Canuck festival boasts public, star turnout influx

Rumors of the Montreal World Film Festival’s death were greatly exaggerated.

The Canuck film festival kicked off its 30th anniversary edition Thursday night with a look back at some of the highlights of its first three decades, and maverick fest president Serge Losique told reporters he plans to stick around for years to come.

This is one birthday party many thought might never happen. The leading Canuck film agencies have refused to give the event a penny for the second consecutive year, and it also has lost a key private sponsor in Air Canada. But there was a sense of defiant optimism at the opening ceremony Thursday at Montreal’s Place des Arts, and the public appears to be back, with good turnouts for many of the screenings on the first weekend.

Gallic helmer Daniele Thompson’s sophisticated comedy “Orchestra Seats” played to full houses for its two screenings, and the ecstatic response to the Canadian premiere of the film bodes well for the pic’s commercial release in Quebec on Sept. 22. Another French pic, “Antonio Vivaldi, Prince of Venice,” also drew big crowds.

Often criticized in recent years for not attracting talent, the first few days featured a number of high-profile guests, including jury member Kathy Bates, helmer Thompson, Swiss-born thesp Bruno Ganz and French thesp Bulle Ogier, both of whom were the subject of tributes.

American filmmaker Paul Mazursky made the trek to Montreal to present the world preem of his documentary “Yippee,” an account of Mazursky’s journey to the Ukrainian town Uman, where 25,000 Hassidic men converge each Rosh Hashanah. “Yippee” received a warm welcome, and Mazursky had nothing but praise for the event.

“I’m enjoying it,” Mazursky told Daily Variety. “It’s a really international festival. … It has character.”

Fest opened with the world preem of the Gallic pic “Our Earthmen Friends,” from French novelist-turned-helmer Bernard Werber, that pretends to be a documentary made by extraterrestrials about humans. Critical reaction to the pic has been mixed.

Local stars on the opening-night red carpet included helmers Gilles Carle, Micheline Lanctot and Louis Belanger, and actors Marc Messier, Louise Marleau and France Castel.

Despite the success of the opening weekend, many still wonder just how long Losique can keep the fest afloat without government coin. He has lost almost all of the approximately C$2 million ($1.8 million) he had received from the federal, provincial and Montreal governments. Film agencies Telefilm Canada and Quebec’s Sodec started a rival festival last year, but the New Montreal FilmFest went belly up after one disastrous edition.

Producer Rock Demers, who is helping the Montreal World Fest try to find public coin, said talks are continuing with both governments.

“It’s not impossible that we could announce something closing night,” said Demers. “It’s a miracle (the fest is still alive). But it’s tough for Serge and (fest vice president) Daniele (Cauchard). They’re putting the bills for everything on their own credit cards.”

The fest continues through Sept. 4.

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