The 35th Montreal World Film Festival has come and gone, and what to make of it all? The festival has long been considered an underdog—the lame twin to TIFF’s robust quarterback, if you will—but after this year, my alternate metaphor casts the MWFF as the snobby Siamese cat to TIFF’s affable beagle pup. But there’s no need to play hard to get, it really isn’t becoming. I know, I’m anthropomorphizing, and mixing my metaphors, but the MWFF has become so hard to love. Throw us a bone, why don’t you?
Let me explain. After seeing more films this year than ever before, and being more invested in the festival’s mandate and programming, I’ve found that it’s an awful lot of work to get behind this particular underdog. Sure, there’s a lot to love—some incredible and unique films that may never again be seen in our city—but the MWFF seems to ask a little too much of its audience. Firstly, the programming is nothing short of overwhelming, and with close to 400 films, an unnavigable website, and less than optimal publicity, finding a good-quality film is a veritable guessing game—it might be just as well to show up at the Cinema Quartier Latin and pick a room at random.
There is something slightly appealing, though, about the democracy of such an experience. The majority of these films are small and virtually unknown—even googling the titles yields few results—which means quality might triumph over a given film’s publicity budget. But this also means that once word gets around that a film is worth seeing, its short screening is likely to be over.
And for a festival of this scale, not to mention one in its 35th year, the MWFF was plagued with so many technical snafus that it left me wondering if even the projectionists were unpaid and untrained volunteers. Does it really take three whole minutes to realize the subtitles are cut off? Shouldn’t somebody have noticed that they were in the wrong language, or maybe thought to correct the typos? Shouldn’t the aspect ratio and soundtrack be figured out before the audience has arrived?
My most frustrating experience of the festival came at the screening of Noordzee, Texas, the Belgian film which went on to win the Silver Zenith Award and FIPRESCI Prize for first feature film. The screening was accompanied by an unfortunate series of technical flubs, sadly in the presence of director, Bavo Defurne, and the charming young star, Jelle Florizoone.
After a lovely short film, Noordzee, Texas began, but without any sound. After a few minutes, the audience got rowdy. I presume this is when the problem was noticed, and the sound was turned on. Some audience members clapped, some booed, and the film was stopped. The short film came on once again, and was greeted with more heckling from the crowd. Finally, Noordzee was restarted, this time with sound, but was stopped once more about ten minutes in. Even more heckling ensued, followed by a blithe announcement from an usher in the wings informing us that the screening was to be postponed until the technical glitches had been worked out. A quarter of the audience had left the theatre by this point, and my thoughts turned to the teenage star of the film, decked out in oversized dress clothes, visibly excited and nervous, witnessing a very impatient—and very vocal—crowd of moviegoers storming out of the cinema. I also understood their frustration.
Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think I’m just being a curmudgeon. Another Rover writer reported similar experiences: bad aspect ratio, films being stopped and restarted, and no sense of direction to the festival’s vast programming. This isn’t just aloofness, not mere playing hard to get. My relationship to the MWFF has become almost masochistic. Except, I’m starting to enjoy it a little less.
The Montreal World Film Festival has finished its run, but you can try to navigate your way through the festival website for more information on this year’s programming.