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Fest is alive and well despite harsh penalty.

This year's 29th Montreal World Film Festival (MWFF) is out in full force, August 26-September 5, in an effort to prove that despite adversity, the show will go on. It has not been an easy couple of years for the Fest. Last year, just before the Fest opened, Telefilm Canada and Quebec funding agency SODEC publicly chastized MWFF for bad management, poor relations with the media and the industry, and low ticket sales. After the festival, they welcomed proposals for a new international film event, sparking the creation of the brand new Le Festival International de Films de Montreal (or New Montreal FilmFest), which will take place this year shortly after the Toronto International Film Festival, from October 12-23. Telefilm Canada has withdrawn its financial support for the MWFF, in favor of the brand new film festival. To make matters worse, the former president of the Berlin and Venice Film Festivals, Moritz de Hadeln, who already had a strained relationship with MWFF president Serge Losique, is running the New Montreal FilmFest. But despite the hurdles set before him, Losique seems committed to keeping the embattled festival afloat.

Competition between Losique and de Hadeln began two years ago when Losique withdrew the MWFF's membership in the Paris-based International Federation of Film Producers Associations (FIAPF). Back then, the MWFF was North America's only international festival accredited by FIAPF. Losique blamed the conflicting Venice Film Festival (then led by Moritz de Hadeln) for causing him to withdraw the festival. This year, FIAPF's accreditation of the MWFF was restored, but whether or not peace has been restored between the two directors is still anybody's guess.

Despite its recent sponsorship problems and the creation of a new competing festival, the Montreal World Film Fest, with its diverse sections of documentaries and world cinema, rises above the competition. It screens French-Canadian product and markets international films in a more intimate environment compared to its neighbor, the Hollywood-oriented Toronto International Film Festival.

The MWFF features an impressive line-up of films, free outdoor screenings, appearances by directors and film personalities, as well as an active market and a two-day symposium highlighting digital cinema. The MWFF's theme of cultural diversity is exemplified by the 45 countries represented at the Festival, and is also reflected in the multi-cultural jury, many of whose members have directed films previously featured at the Festival. This year's jury is headed by Greek director Theo Angelopoulos, who was most recently honored by the European Cinema Academy for his film, Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow (2004). Other members of the jury include: Chinese director Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine) whose films will be feted along with a host of Chinese films at the 100th anniversary celebration of Chinese cinema; Swedish director of photography Jorgen Persson (My Life As a Dog); Russian director Pavel Lungin (Taxi Blues); Chilean director Silvio Caiozzi (Coronation); and Claudio Gubitosi, founder of the Giffoni Film Festival in Italy, and a member of the Italian National Committee for the Cinema.

Other activities at the MWFF include the Student Film Festival (taking place August 27-31), which has a 36-year history of encouraging young talent by highlighting works of Canadian students from universities and film schools. Awards offered by the Student Film Festival include the Norman McLaren Prize (sponsored by the National Film Board of Canada), and the Kodak Imaging Award for the best new Canadian student director (presented by Kodak Canada Entertainment Imaging).

"This year, the market holds an International Conference on Digital Cinema from August 28 and 29," said Gilles Beriault, market director of the Festival. The goal of this addition to the MWFF calendar is "to focus on theatrical exhibition and formats, and [to explore] what is in store for distributors, exhibitors and producers in the next few years." Beriault, who has overseen the market over the past decade, has seen it evolve, adjusting to the times and shifting in regards to the importance of TV and video.

"On the tech side, conference panelists will sum up such areas as different standards that are being put forward for digital projectors, hard disk, satellite transmission and encoding; and on the distribution side, the panelists will discuss digital feature film distribution and theatrical exhibition," Beriault explained.

Symposium participants include Frank Stirling, CEO of Breakpoint Digital, a company which focuses on digital content distribution. Previously, Stirling served as executive director of Boeing Digital Cinema, which launched 31 operational theater screens across the U.S. and the U.K. over satellite. Another speaker, film director Amy Hardie, is executive director and founder of Scotland-based Docspace, Ltd., which implements digital distribution strategy by exhibiting films through a network of cinemas throughout the U.K.

Other market features include the Production Exchange, a venue for producers to meet with other producers, financiers, distributors, sales agents, government agencies and broadcasters in order to complete financing and distribution of current projects. New international co-productions and other projects are published in a "Project Book" circulated to industry professionals. Market participants include European film promotion agencies like Unifrance, German Cinema, the Scandinavians, Film Flanders, Wallonie--Bruxelles Image and the Greek Film Center.

"This is an evolving market," insisted Beriault. "This year we received more inquiries from American independent distributors like Miramax and others, since they depend on foreign films for business and look at the Montreal Festival selection for new product." He added, "Digital distribution is especially relevant to the market in both TV and film."
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Title Annotation:The WORLD FILM Festival
Author:Fine, Janet
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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