Considered out for the count not so long ago, the Montreal World Film Festival has defied the odds and is in back in top shape with its 31st edition.
The fest kicked off Thursday with the world preem of Quebec comedy “Bluff” from first-time helmers Marc-Andre Lavoie and Simon Olivier Fecteau, and both Jon Voight and Sophie Marceau showed up to receive lifetime achievement awards at the opening ceremonies at Place des Arts in downtown Montreal.
Helmer Abel Ferrara and thesp Matthew Modine were also in Montreal Sunday for the screening of their pic “Go Go Tales.”
But the controversy surrounding the festival’s near-death was revived once again on opening night when fest VP Daniele Cauchard blasted federal film funding agency Telefilm Canada for refusing to finance the event. Telefilm and Quebec film agency Sodec pulled their coin from the fest two years ago because they were unhappy with fest president Serge Losique’s mercurial management style.
Many of the Quebec funders, including Sodec, are back on board this year, but Telefilm has not given Losique a penny, although it did give C$38,000 ($36,000) to a firm to provide French sub-titles for some fest films.
Cauchard told the opening-night crowd that Telefilm topper Wayne Clarkson is more interested in defending the Toronto Film Festival, which does receive Telefilm funding, than helping the Montreal fest, and she suggested rather colorfully that Prime Minister Stephen Harper should kick Clarkson’s butt. The comments drew roars of approval from the crowd.
Telefilm however was not so amused, releasing a press release Friday complaining that an international film festival ceremony is not the right place to make such derogatory comments. Telefilm said it is still in talks with the festival regarding funding.
Sodec president Jean-Guy Chaput said the time had come to once again support Losique’s festival and he criticized Telefilm for not aiding the event.
“We can’t change the man,” said Chaput. “(Losique) is not the easiest guy to get along with. But he’s a determined guy. He’s a survivor and we have to respect that.”
The fest, which wraps Sept. 3, is off to a strong start with enthused reaction for “Bluff,” an appealing comedy starring many of Quebec’s top thesps that is set to open across the province Sept. 7.
Reaction was more mixed to the intense drama and sexually explicit scenes in “You,” the latest from Quebec writer-director Francois Delisle, which world-preemed here Monday.
Louis Dussault, president of K-Films Amerique, the Canuck distributor of “You,” said Montreal was a great place to launch a local pic and that the fest was booming this year.
“There are English people, French people, American tourists,” Dussault said. “I think the festival is doing great.”
The buzz item so far in the competition is Belgian-Dutch pic “Ben X” from first-time feature helmer Nic Balthazar. It is the story of a mildly autistic kid who is constantly bullied and finds refuge in video games. Pic is based on a novel and play by the Belgian helmer.
The fest is in stronger financial shape than it has been in two years with around $850,000 in public funding, up from around $190,000 last year. In addition, fest has nabbed exhibitor Cineplex Entertainment as its main sponsor, though it has lost Air Canada and Visa, which used to be major sponsors of the event.