Critics feast on Montreal’s flagging film fest
Montreal – Nothing says more about the sad state of Montreal’s film festival than the red carpet it rolled out this year. It was stained and frayed, few Hollywood stars deigned to grace it and paparazzi were few and far between.
“As it is now, there is no future for the festival,” predicts Odile Tremblay, the respected film critic for Le Devoir. “It is getting weaker with each passing year. It must find a new identity.”
After 28 year of existence, Tremblay says Montreal’s World Film Festival ó officially known as the Festival des Films du Monde ó is in a crisis because of aging leadership and its inability to define itself internationally.
It is badly eclipsed by the Venice Film Festival, Tremblay and many others lament. And the Toronto Film Festival, which opens Thursday, just three days after Montreal closed, has become the signature event in Canada, attracting the major Hollywood and Canadian premieres as well as the A-list stars and producers that Montreal no longer gets.
“Fifteen years ago, Montreal attracted many celebrities and great filmmakers,” recalled Tremblay. “But now, it’s usually the same people coming back, and less and less with each year. The festival is losing audience and worse, it’s losing credibility on the international scene.”
The only Hollywood star of note to make this year’s festival was Penelope Cruz, looking decidedly underwhelmed as she strode across the red carpet laid down on St. Catherine St. She walked into a dowdy theatre, with wads of chewing gum stuck on the lobby floor, wedged between strip joints and discount T-shirt stores.
According to Tremblay, the main problem with the Montreal festival may sit with the man who has run it for almost 30 years: Serge Losique.
He is viewed as too secretive and autocratic by many film insiders. And his relations with the local media and filmmakers have soured over the years. That was evidenced by an unflattering report released in July by Telefilm and Sodec, the federal and Quebec film funding agencies that provide about $1 million of the festival’s $5-million budget.
In a clear move to pressure Losique into change, the report questions the festival’s attendance figures and criticizes management for “lack of transparency, manifested most clearly in the festival’s refusal to take part in this study.” The report goes on to say the festival is “overtly criticized by the local film industry” for a lack of openness and generosity.
Losique, who has successfully fought off criticisms in the past, has refused to comment on the report until after the festival wrapped up yesterday evening.
But it’s already clear the amount of “buzz” generated at this year’s festival was at its nadir. TV cameras repeatedly showed actors and producers walking up a near-empty red carpet surrounded by sparse crowds, a bad image for any film festival.
And relations with many filmmakers weren’t helped by an imbroglio at the opening night party. Guests were issued invitations to “dress beautifully,” a highly subjective command at a festival trying to mix millionaire industry players with impoverished independent filmmakers.
“As might have been predicted, beauty is a fickle thing,” Montreal Gazette film critic John Griffin wrote in a scathing review. “Some people, or rather, some people’s costumes, were not considered beautiful enough to guarantee entry, and were turned away. Other people, dressed similarly but with heftier social pedigree, were let through. It was like a lineup at Studio 54 …
“At a time when the festival is hanging on to its very existence, let alone its reputation, by the cuticle of one fingernail, a social outrage like (that) is not just unfortunate, it’s unforgivable … it’s an attitude for extinction.”
“The festival is losing speed,” actor Pierre Cruz told Montreal weekly Hour, in which he complained the festival neither nurtures the local cinema community nor brings in the best. “It is no longer a festival that attracts big films, as it used to.”
To be fair, the Montreal festival is hardly an organizational dud. Attendance figures aren’t yet available, but there appeared to be steady traffic at the festival’s venues, though few lineups. And while it may lack the glitz of Toronto or Venice, it did screen 439 films in 12 days.
Many of those are small, obscure films, from all corners of the world, movies that film lovers would not likely see anywhere else.
But that very breadth of scope, the concept supported by Losique, might be the festival’s downfall.
“When you have 400 films, there are too many weak films,” says Tremblay. “They should eradicate the bad ones ó have a selection that is smaller and better. The festival is too unfocused.”
The only way to change, however, may be to change the man who runs it. Tremblay notes most film festivals rotate their chief organizers, to bring in fresh blood and ideas.
“Losique’s got to leave, sooner or later,” says Tremblay. “He’s too old in his mentality. He wants to control it all. I understand this, it’s like his baby. But now, it’s not a good thing for Montreal.”
Critics feast on Montreal’s flagging film fest