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DISPATCH FROM MONTREAL | Back from the Brink, Montreal World Fest Kicks off

DISPATCH FROM MONTREAL | Back from the Brink, Montreal World Fest Kicks off

Opening weekend of the 31st annual Montreal World Film Festival (Festival des films du monde) saw prominent film talent feted for work in front of and behind the camera beginning, on Friday, with actor Jon Voight. Voight, on hand for lifelong achievement festivities in his honor, was also there with “September Dawn,” making its Canadian premiere as one of two US films in international competition for the fest’s grand prize (the other, “Spinning Into Butter,” an indie starring Sarah Jessica Parker, is adapted from Rebecca Gilman‘s play about racism at a small New England college). “Dawn” describes another historic September 11 on US soil 150 years ago when Utah Mormons massacred a wagon train of men, women, and children.

Voight, gracious and cheerful before an admiring public on the first full day of screenings, insisted he never did any films for reasons “other than my enthusiasm for them” and felt “Dawn” over and above its dramatic challenges for an actor was a film that offered “a way to see how programming within a religion can use the religion itself as a rationale for murder.”

“Dawn’s” director Christopher Cain (“The Next Karate Kid”; “Gone Fishin'”) was also on hand, along with the film’s co-star, Canadian-based actor Tamara Hope. Queried at one point about whether the film might be especially controversial for Mitt Romney as a Mormon candidate for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, Cain explained at the outset that the picture “is not about people [but] about an idea,” namely religious fanaticism. “I thought there was a very close relationship between what we’re living with on a global basis today…and this one specific event that took place in 1857.”

Other honorees this year include Quebecois cinema pioneer Fernand Dansereau, whose “La Brunante” makes its world premiere at the fest, and international French film star-turned-filmmaker Sophie Marceau, who arrives with her latest directorial effort, “Trivial” (La Disparue de Deauville), another international premiere in which she also stars with actor Christophe Lambert.

Famed Spanish producer Andres Vicente Gomez (“Belle Epoque“) also appears this year in the dual role of honoree and competitor, representing Spain’s grand prize entry on the early life of Saint Teresa de Avila (“Teresa, El Cuerpo de Cristo“), a lavish biopic by director Ray Loriga that caused some controversy with Catholic authorities in Spain owing to the cinematic portrayal of Teresa’s erotically charged mysticism.

Gomez, long prominent in one of filmmaking’s least known or understood major roles, offered the following analogy of the producer’s particular place in the creation of a motion picture: “To simplify it,” he began in accented English, “I’d say the producer is the mother of the film, the director is the father, and the rest of the crew are the gynecologists.”

Although the French translation, “les sage femmes” (midwives), may have been closer to Gomez’s intended meaning, “Teresa” director Loriga offered yet another definition of their partnership, more in keeping with the theme of the film itself as well as his obvious gratitude toward Gomez: “A director is the man who prays to god,” he said, “and a producer is a god that answers.”

No doubt counting its own blessings after the government-funding crisis two years ago that nearly toppled the festival founded and overseen for three decades by Serge Losique, this year’s Montreal World Film Festival kicked off Thursday with the world premiere of the French Canadian comedy “Bluff.” Set in a Quebec apartment where a building inspector makes a shocking find under a trap door, the film unfolds a number of intercut narratives relating the lives of several previous sets of tenants, the only other common thread being a certain layer of deceit at play in their actions. Acted by a winning cast of major Quebecois talent, “Bluff” (not in competition) is a handily realized first feature by the team of Simon Olivier Fecteau and Marc-Andre Lavoie, both of whom penned the screenplay with David Gauthier, which includes a prominent role for adept comedian Fecteau in one of the film’s more straightforwardly comical scenarios. As opening-night crowd-pleasers go this slickly executed ensemble pic was no feint.

[The Montreal World Film Festival runs through September 3.]

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