We checked out Quebec City’s film fest

The Festival de cinéma de la ville de Québec is surprisingly eclectic for such a young, modest fest.


Kassandra Clementi and Josh Lawson in Becoming Bond

Having just spent a little over a week cover the Toronto International Film Festival, I find it interesting to compare the way that festival relates to what’s happening in Montreal right now. Toronto has long surpassed the World Film Festival as Canada’s biggest fest, and with that comes its share of detractors. As John Semley points out in The Globe and Mail, the festival is growing more disorganized and corporatized as TIFF the organization grows more powerful. TIFF requires — or at least attempts to draw out — a certain reverence for its brand that isn’t necessarily reflected in the American studio-centric programming. On the other hand, the industry laments that there are less big buys and breakout successes coming out of TIFF as the marketplace tries to fit in more and more contenders.

Both of these make good arguments, but I find it excessively hard to sympathize with these criticisms when Montreal’s world-class festival has become one old man running the entire show within the span of a decade. (I would argue that Fantasia is quickly making itself world-class, but as a genre film festival, it arguably fights for a different piece of the pie.) It’s with this in mind that I showed up to Quebec City with the intention of checking out the Festival de cinéma de la ville de Québec. As a very young festival (it was founded in 2011), the FCVQ cannot — and does not — pretend to compete with other festivals. It has a smaller line-up, less glitz and glam, fewer venues and, inevitably, fewer premieres, which means that there is less press running around tweeting the hottest of takes in escalators when you desperately need to get to the bathroom.

None of these are bad things — film festivals should celebrate cinema rather than the wild race to scoop a casting rumour for the newest franchise or some sort of red carpet party. Even in its limited scope, the FCVQ has attracted high-profile talent in the past, particularly with its opening film, which is traditionally a Quebec film. This year, the opening film was Luc Picard’s Les rois mongols (which I haven’t seen yet through a vast confluence of scheduling conflicts).

The festival is centered around Place d’Youville, which serves as the centre of the most tourist-y part of Quebec City — a very tourist-y place indeed. On the upside, it means that the festival area is extremely animated; on the downside, it’s possible that most of the people there didn’t even realize there was a film festival going on. (This would possibly affect Montreal’s FFM, too, except that even people who want to go to the FFM can’t find it.) The venues are within reasonable walking distance of each other, though the festival’s still-modest size means some of the venues are likely to be outgrown very soon.

I only got into Quebec City on Friday in the late afternoon, which meant my first screening would be Carl Th. Dreyer’s seminal The Passion of Joan of Arc with live organ accompaniment by Karol Mossakowski. (Dreyer’s film is not only silent, it was often presented with different scores, meaning that no one really agrees on what the “real” score is, making it perfect for live performance.) The Passion of Joan of Arc is an intense movie under any circumstances, but it is rendered even more intense by the live accompaniment on the Palais Montcalm’s Casavant organ. The screening was one of the fest’s two Ciné-Concerts, the other one being Birdman with live drumming accompaniment.

I guess now is as good a time as any to point out that the FCVQ has rather eclectic programming, especially for a festival of its size and age. Prestige-y mainstream films like Et au pire on se mariera and Cédric Klapisch’s Retour en Bourgogne are screened alongside Fantasia selections like My Friend Dahmer and Game of Death, while the foreign film programming favours lesser-known titles and first works by promising newcomers. There’s also a fairly large selection of rep screenings, from Robert Morin’s seminal Quiconque meurt, meurt à douleur and crowd-pleasers like Wayne’s World, which was broadcast for free just outside the Palais Montcalm. Not quite as avant-garde or auteur-heavy as our Festival du Nouveau Cinéma but hardly as Americanized at TIFF, the FCVQ’s programming strikes me as relatively interesting when you consider that film festival audiences are constantly considered to be older and less adventurous as time goes on.

On Saturday afternoon, I checked out Becoming Bond, a breezy docu-drama shot for Hulu that adds fictionalized segments (Lazenby is played by Josh Lawson from House of Lies, and there are small cameoes by Jeff Garlin, Jake Johnson, Jane Seymour and Dana Carvey) to George Lazenby’s story of being the only one-off Bond in history. Though extremely light and heavily dependent on Lazenby’s own presence as an unreliable (or at least, weirdly braggy) narrator, Becoming Bond is a lot of fun, if not exactly an obvious choice for a festival film. What made its inclusion on the schedule obvious was the presence of Lazenby himself to introduce the film and follow it up with a Q&A. It’s obvious even from a short Q&A that the film has captured Lazenby’s laid-back, laddish charm rather well.

I very rarely check out shorts programs when covering festivals — they’re difficult to write about, for one, and they often don’t replay in the same format, so it’s difficult for readers to check them out if I’m particularly enthusiastic about them. That having been said, I’m glad I checked out the program of international short films that screened on Saturday night in les Gros Becs, a small theatre on St-Jean Street that hosts many of the festival’s screenings. Though dominated by its weakest selection (a 45-minute Dutch short titled Freedom, which, while fine, was intensely overlong), the program featured a diverse and original selection of shorts ranging from a Swedish stop-motion Auto-tune musical about despondent sardines, mice and call-centre apes (!), a clever Spanish short in which Ringo Starr is reincarnated in a rather unusual fashion, a very stylish Greek short set in a decrepit resort town and a charming Polish short about Polish seniors and their long marriage in very close quarters.

The crowds at FCVQ are mostly older, and in general, the screenings have not been full, but I have to say I’m curious to see how some of the more left-field choices will play here.

The FCVQ runs until Sept. 23rd, but I will be here until the 19th — stay tuned for one more report. ■