Culture | Stepping out of the TIFF’s shadow

Why the Montreal World Film Festival is worth a look

Stand in line for just about any showing at the Festival des films du monde de Montréal and you will be treated to quite an assortment of overheard conversations. Sadly, the one topic that seems to be everywhere this year—especially at the higher-profile films—is the perennial gripe, “Oh, it’s nice, but it isn’t Toronto.”

Why? It is certainly true that the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which opens September 10, draws a larger crowd, quite a bit more money, and higher-profile directors. This year, for example, the golden child of Canadian film festivals features North American premieres from the likes of Pedro Almodóvar, Werner Herzog, and Lars von Trier. The glitz factor is pretty intense, with everyone from Roger Ebert to Brad and Angelina gracing the red carpet.

Yet this is no reason to diminish the truly singular film festival we have here in Montreal. In fact, there are quite a few advantages to being Canada’s “second” film festival, and not just the difference in ticket prices. (A full festival pass in Montréal this year is $80, compared to Toronto’s $525.)
Foremost is the quality of directorial work that is featured at the festival. This year’s roster of feature-length films in official competition is quite good, as are the 22 films in the “World Greats” category. Accomplished directors such as Claude Miller, Tony Gatlif, and Danièle Thompson premiere their films here and receive the welcome that they deserve, as opposed to the second-tier reaction that they might get at Toronto. One could also accuse much of TIFF’s Special Presentation section of simply being May’s Cannes Film Festival shipped right across the Atlantic, without much in the way of exciting world premieres.

Further, without the competition for buzz between the Coen brothers and Stephen Soderbergh, young directors with visionary new films can get real attention. There are five feature-length directorial debuts in the official competition, including the American Asiel Norton, whose Redland is nothing if not original.

It is hardly as if the festival is so shabby that it can only be spoken of in comparison to its more glamourous neighbour. For example, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film this past February to the Montreal festival winner Departures, a film that was missed by many on the larger festival circuit. A premiere at Théâtre Maisonneuve or Cinéma Impérial is still a unique and memorable experience, and the international scope of the festival is extraordinary, with 78 countries represented by some of their greatest directors. If you get the chance before closing night on September 7, grab a schedule and find a film. It’s worth it, and cheaper than the Scotiabank or AMC.

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