Opening night of the ninth annual Montreal World Film Festival was a personal coup for founder and director Serge Losique. Gossip columnists had always chided him for not attracting enough major stars to Montreal, and critics said that Hollywood gave its major movies to Losique’s archrivals at the Festival of Festivals in Toronto. But Losique at last persuaded director Norman Jewison, who actually sits on the board of the Toronto festival, to premiere his first made-in-Canada feature film, Agnes of God, in Montreal. With the movie came the movie’s star, Jane Fonda, who opened the festival at the Aug. 21 debut gala in fluent French and glittery style.
When Losique launched the World Film Festival in 1977, he could only attract 86 films from 14 countries. The 1985 edition was mammoth: 200 feature films and 126 shorts from 53 countries; a total of 502 screenings in seven theatres; 19 feature films in competition. Declared Clive Turner, director of marketing and communication for the Australian Film Commission: “I would say that Montreal is the number 2 festival in the world—in some respects, for us, it may even be number 1.” He added that in Montreal he can show more films in more categories and get a sense of how North American audiences react.
The festival is certainly popular with the Montreal audience, estimated at 225,000 over the 12 days of screenings. Quick sellouts included the Yugoslavian film When Father Was Away on Busi-
ness, the grand prize winner at Cannes, and the French existential detective thriller On ne meurt que deux fois, to be released as He Died With His Eyes Open. The 11 Canadian features at the festival also did unusually well. Two low-budget films—Giles Walker’s comedy 90 Days and 24-year-old Alberta film-maker David Winning’s first feature Storm—gained the kind of reviews that could lead to commercial success.
Even the film market attached to the festival, always overshadowed by the ones at Cannes, Milan and Los Angeles, is beginning to attain credibility. Said Victor Loewy, president of Vivafilm, one of Canada’s foremost distributors of European and independent films: “You used to be able to fire a gun through the market and not hit anybody. But this year all the important people from South America and France are here.”
Over the years of building his festival, Losique has heard the cries of opposition slowly give way to whispers of grudging respect. This week he will announce plans for next year’s “biggest film festival in the world”: the 10th anniversary edition of the World Film Festival. He plans to pay tribute to the reborn British film industry and open a new section at the festival, Cinema and Peace, to coincide with the United Nations-sponsored Peace Year. Losique modelled his festival on Cannes—and the World Film Festival is beginning to rival it. All Montreal lacks is a beach.
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