Sunday, September 4, 2016

Sad end of the Montreal film festival?

The Montreal World Film festival (Festival des Films du Monde) concludes tomorrow. It marked its 40th anniversary this year but it was hardly a celebration, more a mad scramble to even get the festival up and running after a financial catastrophe that saw theatres pull the rug out from under after the event after the festival could not make payment. Add to this a major staff resignation over lack of confidence in cash flow, and the loss of its long-running partner Hyatt Regency to put actors up (there were rumors actors were bunking wherever and paying out of pocket), and it all amounts to a huge black eye and major red-faced embarrassment for the festival’s founder and still director Serge Losique, now 85. There are rumours, Losique, a kind of Quixote figure who seems oblivious to the swirls of controversy around him, will organize a 41st festival next year. After all, he owns one major theatre, Cinéma Impérial – where most of the films this year ended up being shown – so doesn’t have to worry about paying rent. But is his reputation in tatters among film distributors, directors and actors, around the world, who might balk at any request to show their films next year? I heard there were at least two major directors who arrived in Montreal and were promptly told their films would not be shown. Other directors and actors quickly moved to find alternative spaces, including the Goethe-Institut and the Cinéma du Parc for German and student films. The art house Theatre Outremont, in an entirely different part of the city, also came on board. But the current situation is untenable and indeed intolerable. Losique has long been advised he should surrender his role to someone new, lose his autocratic style, and open up the books, at least for the festival to once again be considered for government funding.  The FFM deserves to be saved, not only because of its rich legacy (at one time on par with the Toronto film festival, and I have attended all but about five editions) but for it’s unique presentation of international films, the likes a filmgoer would be hard-pressed to see at any other North American festival. Moreover, the festival is more mainstream than Montreal’s other much-lauded festivals, which are either too avant-garde or narrow in focus. Ironically, Losique is the boulder in the way of perpetuating his own legacy. 

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