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Pix punchy, biz slow in Montreal

Latin Americans shine due to lack of major H'wood product

MONTREAL — Midway through the 25th anniversary edition of the Montreal World Film Festival, it’s shaping up as a decent year for pics but a slow one for biz.

The Montreal Film Market has doubled its space at fest headquarters, but there’s little activity on the market floor. U.S. players and Euro companies now wait until the Toronto festival — which kicks off next week –to buy and sell. But Montreal is still an important pit stop for some industryites, notably the Latin Americans.

Montreal has an annual program devoted to Latin American cinema, and the lack of major Hollywood product in Montreal gives the Latin Americans more room to shine.

“Toronto is geared toward the market and dominated by the Americans, so it’s tougher,” said Donald Ranvaud from Rio de Janiero-based Videofilmes. “Montreal is great for Latin American films. It’s useful and it’s also fun.”

Videofilmes has two pics at the fest: Competition entry “To the Left of the Father” from Brazil, and “Smokers Only” from first-time Argentine helmer Veronica Chen.

The Montreal festival is also attracting fewer major stars. Italian actress Sophia Loren showed up on the weekend to pick up a lifetime-achievement award and attend the world premiere of her latest film, the Lina Wertmuller-directed “Francesca and Nunziata.”

Jackie Chan will be in town next weekend for a tribute, and “Amelie From Montmartre” helmer Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Benjamin Bratt, star of competition entry “Pinero,” are due later in the week. But big names are so thin on the ground here that it was a major blow when producer Dino de Laurentiis dropped out at the last minute as chairman of the market conference.

Auteur alert

The folks who do make the trek tend to be from the auteur side of the biz. For example, Iranian helmer Majid Majidi — who has won two Grand Prix of the Americas in Montreal –returned to the fest this week to premiere “Baran,” his new Miramax release that has recieved positive buzz here. Also, Argentine director Fernando Solanas and Spanish actor Francisco Rabal were at the event to receive career tributes.

One of the few major Hollywood figures here is filmmaker Brian De Palma, who comes to Montreal annually to screen pics, and always keeps a low profile. De Palma did make it to a luncheon Tuesday in honor of Time magazine film critic Richard Schickel, who was given the Maurice Bessey Award for film criticism. Pics that have received favorable attention include opening-night selection “Tar Angel,” a tale of Algerian immigrants in Montreal from Quebec helmer Denis Chouinard; German competition entry “The Experiment”; and Indian drama “Maya.”

As promised by fest president Serge Losique, there are no fireworks to mark the 25th anniversary and the fest is as low key as ever. But the pics still make it a key event for critics and film buffs, said Canuck producer Kevin Tierney (“Varian’s War”).

The Montreal film festival continues until Monday, with the competition awards to be handed out Monday night.

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