Another year of the festival has come and gone and like every year I cannot believe it is already over! I just wish I had more time to squeeze in a few more films. I wish I could take that week off from my full-time job to devote my time entirely to the festival, alas it just isn't possible. I did manage to see 12 films and for the most part I came away quite happy with my choices. The festival offers the film watcher so many options it is kinda overwhelming at times and I end up having to make tough choices between two or three films that I want to see that are playing at the same time. Rats! What the festival does very well is offer a glimpse into the world and its inhabitants for Montrealers. We are able to travel to different countries, continents and eras through the magic of cinema without even leaving our seats. During the festival I was able to voyage to China, Colombia, Italy, Denmark, France, Sri Lanka, and the United States. All for the small price of one cinema ticket! This year the festival's focus was on world cinema and films by first-time directors.
The highlights of the festival for me this year were: The Chinese Botanist's Daughters, Just Like the Son, Half Nelson, A Soap, Slippery Slope, A Colombia, and Forget Me Not. They were all very different, but what they all did well was show the human condition in moving ways. Half Nelson (my favourite film of the festival) and A Colombia dealt with characters with drug problems and how they each decided to handle it. The Chinese Botanist's Daughters was a beautiful to look at and brave film about the taboo subject in China of female homosexuality. Forget Me Not was a look at the miracle of birth and the importance of female friendship in post-World War II Italy. Just Like the Son and A Soap involved characters thinking they had reached bottom only to discover that they are capable of so much more. Slippery Slope was a humourous look at marriage and how sometimes compromising our beliefs can lead to personal awakenings.
The festival also offered the public an opportunity to get up close and personal with the people who made or were part of the films. At many of the screenings I attended the director, producer and/or actors were there to introduce the films, tell us a little about the filming process and answer our questions after the films. For a cinephile like myself this kind of opportunity is very welcome.
When the dust had settled the organizers of the festival announced that they had a strong year attendance-wise and would be back again next year for another go at it. This is usually a given for most festivals (especially in festival mad Montreal), but it is definitely saying something when it comes to this particular festival. Last year a competing festival raised its head and monies and films that used to come to the Montreal International Film Festival were siphoned off in another direction. Chief festival guru Serge Losique has been known to ruffle some feathers and so last year we were expecting to hear the death toll of this long running festival. Helped by the fact that the competing festival was a disaster attendance-wise and financially, like a phoenix from the ashes, this year the Montreal International Film Festival was able to attract big films (Lonely Hearts starring John Travolta and The Oh in Ohio starring Danny Devito), many Canadian films (The Secret Lives of Happy People, 1st Bite and Black Eyed Dog) and a big name, Academy Award winning actress Kathy Bates, to be a part of the jury. All these things gave an aura of stability and status to the festival. We can now sit back and wonder how they are going to top it for 2007.
Montreal International Film Festival Awards:
Grand Prix of the Americas: A Long Walk by Eiji Okuda of Japan
The Greatest Love of All by Carlos Diegues of Brazil
Special Grand Prix of the Jury: Snow in the Wind by Yang Yazhou of China
Best Director: Hans Peter Moland of Norway for Comrade Pederson
Best Artistic Contribution: Guy Dufaux of France/Canada for The Chinese Botanist's Daughters
Best Actress: Ni Ping of China for Snow in the Wind
Best Actor: Filip Peeters of Belgium for Hell in Tangier
Best Screenplay: Edin Hadzimahovic of Slovenia for Warchild
Most Popular Film of the Festival: The Chinese Botanist's Daughters by Dai Sijie
Most Popular Canadian Film: The Chinese Botanist's Daughters by Dai Sijie
Best Latin American Film: Mariposa Negra by Francisco Lombardi of Peru/Spain
Best Documentary Film: The Art of Aging by Jean-Luc Raynaud of France
International Film Critics Award: A Long Walk by Eiji Okuda of Japan
Ecumenical Prize: A Long Walk by Eiji Okuda of Japan
photos by Sylvain Legare of the Montreal International Film Festival