Serge Losique, the embattledpresident of the Montreal World Film Festival (MWFF), has fired back at hisnemeses at Telefilm Canada and its Quebec counterpart SODEC.

On September 7, the twoagencies, the principal sources of public subsidy of the MWFF, issued a callfor proposals for a film event in Montreal, a direct challenge to Losique andthe MWFF as the city's principal film event. The proposal came in the wake ofthe publication of a report commissioned by the two agencies from auditing firmSecor critical of the event's management, its operations and its value to thelocal and international film industries.

Telefilm chairman CharlesBelanger made it clear that while Losique was welcome to submit a proposal, theMWFF could no longer expect Telefilm dollars if Losique did not cooperate withthe new process. Together Telefilm and SODEC provide MWFF with C$1m annually,approximately 15% of the festival's operating budget.

In a joint letter entitled"Denigrate to Appropriate" published in Montreal's La Presse newspaper onSaturday, Losique, MWFF vice-president Daniele Cauchard and festival boardmember Pierre Goyette took aim at Telefilm chairman Charles Belanger and SODECdirector Pierre Lafleur, accusing them of conducting a campaign of"destruction" and "blackmail", dismissing the report and Secor as biased, andscoffing at the notion of participating in the call for proposals. It asksrhetorically if the MWFF is being "muzzled" because the festival is openlycritical of Telefilm's "anti-cultural" policies. It suggests that Montreal isbeing "squelched in order to leave more room for Toronto."

The letter reads: "In thename of what law can Telefilm and SODEC, the morning after the festival's closing[Sept. 6], even as its prize winners are celebrating their success, issueinvitations for a new festival to appropriate the mandate of the MWFF' What weare witnessing is an unprecedented and gratuitous bureaucratic attempt todestroy and expropriate our 28-year-old institution. In the coming days we willcomment on this "call for proposals" worthy of the ex-Communist countries." Itcloses defiantly: "the next Montreal World Film Festival will be held August 25to September 5, 2005, as always open to the world and to renewal."

Along with its riposte, theMWFF posted two background documents on its website, one from its auditorsstating festival administration had behaved in an open and transparent fashion;the second a legal opinion from an attorney stating that the actions of the twopublic agencies' was "outside of the law". "The State should not be able tocarry out arbitrarily the pure and simple expropriation of an autonomouscultural institution."

As for the 2005 MWFF, one ofthe question marks hovering over the viability of mounting the event has beenanswered. MWFF spokesperson David Novek confirmed that the festival's twoprincipal corporate sponsors, Air Canada and Visa Canada, have signed on fornext year. Telefilm and SODEC declined to comment.

Richard Paradis, the chiefof staff to Canadian Heritage Minister Liza Frulla told thatthe issue was between Losique and the two agencies. "We don't think it'sanything we should get involved with politically." But, he added, "If Losiquewants to take them to court, that's his right."