Archive for the ‘Film festivals’ Category

The Agonizingly Slow Death of the Montreal World Film Festival

August 28, 2008

I first attended the Montreal World Film Festival in 1998 when I visited the city with my ex-girlfriend for a labor day weekend excursion from New York. At the time, I didn’t know that Montreal would become my home. I started graduate school in Montreal the next year and arrived just in time for the start of the festival. I purchased a 30 ticket pass for something like 120 dollars, a price that seemed ridiculously cheap for a film festival (I had gone to the New York Film Festival the previous year and paid something like $15 a ticket).  For the next ten days, I saw an average of three films a day.  Luckily, graduate school hadn’t started so I had free time. The selection was vast yet erratic with an emphasis on quantity over quality. Even in its prime, it made for a mixed bag but that was part of the excitement. One could not only catch some of the eagerly anticipated Fall films months prior to their release dates but also unearth a hidden gem that would sadly never find distribution and fall through the cracks. I went back every year but each year the festival declined in quality. It was not just the case that there was less star power; there were less quality films to be seen. Not only did the eagerly anticipated Fall films all decide on Toronto instead, the hidden gems also became harder to find.

At its peak, the Montreal World Film Festival was an accessible and affordable film festival that actually catered to filmgoers. It wasn’t about big stars, red carpet premieres, or high profile Oscar bait. Those days are long gone and the festival’s decline has now reached tragic proportions. Responsibility for the film festival’s spectacular decline clearly rests in the hands of Serge Losique, the festival’s founder and president. Evidently, he’s an egomaniacal tyrant who rules his festival with an iron fist. Concerted efforts to wrest control of the festival from him by yanking government funding failed, a battle that culminated in the spectacular flop of the counter-programmed New Montreal FilmFest in 2006. The failure of that festival was a shame. Since Losique could not be vanquished, the Montreal World Film Festival now continues unabated (government funding even increased this year) but with severely diminished returns. Its survival now appears to have been a pyrrhic victory. The festival’s reputation is permanently in tatters and what was once a world class film festival is now the joke of the film community. From the half-assed catalogue riddled with grammatical errors and film descriptions that cut-off mid-sentence to theaters half-filled at best, even the people working for the festival who are forced to greet the listless audiences at the start of each screening with a lackluster announcement of “bon cinema” seem embarrassed to be there. The problem is not simply that there are so few films worth going to although Losique’s incapacity to assemble a decent lineup is undoubtedly the underlying cause. A film festival is not only about films but about atmosphere, and the Montreal World Film Festival is a festival utterly devoid of any excitement or enthusiasm. In other words, the MWFF is a festival that lacks everything that makes a festival festive. The public money that goes to the event is a complete and utter waste. Just because they can’t euthanize the FFM doesn’t mean they can’t pull the plug. After all, there’s a difference between killing and letting die.