The future is unwritten

One thing that I have come to learn is that festivals come and festivals go.  Sometimes a great idea catches on like a wildfire, expanding until it seems that it can’t possibly grow anymore.  Other times an idea may be on a path towards failure from the very beginning, be it from lack of funding, interest, or timing.  Regardless of the passion and drive from the organizers, many start-up festivals will unfortunately experience a quick demise by design.  It is important, as I’ve already seen with many events, to keep up with the changing times and adapt in order to attract younger and more engaged audiences.  While some may not fare as well as others, there will always be a new generation of festivities in line to replace the old in the never-ending smorgasbord of celebration Montrealers have at their fingertips 365 days a year.
Think about festival season in this city.  What comes to mind?  No doubt if a street poll was taken the ‘Big 5’ would look something like this:  Jazz Fest, Just For Laughs, Osheaga, Grand Prix, and Francofolies.  These are the events that draw immense crowds, attract international attention, and remain high up on the list of eagerly-awaited affairs.  So, I must pose the question, what would happen to the landscape of the city if these festivals disappeared?  Completely unthinkable, but not entirely impossible as public interest, security, or corporate sponsorship evolve over the span of a decade.  The expression goes, “the bigger they are, the harder they fall,” but luckily these events seem poised for continued success for many years to come.  The same, however, cannot be said of all festivals in this city’s ever-changing cultural landscape.

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Francofolies 2016

Some festivals, while well-attended, appeal mostly to a more mature age demographic, and the struggle for long-term survival then becomes how to attract the new generations.  Some may also be plagued by the additional struggle of funding issues, despite their long-running status.  FIFA, the International Festival of Films on Art, is currently facing both.  They have been running for 34 years now, and have announced their dates for the 35th edition, which is encouraging, but they have to address these problems nonetheless as there was a time when it was unsure that the 34th edition would even happen.  This is one of those fests that I would not have attended had it not been for my ridiculous plan to attend as many fests in Montreal as one can handle in a year.  I thoroughly enjoyed the films they offered, a varied selection in both English and French, and had I not attended the loss would have been felt on both sides.  I would have missed out on an amazing cultural experience that has broadened the way I think about certain subjects, and they would have not only missed out on the admission revenue from the two films I attended, but also the word-of-mouth publicity that I am able to provide them through this blog, as well as through my enthusiasm towards their event in conversations with friends and family.  I sincerely wish them continued success in the future.

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International Festival of Films on Art 2016

Others may not be so lucky.  Recent events surrounding the Flavours of Monkland festival have left a huge question mark on its future.  While the organizers have stated their desire to start new street festivals in other parts of the city to give forgotten neighborhoods a renewed sense of purpose and revive community spirit, they are undoubtedly saddened by noise and traffic complaints of some of the residents.  Festiblues, held annually in Ahuntsic Park, is yet another example.  After 19 years of existence, the festival will sadly be pulling the plug due to a long string of funding issues.  And on what should be a grand celebration of 40 years in the making–not to mention one that I was really looking forward to attending–the Montreal World Film Festival may or may not happen this year after all.  A mass exodus of employees, immediately followed by the news that Cineplex has dropped their support may be too much for the organizers to handle; only time will tell.  The list goes on and the fact of the matter remains that in a world oversaturated with multitudes of distractions, it is getting increasingly difficult to entice people with film festivals, music events, or even street fairs.
But there is still hope.
The Montreal Chamber Music Festival has notably been working hard to remain relevant by offering free lunchtime concerts in the lobby of Place Ville Marie, allowing classical music to be enjoyed and discovered by the masses.  As someone who has only recently discovered an appreciation for a style of music that I had (unfairly) disregarded for most of my life, the noontime performances were a beautiful way to learn about something new and revel in the up-and-coming talent in the Canadian classical music scene.  An example of a grassroots event done right is the Montreal Folk Fest on the Canal.  Having just wrapped up their 9th edition, this is a festival that began with 500 attendees and grew steadily each year–with help in part by the growing popularity for the genre as well as an obvious and true love of the music by its organizers–and is showing no signs of slowing down.
Home Run, a performance art festival set in people’s homes in the Villeray neighborhood celebrated its 2nd year with the intention of hosting a 3rd.  I discovered this festival through a flyer taped outside of a bar on the route between my apartment and the metro.  I love discovering fests like that.  The young and very motivated organizers were pleasantly surprised to discover that I had attended of my own volition, not having befriended any of the artists ahead of time or having any connection to the organizers’ inner circle.  Finally, this year the Montreal International Classical Guitar Festival and Competition announced to a that it had reached an important milestone: they broke their previous year’s record of attendance by one more ticket… mine.

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Home Run 2016

So if you think that you can’t make a difference in whether or not a festival endures, you are wrong.  Sure, we can’t save them all, and knowing that another one will pop up in the ensuing vacuum definitely lessens the blow, but by stepping out of our comfort zone and trying new things we are actively nourishing the massive and diverse festival culture in Montreal.  My challenge to all of you is to find something that you may not have previously thought about attending and get out there.  Try something new.  You do not need to be as crazy as I am and go the extremes, nor do you have to feel the need to attend something that you know as a fact you won’t enjoy, but I sincerely hope to inspire, at the very least, a few of you to cast aside your inhibitions and free the child that still exists inside, even if only for a day.

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