A favorite summer destination for Vermont cineastes, the Montreal World Film Festival is currently undergoing some serious scrutiny. According to the French-language daily newspaper La Presse, the annual event will be the focus of a "critical study" by the hands that feed it: two public organizations that provide subsidies of almost $1 million Canadian. The report will examine the festival's financial health, management practices and programming choices.
One reason for the probe, apparently, is last year's decision by longtime Montreal director Serge Losique to withdraw from the international federation to which most prestigious film festivals belong. He took this reaction after being widely criticized for re-scheduling the 2003 Quebec extravaganza to coincide with its counterpart in Venice. They normally take place sequentially.
Losique is a notoriously secretive and thorny individual. In a province that's officially bilingual, he refuses to use English when answering questions from local English-speaking reporters at festival press conferences. Queries about his controversial leadership frequently get no reply at all.
The media has blasted Losique for allowing the Montreal festival to lose its luster over the last decade or so. Star power is important at these glitzy entertainment gatherings. As time goes by, Montreal draws fewer and fewer big-name directors or performers.
Movie-mad Americans who regularly trek north from the Green Mountain State, however, may rejoice that an actress with solid credentials will be honored at the 2004 fest: Isabelle Adjani, whose career extends back to such classics as The Story of Adele H. (1975) by François Truffaut and Roman Polanski's The Tenant (1976).
By the way, anyone with an artistic bent might want to enter the festival's poster contest. The deadline is February 16 and the prize, in addition to gracing all the promotional materials, is $3000.
More details are available at http://www.ffm-montreal.org. This year's festival takes place from August 26 to September 6.
Closer to home, the Red Brick Movie House is a fanciful moniker for the site of a winter film series in Westford. Youngsters can catch late-afternoon matinees on the second Saturday of each month; adults see grown-up fare in the early evening on the fourth Saturday. It started in January with the 1937 version of Peter Pan and Out of Africa, a 1985 drama.
The venue is a 182-year-old Baptist church, called the Brick Meeting House, which townspeople have been restoring as a community center. "We project the movies on a section of the wall where there are no cracks in the plaster," explains Amron Skowronski, director of the Westford Public Library.
Wee ones curl up in sleeping bags on the floor. Older folks can sit in the vintage, folding, wood-and-cast-iron opera seats. "We have an old-school kind of popcorn maker," Skowronski says. The treat sells for 50 cents a bag. Admission is free.
The selections are on loan from a source that must remain anonymous for contractual reasons. Most of what's screening will be 16mm, unless video or DVD formats are in better shape. The project is the brainstorm of town planner Alex Weinhagen, who handles the technical details, and his wife Allison.
Although the specific schedule has yet to be determined, in February Skowronski plans to show King Kong -- the 1933 original, not the 1976 epic with Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange. The release of that remake prompted Newsweek critic Jack Kroll to proclaim: "Even with color, the settings of Kong II are no match for the rich black-and-white chiaroscuro of Kong I, with its echoes of artists like Gustave Dore and Max Ernst and its sensitivity to the emotional values of tone and texture."
No wonder Peter Jackson, director of the award-winning Lord of the Rings trilogy, decided to tackle the giant ape's saga. For this Return of the King, he's slated to do a summer shoot in New Zealand. Naomi Watts has been cast in the role -- pioneered by Fay Wray -- of a beautiful woman able to charm the beast. Reportedly, both George Clooney and Robert De Niro are under consideration to play the adventurer who captures Kong on a tropical island. He then brings the creature to the island of Manhattan, where the Empire State Building awaits.
Back at the little old Red Brick Movie House, Skowronski muses that the series "gives this town something to do on a weekend." Publicity is low-key, she comments. "It's done West-ford-style."
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