Montreal World Film Fest:
Phoenix rising or last hurrah?
The MWFF goes on thanks to a last minute rescue
By Byron Toben
The 41st edition of the Montreal World Film Festival is now showing, thanks to a last minute rescue by Quebecor, shown as the only sponsor this year. Quebecor’s head, Pierre-Karl Péladeau has apparently purchased the in arrears 5 million dollar mortgage on the MWFF headquarters at the Imperial Cinema to give the festival’s founder and head, Serge Losique, breathing space.
The glory years of many of the past versions have more recently seen a diminishing of many of its features due to a number of factors.
The Film Market for distributors and exhibitioners
Gala receptions for attending stars and producers
Major screens at the Place Des Arts or Cinema Odeon
Printed programs or schedules
Public press conferences
Personal attendance by judges
Reasons for this decline are:
Termination of various government grants
Rise of Toronto Film Festival as major Canadian event
Attempts by other local organizers (failed) to fill the gap
Reported financial mismanagement
Combative personality of Mr. Losique
Last year, despite these obstacles, I managed to enjoy the festival, due to a few fine entries at the single screen Imperial, as some items, mostly documentaries, were hosted by the Theatre Outremont and some terrific Polish and Hungarian films, independent from the festival, were shown at the Cinema du Parc in that same time frame. See my 2016 review here.
This year, a number of films have been offloaded to the Cinema du Parc and some to the Dollar Cinema. Here is what I have seen and enjoyed.
A Prominent Patient
This Czech-Slovak film, in competition, details the life of Jan Masaryk, the son of Tomas Masaryk, the founder and first president of Czechoslovakia (since peacefully separated into the Czech Republic and Slovakia). Jan hoped to become a jazz pianist in New York, but failed and reluctantly took up politics, becoming, after his father’s death, the Czech ambassador to the UK. The Nazi takeover of his country led to his return to a sanatorium in the USA, a curing of his depression, and eventually a post WW II position as foreign secretary.
Condemned to Remember
This Irish film recites the efforts of a Slovakian Jew who survived the Holocaust in which 35 of his relatives perished. In 1959 he emigrated to Ireland and at age 80 he recently told his story to the members of a mosque in Dublin. This kicked off a year of travel and communication to urge remembrance and hopes to prevent genocide elsewhere. There are shots of his meeting with the liberal son if a Nazi official, his return to the now right wing Slovakia, and atrocities in Bosnia. The film also depicts his amazing energy and perseverance despite his age.
Jerry Lewis: The Man Behind the Clown
This France-Australian co-production documents the life of American comic Jerry Lewis who is idolized in France, as is Woody Allen, as a true artist. Lewis himself studied techniques of cinema greats like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Australia is the home of a Lewis impersonator who filled in live in some scenes although there are plenty of clips from the runaway TV appearances of duo Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, When that team finally broke up, Lewis took to film with a vengeance, learning everything from props to costumes to lighting to cameras, becoming a director himself.
The Montreal World Film Festival ends on September 4.
Visit ffm-montreal.org for the program.
Feature image: courtesy of French Connection Films
Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club.