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Montreal International Festival of New Cinema and New Media

(Montreal, Quebec, Canada)

Montreal is surely one of the top North American cities for anyone interested in world cinema. Didn't Wim Wenders, a long-time friend of the FCMM, dedicate his Tokyo-Ga (1985) to the Montreal public? There's no denying the major impact of the FCMM on Montreal's reputation as a city where good cinema flourishes and draws enthusiastic audiences.

The festival was founded in 1971 as the Montreal International 16mm Film Festival. Its first team of organizers included Dimitri Eipides (with the festival until 1994) and Claude Chamberlan (still its guiding force). The first festival offered sections such as "Political and Social Cinema" and "Visual and Structural Cinema" alongside "European Short Films." These titles reveal the festival's desire from the start to present cinema dedicated to social struggle as well as to aesthetic exploration, as the use of American critic P. Adam Sitney's term "structural" (1) indicates. Of course, Sitney used the term to refer to the American avant-garde films of the era, while the festival was devoted to all independent, non-commercial cinema.

In 1972, Dimitri Eipides notes in the catalogue preface that one objective was to "give viewers [...] a look at the subjects that interest today's young filmmakers." (2) Indeed, the festival showcased the technological developments linked to moving images. It reflected the aesthetic evolution and practice of a cinema of exploration, a cinéma d'auteur that bucked the political, social and aesthetic establishments. The festival, in its initial format, showed a significant commitment to experimental or avant-garde film, with retrospectives of works by such filmmakers as Peter Kubelka (1976) and Bruce Baillie (1979).

For its ninth edition in 1980, the festival changed its name to the Montreal International Festival of New Cinema. Dropping 16mm from its name meant the festival was now open to all practices devoted to the evolution of cinematographic form and language. At the festival's 10th anniversary in 1981, video works were first shown, highlighting this medium's growing place in visual arts and communications, through a section presenting works from the Coop vidéo de Montréal, Dion/Poloni, Groupe d'intervention vidéo, Vidéo-Femmes and Vidéographe. Its appearance sparked debate between film's staunch defenders and promoters of video, a medium that had already been part of the art world for close to 15 years. It was a time of great effervescence, as the festival greeted an endless parade of remarkable filmmakers such as Marguerite Duras, Wim Wenders and the young Jim Jarmusch.

The fall of 1984 was memorable as well, punctuated by a shift in the balance between the various technologies associated with film. This shift signalled another name change: the Montreal International Festival of New Film and Video. That year, the video contribution gained importance with both a Canadian and an international section. Indeed, 1984 was truly Montreal's year of video, with the city hosting another important event, Video 84. The festival welcomed artists of the calibre of Bill Viola and Joan Jonas that year. There was much discussion of the "film-video convergence," which was also the name of yet another event that fall, this one directed more at the film and television industries. The 1984 festival ushered new people onto the video organizing team, notably Marc Paradis (who programmed Canadian video with Luc Bourdon in 1983 and 1984), Jean Gagnon in 1985, Thrassyvoulos Giatsos (who handled international video from 1984 to 1993) and Luc Bourdon (who coordinated video in 1983 and 1984 and headed up video programming and shorts from 1997 to 1999). As well, the eighties saw the emergence of young videomakers like François Girard and Bernar Hébert (who weren't yet making films) and video work by the likes of the Coop vidéo de Montréal and Robert Morin, whose body of video work was already impressive.

The nineties were also an eventful time. For starters, the festival changed names twice, becoming the New Montreal International Festival of Cinema, Video and New Technologies in 1995 and finally the Montreal International Festival of New Cinema and New Media (FCMM) in 1997. These name changes echoed the constant evolution in digital image technology. In acknowledging the importance of such developments, the festival remained faithful to its mission to reflect the growth of new cinematographic languages regardless of form. That period saw also the implication of many invited programmers such as Barnard Boulad, Nicole Gingras, Ségolène Roederer and Marie-Michèle Cron.

In 1995, the festival trumpeted the advent of new technologies with many special presentations including Imagina, a selection of works from the Forum international des nouvelles images, a French event co-organized since 1982 by the Institut national de l'audiovisuel and the Festival international de télévision de Monte-Carlo as a showcase for computer-generated images. As well, Montreal's Softimage filled a hall at the city's Monument national with projections and demonstrations of the latest 3-D animation technologies and showed off its virtual theatre technology. Also in 1995, the festival inaugurated a new component, the Media Café (later renamed the Media Lounge) where audiences could surf the Web and look at CD-ROMs, including many Voyager Press CD-ROM titles, along with the first two issues of Artintact, a series developed by Germany's Zentrum für Kunst and Medien Technologie (ZKM).

After further troubles with dates, sites and finances, the festival pulsed with new energy in 1997 when Daniel Langlois became president and his foundation a major partner. After relatively modest beginnings, new media acquired a growing share of the spotlight under the guidance of new media programmer Alain Mongeau. The new media program began to include performance, digital film, interactive installations as well as CD-ROMs and Web sites. In 1999, the FCMM found a home in Montreal's all new Ex-Centris Complex. The latest festival has taken place there and in other sites around Montreal from October 12 to 22, 2000.

Jean Gagnon © 2000 FDL

(1) P. Adam Sitney, Visionary film: the American avant-garde, 1943-1978 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979) c1974.

(2) Catalogue of the Festival international du film en 16mm de Montréal (Montreal International 16mm Film Festival), 1972, s.p.