Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Montreal's (still) fiesty festival director

I had to laugh when reading the Montreal Gazette’s coverage of the opening of that city’s international film festival (program left, website  ), which takes place Thursday and runs until Sept. 3. Festival founder and director Serge Losique, now 81, is full of spunk and vinegar as he hails his festival as still one of the top ones in the world and a little snidely dismisses the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which also released its lineup yesterday (it runs Sept. 6 – 16).....The Montreal and Toronto festivals are old rivals and started within one year of each other (Toronto started first) back in the late 70s. I attended the first Mtl fest and have been there almost every year since; Toronto only a few times and for limited durations.....There’s no question that Toronto started pulling away from Montreal in the 1980s as it became Hollywood’s “go to” fest as a place to release major blockbusters. No one, at this date, is arguing that. But here’s Losique in The Gazette: “I have nothing to say about Toronto. Good luck to them. We are completely different. We don’t have American junkets. For us, a festival has to be independent of all junkets. You can talk about that with Toronto.” Indeed, today’s Toronto media not only reported on the release of admittedly a diverse and prestigious line up of films from some of the world’s top directors including Bernardo Bertolucci and Michaels Haneke and Winterbottom, Deepa Mehta, Neil Jordan, Barry Levinson, Costa-Gavras and Dustin Hoffman. But it also fell all over itself – as it always does - noting the long lineup of H’wood celebs making their way to good ol’ Hogtown (to American readers, an old slang term for Toronto, also known colloquially as TO - tee oh), among them Bruce Willis, Jackie Chan, Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Bill Murray, Robert Redford, Ryan Gosling, Robert De Niro, Dennis Quaid, Jennifer Connelly, Billy Bob Thornton, Penelope Cruz and Colin Firth.....Said Losique: “You can talk of big names and commercial films. What interest is there in presenting an American film with big commercial interests that comes out the next week and anyone can go see?” Nice little shot. And it’s true. I’ve also found it a bit of a contradiction between TIFF’s self regard as an important festival on a critical basis and its gaga Hollywood glitz. After all, to most serious cineastes Hollywood is a rather disparaging word. But having said that Toronto is much more than the stars. Just look at the filmmakers this year attending  In any case, Montreal’s fest, having given up trying to woo, admittedly, Hollywood filmmakers (though there are still lots of American films) now lauds itself as a showplace for world cinema. It’s a nice alternative position and arguably there might be credibility to it being as good or better than Toronto. And, it’s true, Montreal doesn’t mimic so many other festivals in showing the same old films, non-mainstream or not. You will find films from the furthest corners of the world – Romania, Iran, Turkey, Asia, South America and Africa.  “For example, we have a film from Sri Lanka (Suba Sivakumaran’s I Too Have a Name),” said Losique. “Sri Lankan film is not distributed at all, ever. It may be your only chance to see a Sri Lankan film this year. There are lots of (kinds of) cinema like that, that are present (in Montreal) but otherwise are invisible.” In all the years I've attended it I've never had a bad year and have seen numerous wonderful films, obscure or without certain critical acclaim, or not. I've never felt deprived or envious of Toronto....And in a final jab at TO, “We are truly unique — we’re the only competitive festival in North America. I wish Toronto lots of luck. That’s it.”.....For the record, in sheer numbers here is how the two festivals compare: Montreal will have 432 films from 80 countries including 212 features, 110 of which are world or international premieres (shown outside their native countries), 144 short films. Toronto will have 372 films (features — 289, shorts — 83), 270 features that are world, international, or North American premieres from 72 countries.

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