Montreal gives festgoers a real-world slant

The film festival explosion over the past few years has made even venerable regional film confabs feel like Rodney Dangerfield, getting “no respect” from the indie film biz.

The competition to attract world premieres and craft a slate of primo pics can be intense. To the outside world of film fans and first-time directors, festivals are egalitarian indie film bastions where pics are plucked from obscurity and thrust onto a larger stage, and galas toss in fun between the art. But as any seasoned indie vet knows, the reality of nabbing top preems in any non-A-list fest can be fierce.

After battling his way to a 30th anniversary, Montreal fest prexy Serge Losique has managed to reemerge with a lineup of 106 world or international preems, out of 215 features overall.

Going up against the vaunted Toronto Film Festival, Montreal is giving festgoers a real-world slant this year.

Highlights in competish will include Brazilian helmer Carlos Diegues’ “The Greatest Love of All” at a time when films from that territory are particularly hot.

(In Cannes, the Weinstein Co. unveiled a major Latin American film fund with Argentine arts patron Eduardo Costantini Jr., and Universal Pictures and its specialty arm Focus Features just inked a production pact with “City of God” helmer Fernando Meirelles to bring Portuguese- and English-language pics by Brazilian helmers to the studio.)

“Love,” which follows an astrophysicist with terminal cancer, was financed through a new $6.5 million Brazilian fund that’s being backed by RB Cinema I Funcine.

Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s “Scream of the Ants” is another in competish highlight. The influential helmer will be joining power producer Paula Wagner and “Hell Boy” director Guillermo del Toro on the Venice Film Fest’s jury this year. His “Ants” marks a continued return to personal filmmaking after various docu incursions into Afghanistan.

With an eye toward the glut of fests, Losique has committed Montreal to being a haven for homegrown pics: The most anticipated Canuck movie at the event is “The Secret Life of Happy People,” the first feature from Quebec helmer Stephane Lapointe, a French-language pic produced by Roger Frappier and Luc Vandal from Max Films. It is the official closing-night pic.

Christal Films is also unspooling “The Chinese Botanist’s Daughters,” the latest from helmer Dai Sijie (“Balzac et la petite fille aux allumettes”).

And no fest is complete these days without some red-carpet action: Getting some glitz into the mix, the fest will host “Lonely Hearts,” starring John Travolta, James Gandolfini, Salma Hayek, Jared Leto and Laura Dern.

In addition, there is a large docu section, Documentaries of the World, that includes veteran Australian helmer Michael Rubbo’s “All About Olive,” Canadian native Indian helmer Alanis Obomsawin’s “Waban-Aki: People of the Rising Sun” and Paul Mazursky’s “Yippee,” a look at the pilgrimage of 25,000 Hassidic Jews to the Ukrainian town of Uman each Rosh Hashanah.

(Revealing the heated film fest rivalry in Canada, the smaller, edgier Montreal Festival du Nouveau Cinema, which runs Oct. 18-28, nabbed a North American preem of Danish helmer Lars von Trier’s latest pic, “The Boss of It All,” a move that has peaked U.S. interest.)

So will buyers, who are already transfixed by Toronto, be watching Montreal’s 30th anniversary celebration? Many U.S. execs are expected to stay clear of Montreal and instead simply read reviews remotely and dispatch junior minions. Perhaps they don’t know what they’re missing.

Brendan Kelly contributed to this report.

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