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Montreal finds gems beyond Hollywood

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In a public statement about cinema on the eve of the next century, the chiefs of Montreal's respected World Film Festival link movies with television and the Internet, noting that the evolution of mass communication has been "phenomenal" during the past 100 years. But they quickly add that such technologies have a downside, encouraging a "globalization of culture and a homogenization of public tastes."

This observation points to the social value of well-programmed film festivals. In addition to launching new pictures and allowing movie-minded people to share ideas, a conscientiously planned filmfest shines its spotlight on works that reflect the diversified spirits of the diversified places from which they hail.

That's true of Montreal's annual event, which finished its 23rd edition earlier this week. This year's program represented no fewer than 68 countries, and while the quality of its many offerings was far from consistent, its overall mood amounted to a rousing celebration of the variety still thriving in world cinema despite the globalization and homogenization that programmers Serge Losique and Danile Cauchard rightly warn about.

Montreal's program also gave North Americans their first look at pictures headed for commercial screens. Unlike malls and multiplexes, festivals can afford to focus their attention on films with artistic as well as financial aspirations, and one of Montreal's most cheering messages was that the worldwide clout of Hollywood blockbusters has not stopped worthwhile movies from being produced. Its best offerings may not make it to theaters everywhere, but the attention they received here from critics, distributors, and ticket-buying viewers increases their chances of reaching wide audiences.

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