Serge Losique is on the phone and he is laughing. The president of the Montreal World Film Festival (Mwff) is not unlike the captain of a storm-tossed ship now entering safe harbour. The distributors who refused to give him films are now providing top titles (see sidebar). The agencies that refused to finance him are now giving him money. And all that is left of the New Montreal FilmFest - the rival that threatened to usurp him - is an $850,000 crater of debt.
"All great festivals had in their history some problems," says Losique. "If you are small and not important, nobody will bother to attack you."
This is true, to a point. Losique has been a lightning rod in the Montreal film community for many years, criticised for what some call an autocratic management style. He makes it easy for his detractors. But what becomes lost in the cult of Losique is the festival itself and its importance as a regional launch pad.
"It has always been, and still is, a good platform to release a French-language film - especially one from France," says Yves Dion, president of Montreal-based distributor TVA. The company has Canadian distribution rights to Claude Miller's A Secret (Un Secret), which makes its world premiere in the closing night slot of official competition. The film will be released in Quebec cinemas this autumn.
Similarly, another Montreal-based company, Seville Pictures, is using the Mwff's out-of-competition opening-night slot to launch its dark comedy Bluff before releasing it across the province on September 7.
It is a win-win situation, according to Seville vice-president of marketing Victor Rego. With the film's ensemble cast of established and up-and-coming stars set to grace the red carpet, the festival will start with a media bang.
"The opening slot gives the festival some of the popular flavour it had in its heyday," says Rego. "Unlike Toronto (where) you have to fight to get editorial on Canadian product."
As far as Patrick Roy is concerned, that is the right kind of fight. The president of the province's largest distributor, Alliance Atlantis Vivafilm, a division of Motion Picture Distribution, Roy was sick of the internecine festival war (Vivafilm is handling Eric Lartigau's romantic comedy Prete Moi Ta Main, a hit last year in its native France, through a co-releasing deal with Remstar).
"We're here to promote our movies," says Roy. "The festival directors forgot this. The focus was on the festivals, and that's wrong."
Roy says he was blunt in his conversation with Losique. "I said, 'If you want the films, tell us how the festival is going to help our movies.' We had a good discussion and we're convinced the films we're showing will be helped by the festival."
Lartigau and the film's main star/producer Alain Chabat will be in town for the August 27 screening. It opens in the province's cinemas on August 31.
In addition to providing a local launch pad, Losique insists the festival is a functioning marketplace, but none of the international sales companies contacted for this piece mentioned any plans for Montreal.
"We've acquired great movies from the Mwff in the past," says Roy, citing the example of Peter Mullan's The Magdalene Sisters in 2002. "But I think it became a different tool in recent years."
As for the Mwff's provincial benefactor, support stems from the event's local importance. Joelle Levie, director general of cinema and television for Quebec's public sector cultural funding agency Sodec, says the decision to reinstate financing was an acknowledgement of the festival's importance to Montreal's cultural life. But the sum is less than when Losique was cut off two years ago: $270,000 compared with $450,000.
Telefilm Canada has yet to announce its intention, but as long as it matches Sodec's figure, it will be a lesser cost than the risk of re-igniting the festival fireworks.