A-list Canadian fare makes grand return

MONTREAL – To say the Quebec industry has an ambivalent relationship with the Montreal World Film Festival is one major understatement.

Many Quebecois producers, filmmakers and distributors have clashed with mercurial Montreal fest prexy Serge Losique throughout the years, but there’s a different attitude in 2007.

“I think today my mind has changed,” says Christian Larouche, president of Montreal-based distrib Christal Films. “Serge has proved that he’s here to stay. He’s worked so hard. So I’ll be behind this festival. If you can’t beat them, you have to join them.”

This year’s Montreal World Film Festival has a stronger lineup than the past couple of editions because the Montreal distributors are once again willing to give Losique A-list titles.

Helmer Eric Lartigau’s “Prete-moi ta main” (I Do), with thesp Alain Chabat, comes to the fest courtesy of Alliance Atlantis Vivafilm; Seville Pictures came onboard with the opening film “Bluff,” a hotly anticipated Quebecois ensemble film; and TVA Films helped the fest land a veritable coup with the world preem of Gallic helmer Claude Miller’s latest, “Un Secret,” which will close the festival.

With the films come higher-profile guests as well, including Chabat, Miller, “Secret” lead actress Cecile de France, and thesps Jon Voight and Sophie Marceau, who will be at fest to receive lifetime-achievement awards.

“If it’s a French-language film, the festival is the perfect springboard,” TVA Films president Yves Dion says.

TVA gave the fest the Quebec pic “La Brunante,” which stars Monique Mercure, and the new Nicolas Roeg pic “Puffball,” with Roeg expected to attend.

The top Quebec film of the year, Denys Arcand’s “L’Age des tenebres” will not be playing Arcand’s hometown fest. Instead the pic, which world premed as the closing selection in Cannes, will have its North American premiere at the Toronto festival, which takes place just after Montreal. All of Arcand’s recent films have played Toronto, including “The Barbarian Invasions.”

But Arcand producer Denise Robert says that Montreal remains an important fest.

“In terms of launching a film in Quebec, (the Montreal World Film Festival) is a good place to put a movie,” Robert claims.

In spite of all the complaining by local industry players, the Montreal fest has served as a successful launchpad for Quebecois films, pics like “Gaz Bar Blues.” “La Turbulence des fluides” and “Kamataki.”

Kevin Tierney — producer of “Bon Cop Bad Cop,” the 2006 bilingual action-comedy that holds the record as the top-grossing Canadian film on its home turf — is a longtime booster of the Montreal World Film Festival. Tierney isn’t sure if the fest is good for business. But he doesn’t really care. Losique’s film fest remains a wonderful spot to sample way-off-the-beaten-track pics from around the world.

“I love that festival,” Tierney says. “It just has a huge slab of films that you don’t know anything about. You have to have the time to do the shopping. So any given day, I try to go down and see as many movies as I can. I still think of it as a festival that cultivates watching movies and not as a festival that has much to do with my business.”

And Tierney, for one, is not at all surprised that Losique has survived all the best efforts of the film-funding bureaucrats to put him out of business: “They used to say that after a nuclear holocaust, the only things alive would be the cockroaches and Keith Richards. Now you have to add Serge Losique to the list.”

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