he added. “I’m kept in my corner when they could’ve benefited from my experience if they’d asked. But they think they know better. I’m a professional film festival director and they’re professional event managers with little experience of film.”

Simard expressed surprise when told of de Hadeln’s comments.

“If there’s a problem, he should talk to me about it,” said Simard. “He has his job and we have our job. Maybe he’s not used to having a boss.”

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