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Could Maidy Teitelbaum be Quebec Cinema's Secret Weapon? (article)

Published on 30/08/2023


Teitelbaum launched the festival, which features French-language films with English subtitles, in 1995. ALLEN MCINNIS / MONTREAL GAZETTESHAREADJUSTCOMMENTPRINTWe are somewhere in the comfortable house of an anglophone couple in the western part of the city. They are watching a movie on TV. Let’s say Luis Bunuel’s Belle de jour, just because it fits into the fantasy.

The wife announces summarily: Honey, no, I haven’t shrunk the kids, I have decided to start a French film festival with English subtitles.
Of course you have, dear. That will be nice.
This is Maidy Teitelbaum. With, I suspect, great support from her husband, Robert, she took her dream of creating a festival called Cinemania and made it happen.
Not just like that. Life does not work that way. No, with a combination of vision, chutzpah, determination and will power. She does not seem to be the kind of person people say no to.
Add money to that vision, too. They are people who not only dream big dreams, they are prepared to commit countless time and personal resources to making their event a success.
Maidy Teitelbaum is also not the kind of person who needs to be the headline every time.
For this year’s 22nd edition, the lineup was impeccable, her guest list the envy of many other events. The cinemas were crowded, the buzz good. She had francophones and some anglos, though not nearly enough, I suspect, to really put this over the top; school kids had access to challenging movies that I can assure you few would see without such an organization.

Moreover, she has done what so many of those sad, failed male festival founders and directors neglect to do. She has established an organization that has new blood, new leadership in the form of managing director Guilhem Caillard.
We won’t see her clinging to some long since abandoned shred of glory. She has created a success story, she is ever-present as its founder and president, but she has smartly created la relève, the future.
Timing is everything. When Teitelbaum came along, French cinema was not doing as well as it used to in the province. Quebec audiences were opting to watch their own movies. After all, there is only a certain amount of the French cinema mainstay “l’amour fou,” where everybody seems to fall in love over a double espresso, that anybody can handle.

The French did not like that. They sent an emissary, the late Daniel Toscan du Plantier, president at the time of Unifrance Film, a consortium that promoted French films all over the world. It was the early 1990s, and the meeting was during the Montreal World Film Festival.

By a bizarre accident of history, I attended the meeting as a replacement for my then patron, Rock Demers. It was a kind of “secret meeting.” No one was sure what it was about.
There were two other producers with me, the late Aimée Danis and Lyse Lafontaine. It was not a chat, it was a sermon. Its topic: how to make French cinema work again in Quebec.
A natural-born patrician with a demeanour worthy of his name, du Plantier told us what we needed to do to help French cinema do better in Quebec. His was a monologue, the actual content of his words condescending, in fact, colonial.

I was outraged, but afraid to speak, sufficiently petrified lest I misuse a French tense. Nevertheless I managed one question: “et le cinéma Québécois en France?” sounding like that little boy at the orphanage looking for more food.

Light streams of steam seemed to appear from orifices. Clearly, we were not there to talk about this.
“Oui, bien sûr … mais vous savez il y a l’accent …”
Over the years, SODEC, the Quebec cultural industries entity, has made all sorts of attempts to penetrate the French market with Quebec films, which, for the most part, do dismally at the French box office. Often, French distributors even want to show Quebec films with French subtitles.
The initiatives haven’t worked. This year, they tried something new. They brought French producers here to meet with their Quebec counterparts during Cinemania, high praise manifested.

The next step is obvious: we name Maidy Teitelbaum special cultural ambassador for Quebec to France. After all, she is already a Chevalier d’Honneur and has a whole slew of other honours là-bas, là-bas.

She is perfect.

If she can do for Quebec cinema in France what she has so brilliantly done for French cinema in Quebec, alors là, on est en business, n’est-ce-pas? Better still, she will know when it’s time to retire.