Fireworks, Film, Jazz, and a Good Laugh
Part iconoclastic Francophone outpost in otherwise anglais-speaking North America, part skyscraping internationalist city, Montreal is also a festival town par excellence, boasting several major festivals and a number of smaller events that fill the summer months.
By far the most important of the lot is the Montreal International Jazz Festival, which brings together some 2,000 world-class musicians from twenty different countries (from Tony Bennett to Buju Banton, Gonzalo Rubalcaba to Archie Shepp) and attracts an audience of about a million and a half aficionados. In the entertainment district around the Place des Arts, Montreal’s grand concert hall, ten outdoor stages present 350 free concerts, while 150 indoor concerts are held in venues around town. Held annually since 1979, it’s the world’s largest jazz fest, with a little (OK, a lot) for everybody.
Throughout June and July, the city’s skies are lit up every week by the Montreal International Fireworks Competition (Le Mondial SAQ), in which the world’s best pyrotechnicians – veritable artistes of the big boom – fire their biggest, newest, and most revolutionary creations into the Montreal night to the accompaniment of a musical score. Founded in 1985 at La Ronde, Quebec’s largest amusement park (located on lie Ste.-Helene in the St. Lawrence River), the event draws around 2½ million spectators annually, who view the action from the park, the Jacques Cartier Bridge, and both banks of the St. Lawrence.
In late August and early September, the World Film Festival brings together more than 400 films from all over the globe, including an average of 250 world premieres. Founded in 1977, the festival aims to encourage cultural diversity and understanding between peoples, and each year highlights films of a different country, from the United States to Hungary, Israel, Iran, and Korea.
On the lighter side, mid-July’s Just for Laughs (Juste pour Rire) Festival promotes the idea that humor can be reinvented, with artists stretching the boundaries of the form. Founded in 1983, when sixteen French-speaking comedians performed for a total crowd of about 5,000, the festival has grown to host approximately 2,000 artists annually, performing for a million and a half laughers at more than thirty venues along Rue St.-Denis, and to a worldwide audience via TV feeds. Other standouts of Montreal’s summer lineup include Les FrancoFolies de Montreal, celebrating French dance, music from around the world; the Montreal Celtic Festival, celebrating Celtic music, storytelling, art, and traditional food and drink; and the Festival Nuit d’Afrique, promoting music of the African diaspora with indoor and outdoor concerts.