The long-running soap opera that is the Montreal film-festival scene is a cautionary tale of what happens when government bureaucrats wade directly into the film-fest biz.
The Montreal World Film Festival is set to celebrate its 30th birthday this summer, with the party running Aug. 24 to Sept. 4, and many are surprised that maverick fest president Serge Losique actually managed to keep his festival alive to mark the anniversary. Not that Losique is out of the woods yet.
Canuck film-funding agencies Telefilm Canada and Quebec’s Sodec have said they won’t be giving the event any cash this year, and it is still unclear if the festival will be able to find stable, long-term financial support from the government film agencies in the Great White North.
It all started two years when Telefilm and Sodec published a report that was sharply critical of Losique’s festival, taking issue with the fest founder’s management style and the event’s strained relations with the top local industry players. The funders then sent out a call for bids seeking groups interested in starting up a new Montreal festival to replace the World Film Festival.
L’Equipe Spectra, which runs the highly successful Montreal Intl. Jazz Festival, and a film industry coalition won the rights to create a new fest. But the New Montreal FilmFest’s lone edition in the fall of 2005 was an unmitigated disaster. No one showed up to see the movies, program director Moritz de Hadeln waged a very public war of words with Spectra president Alain Simard, and the event ended up losing all kinds of money.
The Telefilm and Sodec execs had mistakenly believed it would be a simple thing to create a new international film fest. What they seriously underestimated were the difficulties of producing such a venture. Even so, they remain reluctant to back Losique’s event, which is why the Montreal fest scene remains in limbo two years after this saga began.
Montreal World Film Festival vice president Daniele Cauchard says the agencies were misguided in their efforts to start a new fest.
“They made a big mistake last year,” Cauchard says. “They painted themselves into a corner, and now they don’t know how to find a solution.”
Cauchard says she and Losique still don’t understand why Telefilm and Sodec were so intent on replacing their festival.
“Losique has a little temper, but it doesn’t justify what happened,” Cauchard says.
A spokesman for Telefilm says the agency could not comment on the World Film Festival, because the issue is before the courts in Canada. In December 2004, the World Film Festival sued Telefilm for C$2.5 million ($2.2 million), alleging that the federal agency had deliberately damaged the reputation of the festival. The case has yet to go to trial.
Last year, the World Film Festival managed to stay afloat even though it had lost 90% of the $1.8 million it usually receives from the government agencies, and the 2005 edition wasn’t all that different from other recent editions. But it’s unclear how long the event can continue without public money.
All the top Canadian distributors boycotted the World Film
Festival last year and instead backed the New Montreal FilmFest. Some of the distribs, like Christal, are back with the World Film Festival this year. But others, including Alliance Atlantis, Canada’s top indie distributor, continue to refuse to give pics to Losique’s festival.
In sharp contrast to the much glitzier Toronto Film Festival, the Montreal World Film Festival continues to shine the light on works from lesser-known helmers and pics that might otherwise get little exposure in North America.
Montreal producer Rock Demers, who is head of the festival’s 30th anniversary committee, notes Losique’s fest has served a crucial function on the Canadian film scene for three decades and quite correctly underlines that, if it were to disappear, it would be very difficult to replace.