This piece is about the disaster of the 40th Montreal World Film Festival of a week ago. It is about its controversial president, Serge Losique and the workers of the fest. And, of course, the filmmakers (you can read their Open Letter in order to understand more about the situation https://cinetalk.net/2016/09/03/an-open-letter-from-the-filmmakers-of-the-40th-montreal-world-film-festival/).
It provides some insights about the whole mess. Never anything like it happened in the world of film festivals. So it is a public concern and International news.
1) A Precision
I worked with Serge Losique.
Contrary to most journalists writing about this, I was inside… once.
I was first hired by Serge’s son, François, in 1998 for what was supposed to be six months… I stayed five years. I was assigned at The Imperial Theater, the property of the World Film Festival, Serge’s other baby. Under Serge’s administration, I was the only person to ever get the title of Programmer at Imperial, François, being the director. François was fun and respectful. He still is. Every other aspect of the work (except projections) was under the care of Lotfi Benamara, one hell of a cool manager. They are still around. They were all there, this year and tried to put up with the giant mess.
At the time, Serge offered me an office on the Infamous third floor of the Festival’s office – The Film Market- I met Gilles Bériault (A wonderful man) the director of the market and I also met film critic Elie Castiel who was working on the texts book.
Elie was a programmer for this 40th – Disastrous «Collector» Edition. He left just before the beginning… Gilles stayed, acting like the gentleman he is.
During five years, I was inside the office with these guys, but as a kind of outsider, they were FFM, I was Imperial. Serge was always referring to me as Rasta (I have dreadlocks hair). This was a century ago…
2) A Human side of the Serge Losique Character
Serge, let me thank you
Fifteen years ago, you put me in charge of some interesting projects. One was the 25th Anniversary retrospective of your fest. You made (almost) no interference. A rarity for you. The only time you lost your temper (on this project) is when I wanted to add a personal choice, just one film. You started to shout at me, Serge Losique Style, but with a loud voice I said : «Mr. Losique, when I was only 13 I went alone with my pocket money to your Festival to see the film Bianca by (yet unknown) Nanni Moretti. I’d like to play it.»
You looked at me, you saw the 13 year old boy going alone to your fest (it was in its heyday in 1983) and with tears in your eyes you said with a fatherly tone “of course, play it”.
I’m grateful for such moments. We used to appreciate each other. You used to trust me. I used to try to trust you. And I wanted to remember you through my 13 year old boy’s eyes.
3) Dark side of the Force: programmed Management disabilities
To acknowledge that you are responsible , as the captain of the ship, (not the journalists, not Cineplex, not the 10 employees who left) of this predictable fiasco, readers and film buffs have to get an explanation, from inside, of how far back lies the problem. It will be easier for them to understand what is wrong with your ways of working with anyone. Including yourself.
So, lets go back in time with one insider, just one…
Beginning of the 2000’s. You’re in Cannes (yes, THE famous fest). I’m at the office in Montreal. François was away for a much needed break. The director of your campaign to finance the restoration of the Imperial, Noel Cormier (an amazing man), rushes into my office. It’s Thursday morning. He is in a state of shock, screaming like mad.
Noël : you know what Serge did?
Me (smiling) : I work for Serge, why should he talk to me? But tell me, I’m always thrilled to hear about Serge.
Noël: There was a party in Cannes yesterday. Losique runs into the Quebec minister of Culture. He explained the urgent need of money for the first part of the restoration plan, the seats.
To make it short, the minister asked if the Cinema was at least fully booked for the next months. She needed proof we had plans to operate. Serge said yes. And the Minister replied we shall send the schedule to the ministry by… next Monday. 4 days to program one year. Almost nothing was done since Serge always stopped me from booking in advance. We had a weekend to book rentals to many organizations, even those he always refused to work with. We did. For Noël, I was Santa Claus.
The minister got a program, you got the money. Unhappy with my programming… you fired me. François hired me back later (he was getting used to this strange pattern) and we all acted like nothing happened. Anyway, everything was legal. For the record, we had, once more, a not-that-bad IMPROVISED program, instead of what should have been a great program.
Why did I help you then? Because that theater is part of our heritage. It belongs to us all.
Your endless improvisational stunts keep people from reaching their full potential, thus the festival to evolve. It also stops any good initiative to see the light of day. And the filmmakers and guests are the collateral victims. Especially this year. That is why the journalists seem always so unjustly cruel to your FFM. They know. I know. You laugh. And we never take the time to explain properly to the public what is really going on.
(Note: In chapter 7 we will get back to people whose potential was misused by your lack of administration (The Magnificent 10, the employees who resigned at the last minute this year). You didn’t change since my time with you.)
The first three days of this mess, I volunteered to help inside my good old friend the Imperial Cinema (the sole venue of the fest in the beginning). My idea was simply to help my pals Lotfi, his son Ramzi, Andre (the projectionist) and François, yes your son. When I realized I was helping them, while wishing you would fall, I left. But I got the opportunity to talk with the audience, the directors, the EVIL blood thirsty journalists. A Lot of time.
About 90% of the audience and film buffs were blaming (in that order) the journalists, The Magnificent 10 and Cineplex. No one was blaming you, Serge. You’re good!
Cineplex was blamed by all because the company announced publicly they were leaving the event on such short notice. They added some vague public explanation. People felt they were let down by the Cineplex Forum Cinema and its partnership. Now, they wonder why Cineplex came back at the end. Why couldn’t they have stayed in the first place? That’s a mighty good question. Calculated public relations?
Not good for the trademark.
Sarah Van Lange from Cineplex was cooperative and friendly when I wrote her, but I got this predictable answer: “…While we worked hard to support and coordinate the 2016 festival for some time, because of financial, timing and operational concerns with the festival itself, we had to make the difficult decision to not partner with them this year. The financial difficulties of the Montreal World Film Festival are widely known and we were not immune to them. Additionally, given the resignation of his team just days before the festival began which subsequently put into question his ability to operate the festival, we decided it was best to not participate this year. We did everything we could to work with Mr. Losique to avoid this outcome.”
Cineplex made two mistakes: leaving at first without a clear explanation and coming back without a clearer explanation. Believe me, I was there, your clients still don’t believe this one.
I bet they are happy in the Toronto offices.
5) The foreigners & the letter
With the state of total panic surrounding the first days of the fest, cultural entities of foreign countries had to take care of their abandoned filmmakers. They organized events. I snuck into the Israeli one, organized by their Consulate. I talked to Consul General Ziv Nevo Kulman and Jonathan Burnham, the director of Cultural Affairs. Great guys. I inquired about the situation. They diplomatically answered it was our internal affairs and didn’t wish to comment. But the evening they organized on such a short notice was pitch perfect, with the Consul taking care of everyone in the room personally. Imagine having this community back on our side one day, not only them, but the Germans, the Italians… All working together. They sure know how to organize an evening and take care of guests.
Israel, your Consul Rocks.
One pivotal moment of all this unbelievable turmoil is when a group of Filmmakers also issued a letter that was sent to the papers in order to raise local and international awareness about this awkward situation.
In solidarity, the coolest Austrian filmmaker after Haneke, Ludwig LÖckinger, even wore at his showing a shirt with Serge LosiK (Sic!) written on it preceded by a four letter word children should not see… Some have guts!
6) An apology?
Except for a few helpers, the truth is we failed to honor our valuable guests.
They learned that the troubles surrounding the festival were known by our community for years and that we waited for this disaster to happen, counting the years. Yet, they had the kindness to ask just for a formal apology. It never came.
We seem to have some issues accepting one simple truth: we’ve been uncaring and ill-mannered with our guests. Period. There will never be any valuable excuses for that kind of behavior. Since we all know for years, why don’t we do something about it, once and for all?
They know we knew. We’re a laughingstock. The problem, this time is, it’s not just the FFM.
7) The War Room and the Magnificent 10
The War Room is a room I baptized in the Festival’s offices. Actually It’s never the same room in the building. It is the Room 101 of Orwell’s novel, 1984, where the worst happens depending on individual conception. This year it is where took place the crucial meeting, the one featuring the Magnificent 10.
The Magnificent 10 are these employees who left the Fest on such a short notice after their last reunion into The War Room. The 10 became, without understanding it, the eye of the storm.
Cineplex-Forum Cinema was soon to follow their departure by acting the same scenario. The journalists wrote articles on both releases. The festival lost all screens except the Imperial. Then filmmakers began to arrive in Montreal, without notice from the programmer, Elie Castiel, who left the boat the next day. They learned their films were moved or canceled once they landed. Some cinemas came to the rescue during the fest…
I secretly met half of these Magnificent 10 by appointment in a cafe this week, after some negotiations. They talked and wrote to me after I investigated to find their names and contacted them. They were surprised and not very happy about my findings, a bit panicked. They insisted I do not make their names public. There are some money issues to be solved. That part is between you and them, Serge. But mainly, they are scared of you. I talked with them for three hours. They are clever, they even remembered many of their files in details, so they were competent. Beside money, why would anyone (10 sympathetic workers?) leave this way? It doesn’t make sense, hey?
Because of public opinion, I think The Magnificent 10 are making a mistake. People like straight simple answers. A thing their press release about the situation does not provide.
For film buffs (tons of them talked to me the first weekend at Imperial) the employees left the festival on short notice for a few bucks and provoked this mess. I don’t think it’s true. But the 10 refuse to provide a clearer explanation. There is more than what their, hard to swallow, Press Release contains. They don’t realize it but they have four aces in their sleeve to help us setting this straight. They should use them, the Joker won’t wait to try to crush them…
What happened in that room (and what led to it) tells a lot. It is of public interest. It is their duty to go public.
It is not when they left that made it their duty. It’s when they came back…
Yes! Several of the Magnificent 10 were unofficially at parties and other activities of the FFM every day during the whole event. Some even volunteered… Even clever people do dumb things. And that was some dumb thing to do. It raises a lot of unanswered questions.
I know, I know you helped filmmakers and they invited you. But you owe everyone an explanation for pulling this one. Give it. Go public…
It is political:
8) The political will
I wish these Magnificent 10 would help if Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre would simply ask to talk, to meet them, for the good of all. Offering them support, help them to understand their rights, make them feel secure. They are essential for the community to provide the real insight about what really happened. This should be asked by the real boss, the Mayor.
Skip the Go-between, Mr. Mayor, they failed their homework for years.
During Disaster #40, numerous High ranking officials from all levels of our government (including the Minister of Culture, a Montrealer) said they were looking closely at the situation.
Three levels of Government keep saying it is a private matter. because they’ve cut public funds in 2014 (and they had their reasons). It is no private matter. They’ve put the money of tax payers into shaping the beast for decades. The solution is political. This is a real crisis. They have to acknowledge this publicly. The two ministers have years of reports on this situation. It dates back to the time we used this amazing technology called paper. What will it take?
It becomes clear our governance is lost in all this.
So the rumors are true? They listen to propositions to Give Serge OUR money back while avoiding to deal with the real problem? You don’t believe it? Then why is this horror film still going on while no one is taking responsibility for 20 years ?
And the sequel is coming:
9) FFM # 41, 42… Serge the tactician & a few rhetorical questions
In 2017 It will be Montreal’s 375th anniversary. Since Serge really wants to do FFM #41, for the occasion, he will be using his usual tactics:
Serge is a spider. He uses fear and a web of intrigue to justify his means. But this is 2016 and sometimes fear fails to provide. Knowing that, he always surrounds himself with honest hard working people as a screen between him and the outside world. They are his Go-Betweens. A good result? He gets credit. When something fails, the Go-Betweens are imputed. Simple. Except the Magnificent 10 didn’t play his game…
Within the same Scheme, cinema managers came to the rescue during the fest. Forced by circumstances Serge created, they involuntary became another category of Serge’s Go-Between in helping some filmmakers to show their films (they had to do something) while trying to preserve Montreal’s image. Within this state of chaos and amateurism, a half Festival “happened”. Everyone was caught in the spider’s web.
Serge is good at convincing some people, people with the best of intentions, that they actually can convince him of a thing or two. The reality is he will convince some of these totally honest followers to talk with the right people. To talk to the ones managing public money. These public officials don’t trust Serge, but they trust some of his followers when they have a proposition. What if they are naïve? Serge’s tactics have been working for decades. Why would he stop being himself?
Most of the clerks preparing reports in government agencies are 9 to 5 employees. They have to pay mortgage, new shoes for their children, etc. Serge knows it. He knows if he calls the same clerk 22 times in one day something profitable will eventually come his way. There is nothing wrong or illegal, but he knows these clerks taking the calls know his political allegiance. I may not be a liberal but when in my 20’s I was going on Sundays to Serge’s Conservatoire d’Art Cinématographique. A couple of times the only attendee was me, two Hungarian ladies and… Ex prime minister P.E. Trudeau with the children. I was impressed. This same kind of aura is intimidating to an office clerk preparing reports on FFM, especially those who just want to fetch the kids in time before kindergarten closing hours. And want to keep their job.
Another little inside on the subject?
In 2002 because of criticism against the festival, Serge opened the door to outdoor activities (beside the usual projections). The reliable and effective Johanne Pelletier was in charge. She even hired me. Yet your person in charge of sponsorship for equipment gave us only 50% of what was asked to do the job properly. It is quite easy after to say we didn’t deliver and cancel it for the next edition. The work is never reaching its potential. Never.
With this way of working, people who could take over don’t want to be under your supervision. Because if it fails and it will, it is easy to put the blame on them. It looks like your version of a fest was not that bad. Everybody working with you, learns to work against you at the same time.
Nobody wants to be an appointed proxy.
10) The End and a new beginning?
Serge will never leave by himself. Letting this situation continue or giving away public money wouldn’t make any good to anyone. Someone has to make him go. Period.
When we will start looking for drastic solutions to this major problem, we’ll find answers. There is always a solution when you look for it. Looking the other way will make it more painful.
My last word is for you Serge. What you did to everyone is not right.
Serge, stop being afraid. Being a man is also knowing how to quit. No one should take away your legacy – it should survive you. While it’s still time, let us organize a party. You’d be the guest of honor to receive one of those Grand Prix des Amériques you created, given by the Mayor and Prime Minister Justin.
I’d like to go. And look at you with a thirteen years old boy’s eyes. We could also invite our pal Moretti.