FilmFest death watch

The New Montreal FilmFest is on life support less than a year after it was launched

You've heard of short films, and festivals of short films and short-film festivals–but the list of short-lived film festivals could soon feature the New Montreal FilmFest. Conceived in spite and rancour in February 2005, it is essentially on life support less than a year later. This is no big deal: there are two other established film festivals in the city, the larger Montreal World Film Festival (MWFF) and the smaller Festival du Nouveau Cinéma (FNC). But in terms of tax-payer dollars…ouch.

At the cost of $6 million–some $2 million of that government subsidy–the inaugural event ran from Sept. 18 to 25, 2005, and categorically failed to make an impact. Ticket sales of 100,000 would have been a respectable take; in the end, only 27,000 attended, and not all of those people paid for their tickets. The deficit stands at a whopping $850,000. The recriminations are still flying.

In the blame game, look first to Telefilm Canada, the federal agency that provides public sector funding for film festivals. In 2004, Telefilm execs had a very public falling out with Serge Losique, the president and general manager of the MWFF. Along with Quebec cultural agency Société de développement des entreprises culturelles, Telefilm yanked a combined $1 million in financing. Now consider the execution.

The agency called for proposals for a new film festival in the city and, in December 2004, granted the funding to the Regroupement pour un festival de cinéma à Montréal. The italicized “un” (one) is key. The Regroupement–a collection of Montreal cultural insiders that included representatives of Alliance Atlantis and all the major Quebec distribution companies, Daniel Langlois, founder of software company Softimage and a principal sponsor of the FNC, and Alain Simard, president of first-rate event organizer L'Équipe Spectra, the company that runs the Montreal jazz festival–was keen to wipe Losique and the MWFF off the map. Spectra had to build a festival from scratch and, in February 2005, rolled out the name and a top-gun festival director, Moritz de Hadeln, to fill the screens for an October launch. (Two months later, the dates were moved forward to September. Don't ask.)

It was never going to be pretty. Trying to mount a major film festival in eight, no, seven months is an exercise in hubris. But it didn't have to be this ugly. First mistake: Telefilm's call for proposals required the winning bid to mount a festival within the next year. Second mistake: the inaugural event was far too ambitious in scope. Third mistake: groupthink. For example: they assumed they could piggyback the New Montreal FilmFest with the FNC, but forgot to get approval from the founder of the FNC, Claude Chamberlan. The Regroupement claims to have consulted with Montreal's stakeholders, but if they didn't ask Chamberlan, who did they consult?

In October, the Regroupement issued a lengthy statement acknowledging the failure. But, bizarrely, the statement proposed, yet again, a merger with the FNC. It set itself a deadline of Jan. 15, 2006, to establish the connection, after which Spectra wants to sever ties with the New FilmFest. But Telefilm says it won't cover the deficit if the New Montreal FilmFest doesn't happen in the new year. The only person talking is new FNC executive director Bruno Jobin, who is (still) not interested. Maybe someone should ask the citizens of Montreal if they are.