Arts

Blade Runner 2049 is helping this Montreal film festival look back to the future for its 46th year

Festival du nouveau cinéma's co-founder is stepping down, but he's going out with a Denis Villeneuve-fueled bang.

Festival du nouveau cinéma's co-founder is stepping down, but he's going out with a bang

The futuristic cityscape of Blade Runner 2049 appears similar to the 1982 sci-fi classic. (Warner Brothers)

Claude Chamberlan will never forget the moment he got the call securing Blade Runner 2049 as the opening night film at this year's Festival du nouveau cinéma. It was 3:30pm on September 1st, and he was watching the ducks on Lac Brome at his second home an hour outside of Montreal. The phone rang, and the voice on the other line belonged to Denis Villeneuve, the Quebecois-turned-Hollywood director behind some of the most revered films of the past half decade.

"Claude," Villeneuve said, "you've got the film."

It'll be the biggest opening night Chamberlan has programmed since he co-founded the Festival du nouveau cinéma (or FNC for short) 46 years ago. It's no secret that almost every major festival would have welcomed the much-hyped sequel to Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic with open arms, so the fact that it landed on home turf certainly marked a triumph for Chamberlan and co.

While it may look like an outlier compared to the rest of FNC's lineup — which is teeming with bold, indie-produced work often highlighting Francophone and Canadian voices — Villeneuve's latest actually covertly fits within that framework: it's crafted by a Quebecer, and it looks towards the future of cinema.

Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 will open this year's Festival du nouveau cinéma. (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

The two have been friends for 30-odd years. "I knew him back when he was living his beatnik life,"

recalls Chamberlan, a period when Villeneuve was an unwavering supporter of Cinéma Parallèle, Chamberlan's non-profit organization which also once ran the now-defunct Cinema Excentris. This final opening night, then, is a fitting swan song for Chamberlan. At the close of this year's festival, the founder has plans to step down from his post to allow current co-director of programming, Philippe Gajan, to fully assume the spotlight.

Gajan has been part of the team since 1999, but he's noticed that ever since the fest's genesis — where it was originally christened the Montreal International 16mm Film Festival — it has upheld two main objectives: to pursue new cinema on an aesthetic basis and to use the festival as a vehicle for finding new ways to generate empathy and conversation on a world scale.

If you have an idea, you have to fight for it. You have to fight for it or...you just do something else.- Claude  Chamberlan , film festival programmer

Unlike the firestorm fuelled between traditionalist French audiences and streaming services like Netflix earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival, FNC has wholly embraced the evolution of the art form. Last year they gave birth to an all-new program, FNC eXPlore, dedicated to virtual reality. Festival director Nicolas Girard Deltruc tells me that they've always kept the origin of the word "cinema" in mind — "meaning images in movement, no matter the format or mode of diffusion."

FNC is just as concerned with breaking the mold and affecting change when it comes to the content of their films. Luk'Luk'I, just crowned the Best Canadian First Feature Film at TIFF, is a hybrid documentary exploring life on the margins during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. A year-long darling on the festival circuit, Call Me By Your Name reaches unprecedented emotional heights capturing the pangs of first love between two young men. Life and Nothing More ruthlessly confronts the social inequalities plaguing African-American populations in contemporary America. And the festival is also a known catalyst for the careers of fledgling Canadian filmmakers: actor-director Connor Jessup delves into spiritual planes with his newest short Lira's Forest.

Luk'Luk'I. (TIFF)

The festival's ethos has always involved forming the smallest possible distance between the content and the public, Deltruc states: "We aim to stay close to our public by giving them an event with a human size."

Over the years, Chamberlan and cohorts admit they've witnessed the diminishment of spirit which naturally ensues once a festival, intoxicated by star power and sponsor demands, grows too big for its own good. Even with all of the shimmer the Villeneuve sneak-peek has bestowed the FNC, the team has no plans to crumble under the weight of the red carpet anytime soon.

Chamberlan's always been a hellraiser — or a 'pleasure activist,' as he flips it — who only remained at any school for as long as it took him to get kicked out. But this time it was his own decision to part from his programmer role and set his sights on building from the ground up once more. He intends to resurrect Cinéma Parallèle as the definitive hub for independent film in Montreal. "If you have an idea, you have to fight for it," he says. "You have to fight for it or… you just do something else."

Festival du nouveau cinéma. October 4-15, Montreal. www.nouveaucinema.ca

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