Right across Sainte-Catherine Street from the Meridien Hôtel, where the 19th World Film Festival is headquartered lies the wide expanse of the Place des Arts (think of it as the québécois equivalent of the Lincoln Center Plaza), lined on the eastern side by the impressive, multi-tiered structure of the Palais des Arts, where all gala presentations occur.
Forget the madness, forget eating on the run, forget dashing from cinema to cinema trying to tank in as many as possible of the hundreds of films shown at all hours in about ten theatres, forget choices! Come dusk, the one place to be is the Place des Arts. With its huge screen draping the Palais, the Place turns into a gigantic "walk-in" (as one would say "drive-in") for the nightly free screening destined to celebrate the 100th anniversary of cinema. At 8.30 pm traffic stops, street lights are dimmed, the screen comes to life as about 8000 people stand, sit , crouch or lie down to watch one of cinema's masterpieces (if you're smart, you get there with your own plastic stool and picnic gear around 5. Don't bring food: pizza, hot dog, pop corn and ice cream stands abound). Over the week-end, the cordoned-off neighborhood was rocking to the beat of Richard Lester's Beatles concert movie "Get back" (Saturday) or undulating to the flamenco sound of Carlos Saura's --and George Bizet's--"Carmen" (Sunday). Other films to be shown include Federico Fellini's "Amarcord", Ettore Scola's "The Ball", Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds", Fritz Lang's restored black-and-white science-fiction tale "Metropolis" and, tonight, Jean-Paul Rappeneau's "Cyrano de Bergerac" with Gérard Depardieu riveting as the impudent, long-nosed poet.
Depardieu and Jennifer Jason Leigh added star power to the Festival. She had come to present Ulu Grosbard's competing film "Georgia" --a project she initiated and asked her mother, scripter Barbara Turner, to write. He, the honorary president of the jury, had come to receive a special Grand Prix des Amériques for "embodying one hundred years of cinema" (yet he's never been slimmer!). The Complexe Desjardins was packed to the rafters --about a thousand people in the mini-mall, hanging from the balconies, elbowing each other on the main level --a terrorist would have had a field day! He came, he saw, he talked, he charmed, he conquered! As he did, later on at a private dinner hosted by Festival honcho Serge Losique and attended by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Brian De Palma among others.
More than one award was given this week-end. After Depardieu's Grand Prix des Amériques, journalist, film historian and celebrated critic Andrew Sarris was given the second Prix Maurice Bessy as Best Film Scribe for the ensemble of his writings on film. A former pillar of the Village Voice, for which he wrote about 30 years, now the "Accidental Auteurist" at the New York Observer, Andrew Sarris, who also teaches film at Columbia University, was the first American writer to champion the "Auteur Theory" and its luminaries: Eric Rohmer, François Truffaut, and Jean-Luc Godard. A well-known figure in France, Maurice Bessy , who died nearly two years ago, had founded "Cinemonde", possibily the world's most popular film magazine in its day, and for a while headed the Cannes Film Festival. "To all the young men and women who want to write about films," Sarris said, "Trust me: I've been underrated, now I'm over rated; hang in there, things always even out." Given for the first time last year to French writer Michel Ciment (now a juror), the Prix Maurice Bessy kitty is $10 000. "In my life, I've received many scrolls and statuettes, but this is by far the biggest award I ever got," Sarris quipped.
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