The Montreal World Film Festival (MWFF) has lost its prestigious Category 1 (colloquially referred to as "A-list") accreditation from the International Federation of Film Producers Associations (FIAPF).

The Paris-based body is effectively punishing MWFF director Serge Losique for changing the dates of the 2003 event without consultation. Montreal's new dates (August 27 - September 7) overlap with both Venice (August 27 - September 6) and Toronto (September 4 - 13).

Speaking from his holiday home, FIAPF general secretary, Bertrand Moullier said: "FIAPF deeply regrets the breakdown of its relations with the Montreal festival. We are not in the business of taking sides. But this is a matter of principle, not just a moral one, but a question of working practice."

"Regardless of whether or not Montreal wanted the FIAPF accreditation that it formally applied for last year," continued Moullier, "it would not have been possible to renew it this year. A change of dates affects not only the festivals concerned, but also the producers we represent."

Newly elected FIAPF president Andres Vicente Gomez is visiting the Caribbean and was unavailable for comment.

A move towards punitive action was foreshadowed last week at Cannes, where FIAPF held emergency meetings with Losique and festival directors Moritz de Hadeln of Venice and Piers Handling of Toronto. At the time, Vicente Gomez said: "This issue is of major concern. We might have to step in as the regulating body and make decisions."

FIAPF is not in a position to downgrade a festival or to suspend its grading. Rather FIAPF decides whether or not to accept a festival's annual application for accreditation.

For next year's 2004 event it will be possible for Montreal to re-apply and be re-accredited with FIAPF if the festival agrees to move the dates forward and reduce the schedule overlap. The 2002 MWFF ran from August. 22 to September 2, 2002.

FIAPF has four levels of festival accreditation. Category 1 is "competitive non-specialised festivals", of which there can only be one per country, for example Cannes, Venice, Berlin and Montreal. Category 2 is "competitive specialised" festivals. Category 3 is non-competitive feature film festivals, of which Toronto is an example. Category 4 is documentary and short film festivals.

Toronto's director of communications Gabrielle Free told Screen Daily that her festival does not covet Montreal's Category 1 designation.

"We're not a competitive festival and we don't want to be," explained Free. "If we were to become competitive it would change the environment. We don't want to invite filmmakers and then have some of them leave feeling like they've lost. We prefer a more collegial atmosphere, where filmmakers see each other's films and socialise."

It is not clear what the non-accreditation will mean for the Montreal festival. FIAPF accreditation is meant to ensure that accredited festivals abide by rules that, among other things, protect the copyright of producers, limit the number of screenings and ensure screening conditions are optimised.

Toronto has benefited from its timing relative to Venice, which has allowed it to programme films that are virtually world-premieres - Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven screened in Toronto four days after its screening on the Lido last year. Montreal, finding itself increasingly in the shadows of Toronto, presumably wanted a piece of that action.

Jennifer Green IN MADRID contributed to this report