Monday, May 3, 2010

Festivals: why I prefer Montreal over Toronto

I’ve often been asked: how come you like the Montreal film festival so much? And, since you live in Ontario, don’t you ever go to the Toronto film fest? After all, it’s world renowned and these days perhaps rivals Cannes in terms of being an elite festival.....There are a great many reasons I prefer Montreal to Toronto. Here are a few.....When the Montreal fest started in 1977, one year after Toronto’s, at first the two fests were very much rivals. But slowly Toronto gained ground on Montreal. There were various reasons. Perhaps the major one was simply because Toronto is in the English-speaking world and most film business is done in English. As well, Toronto started to become a major market for Hollywood films and H’wood is, well, English-speaking. These festivals, in addition to screening for general audiences, are markets for film companies to find distributors. They are where business deals are done...The rivalry kind of sputtered out and Montreal threw in the towel, a bit grudgingly but reality is reality. Now the fests are distinct and go their own ways.....The fests are one week apart. Montreal ends on Labour Day. Toronto starts the Thursday after Labour Day......If Montreal still has any bragging rights it’s by claiming it’s a more international fest, meaning it screens more films from around the world. Toronto tends to be H’wood biased. Nothing wrong with that (or is there?) Not for me to judge. I’m just telling you why I prefer Montreal over Toronto.....I’ve attended the Toronto festival twice and in each case for only a few days. I’ve attended Montreal virtually every year it has been in existence, probably missing three or four editions. Here are the reasons I like Montreal over Toronto: 1) The venues: over the years Montreal has had theatres clustered within close walking distance. So if you had 10 minutes between films in different theatres you can usually get there in time. That changed in the last few years as the venerable Parisien Cinema closed with Quartier Latin taking its place, a 20 minute brisk walk away. Still the theatres are in closer proximity than those in Toronto. 2) Staffing. Toronto is run by volunteers, including the box office and ushers. Bless their hearts. But Montreal hires professional staff (in uniform) from what was Famous Players and now is the Cineplex Odeon chain. The ticketing is computerized; it’s virtually seamless. The last time I attended Toronto (2003?) ticket sales were a labourious and time-consuming process. Also inconvenient. Toronto has something called “rush” tickets, meaning you can show up at a theatre and hope to get in at the last minute. But if no tickets are available you’re plumb out of luck. 3) The crowds. Toronto is a highly popular festival to say the least. And that’s a problem. It’s an absolute zoo. Montreal never had the crowds (though it lasts roughly the same number of days – 10) as Toronto. Those crowds, sadly, have been dwindling in recent years. But even when crowds were larger the festival was manageable. 4) Films: often there have actually been more screenings of feature length films in Montreal than in Toronto. And for those who have a bias against Hollywood films Montreal can offer more international variety with heavy doses of French and German, South American and Middle Eastern cinemas (don’t worry, most films have English – not French – subtitles, a sore point with the home town French audience).....For folks in Windsor-Detroit Toronto obviously is closer. Chances are you’ve barely heard of the Montreal fest, yet it is on a similar scale. If you love international cinema, and want to travel to a more interesting city linguistically, culturally and aesthetically – and to a festival where the experience is just a whole lot more pleasant - I suggest the Montreal World Film Festival  (Festival des Films du Monde.)

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