The 40th Montreal World Film Festival is in an apparent state of disrepair following the last minute resignations of many staff members and cancellations of dozens of screenings. A letter posted on Facebook Wednesday signed by 22 filmmakers whose films were scheduled to play at the fest before being cancelled at the 11th hour even asks festival president and founder Serge Losique to “seriously consider” resigning.
“Many of us flew great distances from different countries including Finland, Colombia, Germany, Czech Republic, Russia, Israel and the USA with great excitement to see our films shown on the big screen,” the letter reads. “However, when we arrived at the festival offices and found out that our screenings had been canceled without any prior notice, we felt humiliated and outraged. Most of us found out after we had already landed in Montreal.” The festival runs from August 25 to September 5.
The letter comes roughly a week after much of the festival’s staff resigned, citing in their own letter “the financial uncertainty of the festival and the inability to firm up infrastructure reservations or to honour agreements.” Employees of the festival last year also complained about not being paid, and the fest has reportedly been losing corporate sponsors and public funding from Quebec and Ottawa since 2013.
On August 25, Montreal’s Cineplex theater chain announced it was pulling out of the 2016 festival. “While we’ve been working hard to support and coordinate the 2016 festival for some time now, because of financial, timing and operational concerns with the festival itself, we had to make the difficult decision to not partner with them this year,” Daniel Seguin, Cineplex Entertainment VP of Operations Eastern Canada and GM Quebec, said in a statement.
The company later issued a second statement, clarifying the situation. “We gave [Losique] multiple extensions over the past weeks to provide us with a deposit for this festival,” the statement read. “Given the recent news of the resignation of his team which subsequently put into question his ability to operate the festival, we decided it was best to not participate this year.”
The MWFF was founded around the same time as the Toronto International Film Festival, but while TIFF has grown to become one of the most important festivals around the world, MWFF has struggled, film critic Bill Brownstein told CTV Montreal. “The fact of the matter is that the Montreal World Film Festival has been surpassed by a zillion other festivals, not just around the country, but in Montreal,” Brownstein said. “The Fantasia Film Festival, the Festival of New Cinema, you have the Art Film Festival [and] you’ve got a documentary film festival.”
Losique has fired back at criticisms of the festival, calling the accusations against him and MWFF “slanderous.” “These [volunteers and festival workers] know nothing about our finances,” he said. “When you have someone cleaning carpets you don’t tell them about your financial matters.” Losique added that the festival had begun as planned on Thursday, with director André Forcier’s opening night film “Embrasse-Moi Comme Tu M’aimes” earning a 20-minute standing ovation.
“The situation is as good as any other big festival,” Losique said. “We’re trying to find money like everybody else, but the festival has existed for 40 years and will exist for another 40 years.”