A BEARDED YOUNG MAN came on the stage of Montreal’s Loew’s theatre wearing a made-in-Paris Union Jack for a shirt and deposited a bundle of ribboned awards. Then came Judith Crist, the once and future movie critic of the New York Herald Tribune, to preside over the tense prize-giving ritual for this year’s seventh Montreal International Film Festival (July 20-August 4).
Miss Crist made a bid to win over the packed house—an excitable mixture of Canada’s most ardent film fans and what must have been the largest collection of Canadian movie people ever lured into the same theatre. “I’ve come equipped with my own sub-titles,” she joked, but somehow it didn’t raise much of a laugh when she read out the jury’s decisions in the carefully rehearsed French of a campaigning politician.
For the first time since the Canadian section of the competition was set up four years ago, no first prizes were given for features or shorts. The only money awards were two in a new category for medium-length films (Buster Keaton Rides Again, and Notes For A Film About Donna And Gail) and a special jury prize to David Secter for his varsity film Winter Kept Us Warm.
Juries’ decisions are never popular at film festivals, but I suppose there
can be no prize as unpopular as no prize at all. The decisions were intensely debated all through the night in that peculiar festival atmosphere that comes from seeing, hearing, thinking, talking and dreaming films. (This year, there were even movies to dance to on a kind of illustrated juke-box called the Scopitone.)
Judith Crist, on arrival, was immediately exposed to more Canadian films than she’d ever seen in her life, (32, including six features) all within 48 hours. She then spent the next three days in almost continuous session with six other Canadian, American, French and Czech jurors, and the whole of the last night justifying their decisions.
The reason given for the jury decisions was that “none of the films is up to the standards which Canadian film-makers have set themselves.” It is to laugh. The festival of Canadian films was started, you may remember, because our films were almost unknown, could not get any showings, and were not ready to compete with the best of the rest of the world. Perhaps none of the short shorts was up to the standards of the great reputation - making Canadian films, like Lonely Boy, but as I see it almost any of them was good enough to have won a prize, and in fact three of them
had already won various international awards.
Now, it seems, our reputation has outstripped our achievement. We have been “discovered.” The highbrow French film magazine Cahiers du Cinema recently devoted a special issue to the new young cinemas of Brazil and Canada, and last year Judith Crist put Don Owen’s film Nobody Waved Good-bye (which incidentally won no awards in Montreal) on her 10-bcst list.
The medium-length category alone was of such a uniformly high standard as to make it the most interesting part of the festival. Buster Keaton Rides Again is a National Film Board production about a much less interesting film Keaton made called The Railrodder (a travelogue with gags). It proves what I’ve often suspected about routine films, that the really interesting things were happening off-
camera. Keaton will be written about as long as people can see his movies, but this film by John Spotton actually shows you how he gets to be funny.
Notes For A Film About Donna And Gail is an attempt to describe the close friendship of two factory girls as it might be seen by an outsider. We never really know what’s going on inside other people, we can only guess, and it’s this ambiguous quality that Don Owen was after. The result has more inconsistency than ambiguity but it does establish an interesting direction for movie story-telling.
The picture that got the greatest audience reaction was a fast, funny short about an Italo-French-Canadian yé-yé singer called On Sait Où Entrer, Tony, Mais C’est Les Notes (roughly: “We know where to begin, Tony, but what are the notes”). Like Lonely Boy, it’s shot in the candid style but is at once more frenetic and more affectionate in the treatment of its
subject. It’s a film that really swings.
Curiously enough, the feature section turned out to be the weakest, even though more people are working on features today than ever before. One reason is that some producers are now afraid that a bad festival reception will hurt a picture at the box office. (To think that four years ago, the festival was the only hope of a showing for most Canadian features.) Another is that our filmmakers are busily chasing after technical proficiency just when the rest of the world is trying out the improvised dialogue style that made us famous. Once we had avant-garde features like Claude Jutra’s Take It All. This was the year for slick mediocrity:
□ Don’t Forget To Wipe The Blood Off is a pointless graft of two Seaway episodes that could only be commercially shown as part of a triple bill in a fourth-run house.
□ Lydia is a love story that tries to create a sense of mystery by saying nothing, and hopes beautiful color photography will make up for limp performances.
□ YUL 871 enjoys the distinction of having the NFB’s first extensive bedroom scene, but the story flounders in a mire of stylishly presented documentary detail.
□ When Tomorrow Dies is Larry Kent’s third feature and a perfect example of what’s hanging up Canadian features. The story of a mother (Patricia Gage) who returns to college and finds love among the textbooks is dogged by naive naturalism. The unexpected moments of truth that Kent captured in his last film Sweet Substitute (or Caressed) have been sacrificed in the pursuit of a professional look.
□ Winter Kept Us Warm, in contrast, only just escapes being amateur but has an engaging frankness.
These cannot be called a representative selection of the year’s Canadian feature work. But I’m afraid Miss Crist was flattering us when she said that they were not up to our usual standard.
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