Montreal’s World Film Festival (WFF), the city’s premiere international cinema event, finishes on Monday, September 3. Far removed from the international glamour of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), one of the most well-attended film festivals in the world, the WFF is a low-key affair that tries to showcase obscure and up-and-coming films and directors. This year, the WFF showcased 432 films from 80 different countries. The festival, however, has struggled to attract the star power of TIFF, which has become a Hollywood favourite.
This was not always the case. In the WFF’s opening year, 1978, the festival attracted Faye Wray, Gloria Swanson, and Ingrid Bergman. Thirty-four years later, the festival has recast itself as an effort to “encourage cultural diversity and understanding among nations.” But TIFF manages to cover a larger range of films, from big Hollywood features such as Sideways and Crash to small indie productions. Indeed, even the most prevalent Quebecois films are now heading to Toronto for the international exposure, rather than languishing in their home province.
A dispute with federal cultural agency Telefilm Canada in the mid-2000s further hurt the WFF, as they lost their funding. A rival festival was created in 2005 with the support of government agencies, and lawsuits were launched by WFF. The legal battle was recently dropped, restoring the WFF’s funding, but the episode didn’t help the festival’s fortunes.
Despite its relative decline, the WFF is still an international event of note. The official selection includes Karakara, a Japanese-Quebecois road film set in Okinawa; Anfang 80, an Austrian production about falling in love in old age; and Two Jacks, an American film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s The Two Hussars set in modern Hollywood.
The festival’s director, Serge Losique, pointed out that the WFF is North America’s only major competitive festival. While Cannes, Berlin, and Venice are all competitive festivals, TIFF is not. Losique insists on the importance of this distinction; however, the Montreal World Film Festival doesn’t exactly live up to the reputations of its European cousins.
To be fair, the WFF has great local and international competition. Its festival slot at the end of August often coincides with the Venice Film Festival, which began on August 28, and ends shortly before the beginning of TIFF. Moreover, Montreal has a plethora of other film festivals that are genre- or region-specific. Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal is a world-renowned documentary festival, Fantasia is devoted to cult horror and Asian pulp, and the Festival du nouveau cinéma is a boutique international festival with an emphasis on new technology.
While Montreal’s smaller festivals continue to thrive, the World Film Festival seems unable to regain its former relevance. Perhaps future cooperation with Montreal’s other festivals, an idea suggested by Telefilm Canada, can improve the fortunes of the beleaguered WFF.
Check out the WFF program at www.ffm-montreal.org. There will be free outdoor screenings all week at Place-des-Arts, at 8:30 pm.