‘Bride’ chosen but will fest be jilted?

U.S. pic 'Bend' wins silver at Montreal

See Winners

MONTREAL — Politically deft crowd pleaser “The Syrian Bride” emerged the big winner at this year’s 28th Montreal World Film Festival, taking four prizes, including the main jury’s top award, the Grand Prix of the Americas.

The Israeli-French-German co-production, set during a wedding day for a Druze family on the Golan Heights, also won the People’s Choice Award, as well as nods by the Fipresci (international critics’) and Ecumenical juries.

At the awards ceremony, fest president Serge Losique was in fighting form, confidently announcing next year’s dates (Aug. 25 to Sept. 5) and underlining that “for 28 years, we’ve been faithful to world cinema.”

This year’s fest unspooled under a cloud of controversy following government agencies Telefilm Canada and Sodec’s recent announcement that they will withdraw funding for the event if Losique doesn’t introduce some radical changes. The funders, which contribute roughly 25% of the fest’s budget, want a real, active board of directors, transparent management and improved relations with the industry.

Throughout the fest, local press were speculating this could be its last edition in the current form. Later this week, Telefilm is expected to release guidelines on how the fest should be run, and it will be asking interested parties to bid for the government coin. Telefilm and Sodec normally host big parties, but both were notable by their absence this year.

Losique has refused all comment, saying he will respond only after the festival. It is unclear whether he will agree to take part in the process.

Fest wrapped Monday with a televised midday awards ceremony at the Imperial Cinema, the fest’s newly refurbished flagship, with prizes handed out by members of the jury headed by veteran French director Claude Zidi.

Three other pics dominated the rest of the awards. U.S. inter-generational road movie “Around the Bend,” a Warner Independent Pictures production starring Christopher Walken and Michael Caine, and directed by first-timer Jordan Roberts, took the runner-up Jury Award. It also garnered the actor honors for Walken. Pic shared both prizes with Chinese contempo drama “The Parking Attendant in July,” for which Fan Wei won best actor.

First-time Gallic director Francois Favrat’s comedy of manners “The Role of Her Life” was also a double winner, nabbing the actress trophy for Karin Viard and the screenplay award.

Spanish vet Carlos Saura won as best director for “The 7th Day,” story of a longtime family feud in a Spanish village. Opening-night pic, the Canuck femme-focused drama “The Five of Us,” only won artistic contribution in the main jury’s prizes. But it also garnered a public-vote award for best Canadian film.

Overall, this year’s competition lineup was reckoned to be middling, on a par with previous years, with nature docu “Genesis” (by the directors of “Microcosmos”), Argentine crowdpleaser “Avellaneda’s Moon” (by the director of “Son of the Bride”), Spanish family drama “Hector,” Slovenian black comedy “Suburbs” and Paul Cox’s tale of sexual awakening, “Human Touch,” generating the most discussion.

Elsewhere in the fest, a rare screening of Ingmar Bergman’s final film, “Saraband,” caused considerable buzz among auds and crix. Other standouts among world preems included Aussie comedy “A Man’s Gotta Do” (which also won one of several audience awards), Madagascan village drama “Souli,” starring Eduardo Noriega, and Serbian road movie “Red Coloured Grey Truck.”

Losique managed to corral two bona-fide A-list stars in Isabelle Adjani, in for a tribute, and Spanish thesp Penelope Cruz, in for the Italian drama “Don’t Move” with director/co-star Sergio Castellitto.

A large number of vet filmers also made the trek to Montreal, including Cox, Saura, Raoul Ruiz and Theo Angelopoulos, the last honored with a career tribute.

The battle between Losique and the film-funding agencies is expected to continue through the fall and most expect a bitter, drawn-out punch-up. Controversy was one of the main topics of conversation at festival cocktail parties but otherwise had little impact on the running of this year’s edition. The Montreal fest remains, above all, a public-audience event in a city renowned for its sophisticated film culture.

After years of declining business activity, the market for all intents and purposes folded this year, with the space transformed into a festival videotheque. There remains little deal-making at Montreal, with most preferring to save their energies for Toronto, which starts Thursday.

And the winners are…

Main Jury Awards:

Grand Prix of the Americas: “The Syrian Bride” (dir. Eran Riklis, Israel-France-Germany)

Jury Award (shared): “The Parking Attendant in July” (An Zhanjun, China), “Around the Bend” (Jordan Roberts, U.S.)

Director: “The 7th Day” (Carlos Saura, Spain-France)

Artistic Contribution: “The Five of Us” (Ghyslaine Cote, Canada)Actress: Karin Viard (“The Role of Her Life,” France)

Actor (shared): Fan Wei (“The Parking Attendant in July”), Christopher Walken (“Around the Bend”)

Screenplay: Francois Favrat, Julie Lopes-Curval, Jerome Beausejour, Roger Bohbot (“The Role of Her Life”)

Innovation Award: “The Crying Wind” (Yoichi Higashi, Japan)

Short Film: “Little Terrorist” (Ashvin Kumar, U.K.-India)

Other awards:

First Fiction Feature Awards (Zeniths): Gold – “The Magician” (Jaime Aparicio, Mexico); Silver – “Three Times Two” (Pavel Giroud, Lester Hamlet, Esteban Insausti, Cuba); Bronze – “How to Conquer America in One Night” (Dany Laferriere, Canada)

European Film: “Bear Cub” (Miguel Albaladejo, Spain)

Canadian Film: “Everyone” (Bill Marchant)

U.S. Film: “Dear Frankie” (Shona Auerbach)

Latin American Film: “Conversations with Mom” (Santiago Carlos Oves, Argentina)

Asian Film: “The Lizard” (Kamal Tabrizi, Iran)

African Film: “Beat the Drum” (David Hickson, South Africa)

Oceania Film: “A Man’s Gotta Do” (Chris Kennedy, Australia)

Cinema & Sport Film: “America Brown” (Paul Black, U.S.)

Documentary: “Travelling with Che Guevarra” (Gianni Mina, Italy)

People’s Choice Award: “The Syrian Bride”

Most Popular Canadian Film: “The Five of Us”

Canadian Short: “Mabel’s Saga” (JoDee Samuelson)

Fipresci (intl. critics’ assn.) Prize: “The Syrian Bride”

Ecumenical Jury Prize: “The Syrian Bride”