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Nouveau Cinema fest makes zippy rebound

Event succeeds against upstart New Montreal FilmFest

MONTREAL — The bitter Montreal film festival turf war is far from over, but the successful 35th anniversary edition of the Montreal Festival du Nouveau Cinema made it clear this edgy event is in surprisingly robust form. The film festival ran Oct. 18-28, with 189 pics from 39 countries screening.

A year ago, it looked like the Nouveau fest was in grave danger. The upstart New Montreal FilmFest held its first edition just weeks before the Nouveau festival, and the Canuck funding agencies had made it clear they wanted the new event to become Montreal’s main film showcase. But the New Montreal FilmFest went belly-up after only one disastrous edition, leaving the field to the Montreal World Film Festival and the Festival du Nouveau Cinema.

This year’s Nouveau festival kicked-off with the Quebec premiere of Montreal director Philippe Falardeau’s Cannes entry “Congorama” and closed with Pedro Almodovar’s “Volver.” The fest attracted a number of high-profile guests, including longtime fest booster Atom Egoyan (for “Citadel”), Toronto thesp-turned-helmer Sarah Polley (for her feature directorial debut “Away From Her”), Gallic helmer Robert Guediguian (“Le Voyage en Armenie”), writer-helmer Kenneth Anger and Belgian thesp Olivier Gourmet (“Congorama”).

The fest hosted the North American preem of Lars von Trier’s “The Boss of It All.” New York helmer Douglas Buck’s remake of the 1973 Brian De Palma pic “Sisters” also had its North American premiere.

In contrast to Serge Losique’s World Film Festival, with roughly 250 features, Nouveau fest was kept on a tighter rein by program director and co-founder Claude Chamberlan, with 100 features screening this year.

“I think it’s going in a slightly wider, more popular, more accessible direction,” said Montreal-based “Congorama” producer Luc Dery. “But very slightly. It’s still the Festival du Nouveau Cinema I’ve known for years. It’s focused programming. It’s one of the film festivals where I’m almost invariably happy about the films I see here.”

The Nouveau fest remains a much smaller event than the World Film Festival, even if Losique’s fest has lost some of its audience over the past few years. The Nouveau attracts a younger demographic, in part because the fest has street-wise programmers like Julien Fonfrede, who cut his teeth at Montreal’s popular genre fest Fantasia. Fonfrede programs the Temps 0 section, which celebrates genre and animated film, and this year included Paul Rachman’s “American Hardcore,” “Sisters” and the Japanese “Whispering of the Gods.”

One industry insider noted that for the Festival du Nouveau Cinema to really compete globally, it would have to increase its quotient of A-list world premieres, something still sorely lacking at a festival without an official competition. Many of its highest-profile pics — like “Volver” and “Babel” — come directly from playing the Toronto Film Fest. The festival will also have to start attracting more international industryites. But that’s beginning to happen, thanks to the Digimart conference, which focuses on new media and technology, and which ran during the early days of the festival.

It also remains unclear which Montreal festival will be favored by the Canuck funding agencies. Both Telefilm Canada and Quebec’s Sodec are in the midst of full-scale reviews of their festival policies, with each agency expected to announce plans in the coming months. Telefilm and Sodec had pulled all funding from the World Film Festival, but they continued to finance the Festival du Nouveau Cinema.

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