Friday, August 21, 2015

Montreal World Film Festival in Variety

Interesting article on the Montreal World Film Festival. Just last year it looked like it was curtains for this great Festival but, despite all odds and all the predictions that it would go down in history, the MWFF managed to pull off another year. And now this high profile (if rather surface-level) article in Vanity Fair.

I'd be curious to hear the inside story of how this article came to see the light of day. There's nothing in it that's particularly newsworthy, and I know how these things tend to work. Still, it surprises me that Variety is devoting space to the story.

It reflects what many people, including myself, have said about that Festival here: why do people assume that MWFF competes with Toronto? Toronto outspends and outperforms and has a far bigger market (audience, sponsors, government agencies, etc.) than Montreal.  We shouldn't be competing with Toronto: we have a totally different kind of audience here who are more sophisticated in a certain way, care less about the dazzle and are far more interested in the substance. And when I see the huge lines outside the theatres for some small independent Iranian or Indian or Indonesian film, I am so proud to live in this city. And no Nicole Kidmans or Jennifer Lawrences in sight...

It's the same for our Festival: Toronto is the centre of the publishing world and has far more support than we do. It's not what we do: our focus is international writers that never get a platform anywhere in Canada (or North America generally). And, of course, our Montreal writers which generally do very well for us.

There's this knee-jerk reaction from people in the entertainment, media, publishing or film world that "stars" are what makes a festival or movie or piece of art. And while it's true that we have to have a few stars each year, being famous doesn't make one a good writer or good actor or good anything. I can understand that some people become famous by being very good at their jobs, but being famous is not a value in and of itself.

Star power: a minor consideration for Montrealers
This cropped up recently when a famous daughter in a scion of American reality TV (I refuse to write the name, they don't need more publicity) had her birthday party here. The news stories annoyed the hell out of me but what really annoyed me is that a few hundred people actually went down to the riverbank and paid money to attend. She's not famous for anything except for being famous. Ugh. I was so disappointed that mainstream Montrealers gave into that crap. Who are these people exactly because everyone I know just rolled their eyes.

Because for me, I hold Montrealers to a higher standard: we don't need famous people or red carpets or $40,000 cocktail parties to make something successful. We want quality. We want edge. We want something that challenges us and makes us think. I find this year after year at our Festival too: a famous writer doesn't guarantee that an event will sell-out. It's more a question of how the event is shaped, the title it's given, the angle by which we will look at it. Local events sell out. Unknown writer events sell out. People are starved for something interesting with substance.

So I am encouraged by the angle that Serge Losique takes in this Variety piece.

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