Nitrate Online Feature
Contents | Features | Reviews | News | Archives | Store

Montreal World Film Festival (1999)

by Eddie Cockrell


Notes from Montreal

Posted 10 September 1999

Amidst some rather pointless controversy surrounding the art-house nature of the programming and whispers of change in the administration, the 23rd edition of the Montreal World Film Festival got off to a fine start Friday evening (27 August) with the opening night presentation of Patricia Rozema’s Mansfield Park. While critics were tepid towards Rozema’s often uneasy mix of Jane Austen and postmodern issues, it turned out to be the perfect movie for what needs to be accomplished on an opening night: the film is engaging without being taxing, pretty without being cluttered and edgy without being particularly adventurous.

And therein lies the crisis of identity between what this festival is and what critics want it to be. The roster of movies here numbers 307 from 68 countries, and over the nine days of screenings at a half-dozen cinemas and multiplexes strung along the downtown’s Sainte-Catherine it is possible to see fare as varied as politically-tinged chamber dramas from Romania (Face to Face) and Denzel Washington movies from Hollywood (The Bone Collector). Yet for better or for worse Montreal’s lot in the life of high-profile festivals is that of art over commerce. Naturally, some media types want more hype and seem dissatisfied that the best the festival can offer in terms of personal appearances is Gerard Depardieu (co-director, The Bridge), Carlos Saura (director, Goya in Bordeaux), Ettore Scola (director, The Dinner) and others. Yet one colleague summed it up a different way: “this is a perfect festival,” he explained, for those who want to explore the byways of world cinema.” Savvy programmers know this, so while long-time festival director Serge Losique is the target of backbiting speculation about a shake-up in the staff, the irony is that he’s providing the very kind of service that insiders appreciate and armchair quarterbacks misunderstand.

To do that the savvy patron must explore the 10 distinct sections of the festival, ranging from the 19 features in the official competition (down from 24 last year) to a sidebar of student work. World Greats offers 25 new movies from established talents, while World Cinema: Reflections of Our Time surveys global production as a whole. Cinema of Tomorrow: New Trends is exactly that, and there are special sections devoted to movies from Latin America and Ireland. The Panorama Canada section gathers local productions into an exclusive showcase. There’s a separate sidebar devoted to Films for Television, and the tributes include kudos to Richard Dreyfuss, Canadian distribbery Cinepix and “The Disney Century.”

Attendances in the first half of the opening weekend have been strong, with audiences jamming the Complex Desjardins screens in the shopping mall attached to the main fest headquarters Hotel Wyndham and the Cinema Parisien multiplex downtown. For accredited guests the procedure is simplicity itself, as waving an oversized laminated badge gets one in to any venue at any time. And the cinemas themselves seem to be up to the challenge, with clean sightlines, crisp sound and a lack of technical glitches and program changes thus far.

As this is written Philip Noyce’s adaptation of the popular American thriller The Bone Collector is about to be unveiled at one of the larger halls here. Yet this correspondent will spend the day at new movies from Germany, Croatia, Ireland and France. In the end, it is the ability of a festival to offer the moviegoer either course of action that is the true measure of such an event in these times of commercial pressures and artistic obligations.

Contents | Features | Reviews | News | Archives | Store
Copyright © 1999 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.  Copyright © 1996-2005 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.