As a decade-long devotee of the Montréal World Film Festival, Montpelier resident Dianne Maccario will finally be able to merge her passion for motion pictures with la vie bohème. The 30th-annual cinematic extravaganza, which runs from August 24 through September 4, is venturing into the fabled Quartier Latin for the first time. Three theaters in this nonconformist neighborhood around Rue Saint-Denis will now replace the Parisien, a venue in a less appealing part of the city that normally anchors the event.
Good-bye, tacky souvenir stands and that shoe store displaying thigh-high, stiletto-heeled boots favored by ladies of the night. Hello, cafés, boutiques, bookshops and a vegetarian restaurant that's simply magnifique.
Granted, films will continue to screen downtown at the Imperial, an Art Déco palace, as well as at the elegant Maisonneuve. But the fest's new map significantly shortens the dreary trek along a seedy section of Saint-Catherine.
Maccario, academic services coordinator at Community College of Vermont in Burlington, says she looks forward to familiarizing herself with the hipper terrain. Involved in organizing Montpelier's Green Mountain Film Festival for many years, she initially made the late-summer trips to Montréal with local friends. Various relatives from afar began joining her in 2000.
"It's become an extended family reunion," Maccario says. "We all stay at the same apartment-hotel on Sherbrooke. At breakfast the first morning, we have a little workshop with graph paper, Magic Markers and colored dots to create our schedule."
The ritual helps them sort through a wealth of options. We have different interests: music, work, Asia, the Mideast, Italy, cultural change, politics, women's rights, social justice," Maccario notes, "The festival always has something for each of us."
The 2006 Montréal lineup appears to be equally accommodating, with 76 nations represented by a diverse array of 165 features, 51 full-length documentaries and 194 shorts. Such far-from-Hollywood spots as Lithuania, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Bosnia-Herzogovina, Mozambique and Ecuador account for some of the fare.
Here are a few suggestions, though, to address the specific categories devised by Maccario's clan:
The music is classical in Fugue, a drama from Chile and Argentina about a psychologically troubled composer whose unfinished score is stolen by a lesser talent.
When it comes to work, The Journey concerns a famous Indian author who thinks about the characters he has created while en route to accept a literary prize in Delhi.
Asia offers numerous choices. The South Korean Running Wild, for example, is the tale of a jaded detective and a by-the-book prosecutor teaming up to catch a crime boss.
To focus on the Mideast, perhaps The Yacoubian Building from Egypt is a good bet. It's about the stresses and strains of secular society in contemporary Cairo.
Maccario's career in academia may be reason enough for her to see one particular comedy from Italy: In The Night Before Finals, a student decides that an English professor is his nemesis.
Cultural change probably figures in Our Earthmen Friends, the festival's opening-night film. This French satire is framed as a mockumentary shot by
extraterrestrials examining the differences between humans in their natural habitat and those living in captivity.
Politics? No problem. Based on a true story during the repressive Franco dictatorship in 1974, Salvador remembers the last prisoner of conscience ever marked for execution in Spain.
Women's rights are addressed in Mosso, the Last Matriarchy, a Chinese doc about a unique ethnic population in Yunan and a young girl among them who is desperate to modernize.
Social justice is implicit in Holly, a U.S. indie that follows a man trying to rescue a Vietnamese girl sold into sexual slavery in Cambodia.
Maccario doesn't flinch at tackling the frequently dark themes in a festival with a truly global perspective. "For a few days we see the world through the eyes of directors from many countries," she says.
But if celluloid gloom becomes overwhelming, this year her contingent can seek solace in the Latin Quarter's bohemian joie de vivre.
Montreal World Film Festival, August 24 - September 4. Info, http://www.ffm montreal.org or 514-848-3883.
Free festival schedules are available at six Vermont locations. Burlington area: Seven Days, 255 South Champlain Street; Burlington College, 95 North Avenue; Community College of Vermont,119 Pearl Street; and Waterfront Video, 370 Shelburne Road. Middlebury: Waterfront Video, 2 Maple Street. Montpelier: Savoy Theater, 26 Main Street.