Clear and balmy nights have only heightened the jubilant atmosphere around the first week of the Montreal World Film Festival, rebounding from the funding ordeal in 2005 that nearly sounded (erroneously it turned out) the death knell of the 31-year fest overseen by the tenacious Serge Losique. The weather report predicts showers as the week progresses, but it's doubtful a little rain will dampen this notable reversal of fortune.
With the addition this year of a late-night sidebar ("Midnight Slam!", whose horror and cult offerings include several premieres, among them Rob Zombie's remake of "Halloween" and Michael Davis's "Shoot 'Em Up"), the festival bubbles along for 18, 19 hours a day with something, as they say, for everyone. Including the cash-strapped. A series of free outdoor films (the emphasis is on box-office and festival hits of the past) are projected nightly onto a giant screen outside the behemoth Hyatt Regency complex downtown, inviting public and passersby to congregate in the gated-off thoroughfare between the Hyatt and the Place des Arts. Yesterday roughly 200 people saw illuminated there the lonely baby face of festival honoree Jon Voight in his defining 1969 turn as John Schlesinger's "Midnight Cowboy."
A couple of hours before that, just inside the Place des Arts before the grand Theatre Maisonneuve, the red carpet rolled out in the early evening twilight for a slew of celebs and guests promenading to the world premiere of "Surviving My Mother." Meanwhile, a boisterous industry mixer thrown at the Hyatt that afternoon was still evident in the wobbly gait of more than one cineaste crossing Rue Sainte Catherine in a determined attempt to get to the other side.
"Surviving," a much-anticipated English-language dramedy of somewhat Almodovarean inflection, reunites the creative team from 2003's international hit, "Mambo Italiano." Many wanted to know if "Surviving" had set its sights on a similar success. Director Emile Gaudreault was predictably cautious ahead of any larger distribution deal: "It's a film for Quebec and Canada, first and foremost," he said. "What's going to happen afterward, we don't know, we'll see." Asked if she had hopes for a "Mambo"-like reach with this pic, producer Denise Robert was equally stoical. The renowned producer of many noteworthy Quebecois films, including husband Denys Arcand's Academy Award-winning "The Barbarian Invasions," added that, "What makes a film travel are its universal themes. The mother-daughter relationship is a theme that exists everywhere in the world. We would like this film to go around the world, and we intend to present it in other film festivals and to sell it around the world."
"Mambo" playwright and "Surviving" screenwriter Steve Galluccio, who was seen hovering patiently in opening-night black tie before a hungry TV crew, proved an amusingly candid quipster at the press conference for the film earlier in the day at the Hyatt's atrium mall. Complimented on his refreshingly real female characters, one woman asked how it was that he could be so interested in writing about female characters over 35 and with children? "It's a question of sexual orientation," he said.
As distinguished local actors like Michel Cote and Dorothee Berryman filed into the Maisonneuve, others cued up around the corner at the nearby Imperial (the movie palace owned by the fest's Losique), where legendary director Nicholas Roeg was rumored to be falling to earth in time to attend the premiere of his latest, "Puffball," starring Kelly Reilly, Miranda Richardson and Donald Sutherland.
Unusually high attendance, full theaters, and enthusiastic crowds are all cheering signs that the controversies of 2005 are history. The film festival's Sylvain Gagne insists on the fact. Pointing to the high-value selections this year (there are more notable world premieres than in years past), he says there's a renewed feeling of goodwill permeating the festival as well. "The fights are behind us now. That's inspired the way people are going to see these movies."