Make me your Homepage
left corner left corner
China Daily Website

Raymond Zhou: Montreal Journal, August 23

Updated: 2013-08-24 10:57
By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)
Raymond Zhou: Montreal Journal, August 23

An August 23 screening of “Skyfall,” last year’s 007 outing, attracts both movie lovers and passersby in downtown Montreal. [Raymond Zhou/China Daily]

August 23, 2013

Every film festival has its quirks and special characters. There are many good things to say about the Montreal World Film Festival, but one thing stands out but rarely gets mentioned by anyone who has participated in it. That is its free screenings, especially the ones in the open air.

It is called “Movies Under the Stars,” for which one film is shown at 8:30 p.m. every night for the duration of the festival. None of the dozen features are new releases, some a year or two old while others are great classics familiar to all cineastes. Some have a clear artistic leaning, such as “Chariots of Fire” and “Rear Window” while others, like “Gladiator” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” are pure commercial blockbusters. Yes, many of them hail from Hollywood, but a handful of little-known titles get squeezed in, e.g. “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress.” Well, the France-based Chinese director, Dai Sijie, is a juror for this year’s panel.

The screenings take place in a plaza between Hotel Hyatt Regency and Places des Arts, which is the heart of the festival, on what looks like a widened pedestrian street. It attracts thousands of people, some of whom must have seen these movies many times.

Yet, the collective viewing experience in such a special setting, with unpredictable elements like the weather, is entirely unique. It reminds me of rural mobile film units that roamed from village to village in China when I was a little boy. There was always a big gathering with people swarming from miles away, carrying their own benches.

The Chinese government is intent on recreating this tradition. It has in recent years implemented a rural program that offers millions of free screenings each year in the countryside. Yet, times have changed. Every household has a TV set and few would show up on such occasions any more.

The group euphoria I have noticed in Montreal is very much like what I saw in my childhood. Of course, people here come not because they have no access to regular, air-conditioned movie theaters. It is the fun of watching an old film like “Godfather” or “The Dinner Game” with people of kindred spirit. Another interesting difference from my childhood memory: Here in Montreal, unlike in China, people all watch from the front. There is no view from the back. So, the fun of seeing a majority of film characters as lefties is gone.

Apart from “Movies Under the Stars,” there is another segment that offers four films each day, all free, all Canadian-French films from the past year. Missed 2012’s award winner like “Karakara”? No problem. At Place des Arts, you can get a full dose of local gems. Now, I get a sense why people in Montreal love the cinema culture.


Raymond Zhou: Montreal Journal, August 23

Raymond Zhou: Montreal Journal, August 23

Montreal Journal, August 22

X-Ray Column