Monday, August 22, 2011

Montreal -- World Film Festival

Montreal’s World Film Festival is now in its 35th year but somehow it is invisible to most of English speaking Canada and much of North America. A quick look at the line-up gives an idea why this may be. The festival is devoid of big name Hollywood films so that ensures that majority of the mainstream media would likely stay away. But one would think that a festival with hundreds of foreign films should be able to attract cinephiles and film critics? Unfortunately, North American film magazines and critics hardly cover the festival either. In the last few years, I have never seen a mention of the festival in either Film Comment or Cinema Scope (a Canadian publication nonetheless). In 2010, I came across a report by Cineaste but the article was only restricted to the web and not in their full magazine. The reason for ignorance from film magazines or cinephiles could be that Montreal does not get most of the big name Cannes films which have their exclusive Canadian or North American premier in Toronto. Yet, if cinephiles and critics are not seeing any of the films shown in Montreal, then how would they know what they are missing?

For example, these are this year’s competition feature films:

ANTOKI NO INOCHI, Dir. Takahisa Zeze, Japan.
CHE BELLA GIORNATA, Dir. Gennaro Nunziante, Italy
CORAÇÕES SUJOS, Dir. Vicente Amorim, Brazil.
COTEAU ROUGE, Dir. André Forcier, Canada.
CZARNY CZWARTEK, Dir. Antoni Krauze, Poland.
DAVID, Dir. Joel Fendelman, United States.
DER BRAND, Dir. Brigitte Maria Bertele, Germany
DER GANZ GROSSE TRAUM, Dir. Sebastian Grobler, Germany
HASTA LA VISTA, Dir. Geoffrey Enthoven, Belgium
INJA BEDOONE MAN, Dir. Bahram Tavakoli, Iran
KRET, Dir. Rafael LewandowskI, Poland - France
L'ART D'AIMER, Dir. Emmanuel Mouret, France
LA RUN, Dir. Demian Fuica, Canada
PLAYOFF, Dir. Eran Riklis, Israel - France - Germany
TAGE DIE BLEIBEN, Dir. Pia Strietmann, Germany
TATANKA, Dir. Giuseppe Gagliardi, Italy
WAGA HAHA NO KI, Dir. Masato Harada, Japan
WAN YOU YIN LI, Dir. Tianyu Zhao, China
ZILA-BILA ODNA BABA, Dir. Andrey Smirnov, Russia

Only CHE BELLA GIORNATA and DER BRAND are 2010 films with the rest being brand new 2011 films from around the world, untouched by negative press that almost accompanies ever single Cannes festival title. In fact, I have not seen a single mention of any of these films anywhere. The only film that I am slightly aware of is Tatanka but that is because of a personal interest in the film as the story is written by the incredible Roberto Saviano whose book Gomorrah is one of the best books I have read in the last few years.

There are many unknown films in other categories but surprizingly it is only in the Out of Competition category that some familiar titles show up:

This is Not a Film (Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb)
Black Bread (Agusti Villaronga)
The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)
What Love May Bring (Claude Lelouch)

There is indeed a very good chance that most of the films shown at Montreal will disappear without a trace. For example, I have not seen most of the previous year’s award winners. Just taking a small subset of award winners from a few categories produces many undiscovered older titles.

In 2010, the top three prizes went to:

Grand prix des Americas: 
OXYGEN (ADEM) by Hans Van Nuffel (Belgium/Netherlands)

Special Grand Prix of the jury: 
DALLA VITA IN POI (FROM THE WAIST ON) by Gianfrancesco Lazotti (Italy)

Best Director ex-aequo:

LIMBO by Maria Sødahl (Norway/Sweden/Denmark/Trinidad and Tobago)

TÊTE DE TURC by Pascal Elbé (France)

I have not seen any of these 2009 winners even though I have seen a few of Tony Gatlif’s previous films.

Grand prix des Americas: KORKORO (FREEDOM) by Tony Gatlif (France)

Special Grand Prix of the jury: WEAVING GIRL by Wang Quan’an (China)

Best Director: VILLON’S WIFE (VIYON NO TSUMA) by Kichitaro Negishi (Japan)

Thankfully, I have seen the 2008 award winner, Departures:

Grand prix of the Americas:
OKURIBITO (DEPARTURES) by Yojiro Takita (Japan)

Special Grand Prix of the jury :

Best Director :
THE TOUR (TURNEJA) by Goran Markovic (Serbia/Bosnia and Herzegovina)

However, if I keep going back through other years, I draw a blank for the award winners. And these are only for the films that got an award. There are hundreds of films waiting to be discovered via the archives.

The global film world is large indeed and one needs a proper fishing net to capture a good set of the films that exist. Unfortunately, the global distribution network only moves a select few titles around. Cannes plays a big part in this distribution stream as most of its new titles blindly get booked by a majority of film festivals and eventually get a DVD release. Sundance provides North American theaters with a few alternatives to Hollywood films while Rotterdam, Berlin, Venice, Locarno, Buenos Aries, TIFF, VIFF and Pusan also help in injecting new titles into the mix. Yet, despite all these festivals, a good number of international films still remain out of reach.

I appreciate what Montreal is doing and I am glad that a film festival exists that is helping bring many new and unknown titles out of the shadows. The distribution framework to give these films a life outside of Montreal may be broken but awareness of titles is the first step.

Venues & Outdoor cinema

During my stay for Fantasia, I saw plenty of banners and advertising for the World Film Festival because the festival was going to kick off 11 days after Fantasia ended. As it turned out, my hotel was very close to two of the World Film Festival venues. I was also within touching distance of the Cinema Under the Stars location and since I was very close to a Metro station, the remaining three cinemas were also very easily accessible. Of course, given Montreal’s excellent Metro system, most locations are easily within reach.

As indicated by the name, Cinema under the Stars films are shown outside on a closed-off street. This year, the collection features a few Hollywood and Bollywood musicals such as Singin’ in the Rain, All That Jazz, Chicago, Devdas, Lagaan along with two Jacques Demy films The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and Les demoiselles de Rochefort . Combined with the great summer weather in Montreal, Cinema Under the Stars will make for some fun viewings while the amazing selection of brewpubs and third-wave cafes in Montreal should provide enough fuel to discover films that apparently most of North America is unaware of.

Note: The Cine Files blog on Montreal Gazette’s website is providing coverage of the World Film Festival including links to some of the film trailers.


Sam Juliano said...

I'm very late to comment at this report Sachin, but no less amazed at the apparent treasure trove that was showcased here in Montreal. I've not seen a single one of the films, though I'll admit there are more than a few I'd like to get to at some point. We can really only speculate how many will open in theatres. Like you I have also seen DEPARTURES and liked it well enough. Nice to see the "Stars" series showed those two Demy musicals, which have finished in our site musical countdown.

I anticipate all is well with you my friend.

Sachin said...

Thanks for dropping by Sam and your comment. Yes things are good and I am getting back to watching some films finally. Every year, I am amazed to see how many undiscovered films show at Montreal only to see them disappear. I keep hoping that will change eventually....

Also, I expected to see those two musicals in your countdown :)