Montreal fest returns with strong slate

'Dawn,' 'Butter' to compete for Grand Prix

MONTREAL — Two years after Canuck film funders tried to deep-six the Montreal World Film Festival, the event is back with its strongest lineup in years including a stronger U.S. competition presence than usual.

An upbeat fest president Serge Losique unveiled the program for the 31st installment at the Imperial Cinema in Montreal on Tuesday morning.

Fest, which runs Aug. 23 to Sept. 3, will screen 230 features, including 53 world preems, 59 North American preems and 42 Canuck preems.

Some 20 pics will compete for the Grand Prix des Ameriques, the fest’s top prize, including helmer Christopher Cain’s Jon Voight starrer “September Dawn,” about a Mormon massacre in 1857, and helmer Mark Brokaw’s “Spinning Into Butter.” Latter stars Sarah Jessica Parker, Beau Bridges and Miranda Richardson in an adaptation of Rebecca Gilman’s play about a racial hate crime at an elite New England college.

Italo filmmaker Abel Ferrara’s Manhattan-set comedy “Go Go Tales,” starring Willem Dafoe and Matthew Modine, also finds a competition berth as do two Canuck pics: helmer Emile Gaudreault’s relationship comedy “Surviving My Mother” ; and the French-language “You,” helmer Francois Delisle’s drama about a woman who leaves her husband and son.

The competition also includes “1 Day,” from helmer Jacob Berger, a Swiss-French co-production; Ray Loriga’s “Teresa” ; and the world preem of Gallic helmer Claude Miller’s “A Secret,” about a Jewish family after World War II. “A Secret” is the closing-night selection.

“We thought the quality of world cinema was better this year than last year,” Losique said. “So it was tougher for us to make our choices.”

The top Canadian film distributors are back in the fold after most of them ignored the fest for the past couple of years. Distrib Alliance Atlantis, for example, has four features at the fest.

Many of the competition pics screened without French subtitles during the past two years because funding agency Telefilm Canada pulled its support for subtitling. This was a major problem given that the fest’s clientele is mostly Francophone. But Losique announced that Telefilm is once again giving coin for subtitling.

Two years ago, Telefilm and Quebec film funder Sodec withdrew their C$1 million ($950,000) annual funding because they were unhappy with Losique’s management, and gave the money instead to the New Montreal FilmFest, which folded after one bungled edition in 2005.

Sodec is giving the Montreal festival $190,000 this year, its first grant in three years, and Losique said Telefilm is considering whether to give the event some coin.

“We are very happy that the atmosphere between us and the funders has improved,” said fest VP Daniele Cauchard. “Things are in the midst of being resolved.”

Meanwhile, the out-of-competition Hors Concours features some of the highest-profile pics at the fest.

This section, which focuses on films that have already played at other major fests, includes Pascale Ferran’s French pic “Lady Chatterley,” which won France’s best film Cesar this year; Nicolas Roeg’s “Puffball,” which stars Kelly Reilly, Miranda Richardson and Donald Sutherland in a story set in rural Ireland; Czech auteur Jiri Menzel’s “I Served the King of England”; French director Jean Becker’s Daniel Auteuil starrer “Conversations With My Gardener”; and thesp-turned-helmer Antonio Banderas’ “Summer Rain.”

The Hors Concours program will also include Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s World War I drama, “The Lark Farm,” and Claude Lelouch’s “Crossed Tracks,” the tale of a bestselling author, a serial killer and a Parisian hairdresser.

The fest’s documentary section features a number of U.S. pics, including Variety chief film critic Todd McCarthy’s “Man of Cinema: Pierre Rissient,” a look at the Cannes fest insider, and Dan Cox’s “Running With Arnold,” about Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The fest opens Aug. 23 with the world preem of the Quebec pic “Bluff,” an ensemble piece co-directed by Marc-Andre Lavoie and Simon-Olivier Fecteau. Losique said the festival jury will be announced at a later date.

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