MONTREAL — Cinémania French film festival president and founder Maidy Teitelbaum travelled to Paris recently to present French director Pierre Schoeller with the festival’s people’s choice award.
Maidy Teitelbaum, founder and president of Cinémania, presents the Mel Hoppenheim Prize to film director Pierre Schoeller. With them is the young co-star of the movie Versailles, Max Baissette de Malglaive.
The public voted Schoeller’s Versailles, the winner of the $5,000 Mel Hoppenheim Prize, sponsored by the Montreal film industry mogul, as the best among the three films screened in this past November’s festival. Cinémania presents recent feature films, mainly from France, with English subtitles.
Versailles co-stars Guillaume Depardieu, who died in October at age 37, as a homeless man living in the shadow of the famous palace and five-year-old Max Baissette de Malglaive, as the abandoned child he befriends. It was Depardieu’s last role and five-year-old Max’s debut.
Versailles is the first film Schoeller, a veteran screenwriter, has directed, and Cinémania was its North American première.
Teitelbaum’s goal from the time she created Cinémania in 1995 has been to showcase good films from new talent, as well as well-established directors.
“Pierre Schoeller has succeeded in bringing to the big screen a work of enormous sensitivity that explores a difficult subject, the lives of those misfits who live on the margin of modern society,” said Teitelbaum. Schoeller has shown a determination to “to enlighten the public to a reality all too often trivialized.”
Schoeller was moved by the reception Versailles received at Cinémania, which is held at the Imperial Cinema, and was left with a positive impression of Montreal, the first place he ever visited in North America.
Teitelbaum was thrilled to meet young Max at the prize presentation, saying, “This young fellow is extraordinary – sensitive and happy, that’s a born actor.”
Teitelbaum was also thrilled to pick up a copy of the Dec. 11 issue of the French magazine Paris Match, which featured an article on Cinémania by film critic Alain Spira. Teitelbaum was declared “Une Mécène à Frenchies,” very roughly, a patron of French cinema.
He noted how Cinémania has steadily grown to become the major festival of French films in North America, thanks to “a judicious selection” of its program.
“That Paris Match, the most read French magazine in the world, would send its film critic to cover Cinémania, is extraordinary,” said Teitelbaum, and is an indication that the festival is not only growing in popularity among Montrealers, but getting recognized abroad.
Teitelbaum, an anglophone Jewish Montrealer, with no film background, other than enjoying going to French movies, founded Cinémania in 1995, having been inspired by a small French film festival in Sarasota, Fla.
She wondered why there was no festival like it in Quebec. To make the films accessible to as many people as possible, Cinémania’s offerings were subtitled from the start.
Teitelbaum hoped to bring the two language groups together in a setting removed from the political tensions of that time.
The inaugural edition of Cinémania was held less than a month after the referendum on sovereignty. Quebec was split right down the middle and still reeling from how close to reality separation had been.
It was idealistic to think a film festival could ease the situation, and Teitelbaum tells Paris Match, “Even today, this festival is not always well perceived by everybody. Tensions between the communities still exist, we can’t hide it…”
The festival continues to run largely on corporate sponsorship, including her family’s business, the lingerie retailer La Senza. Cinémania is run by a team of five people, including herself, and she is not paid. It has survived despite the proliferation of film festivals in Montreal.
In 2006, Teitelbaum, a diminutive grandmother who always wears black, was recognized with the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French minister of culture and, last June, the Société des artistes and compositeurs dramatiques of France awarded her the Médaille Beaumarchais for her work to advance French cinema.
Another indication of how well regarded the festival has become is that two distinguished French filmmakers, Bertrand Tavernier and Radu Mihaileanu, joined its board of directors this year.
The 15th edition of Cinémania is scheduled for Nov. 5 to 15, 2009.
Compiled by CJN staff.