Documentary Films

The 20th edition of RIDM, Montreal’s documentary film festival, is now underway

Montreal’s documentary film festival RIDM is celebrating its 20th edition this year – hence the joyful and colourful artwork on the catalogue and schedule.

November! Bah, humbug! I dislike November because of its shorter days and colder temperatures. But RIDM, Montreal’s documentary film festival, is a rare bright spot in the otherwise dreary 11th month.

RIDM’s 20th edition got under way Thursday night with an invitation-only screening of 24 Davids. RIDM continues until Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017.

The festival will show 142 films from 47 countries on screens at Cinéma du Parc, Cinémathèque Québécoise, Cinéplex Odeon Quartier Latin, Pavillon Judith-Jasmin Annexe (the former NFB cinema) and Concordia University.

In no particular order, subjects include family connections (parents, children, siblings, with three films looking at grandmothers), Brexit, agribusiness, immigrants and refugees, animals (dinosaurs, turtles, lions, sheep, donkeys and the rats of Baltimore) live birds and a famous sculpted one by Brancusi, crime victims and perpetrators, musicians, the sea, the universe as seen from Chile’s Atacama Desert, and – smaller than the universe but still quite large – the New York Public Library, through the lens of Frederick Wiseman.

Based on the excerpts shown at the festival’s press conference, the most amusing film is Nothingwood, about Afghanistan’s prolific film director Salim Shaheen. Brimstone and Glory, about a fireworks festival in Mexico, might be the most visually astonishing.

For weirdness, and humour, too, there is Tongue Cutters, about two Norwegian children participating in the world cod-tongue-cutting competition. Dragonfly Eyes, from China, uses surveillance video to construct a narrative about a woman who leaves a monastery to work at a dairy farm.

RIDM is presenting retrospectives of the films by U.S. director James N. Kienitz Wilkins and Tan Pin Pin of Singapore. They will attend the festival as will many other directors. Audience members can ask them questions after film screenings.

RIDM 2017: The documentary film Caniba might be too graphic for some viewers.

You might have seen Leviathan, a film from 2012, set aboard a fishing boat. Directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Veréna Paravel have brought something quite different to this year’s RIDM – Caniba, a film about notorious Japanese cannibal Issei Sagawa. It’s the only film in the festival that has a “viewer discretion advised” tag attached. I did not see it. Friends who did said “That’s a REAL horror film!”

I saw a handful of RIDM films at press screening, and my favourite so far is Bagages, which was made right here in Montreal. Immigrant teens talk about their lives here and in their old country, and the challenges they face.

Visit the RIDM web site at RIDM.ca for more information.

Advertisements

RIDM 2016: Film suggestions for Friday, Nov. 11

An image from Deborah Stratman's film Illinois Parables. The documentary is being shown at Montreal's RIDM film festival.

An image from Deborah Stratman’s film The Illinois Parables. The documentary is being shown at Montreal’s RIDM film festival.

RIDM (Rencontres Internationales Du Documentaire De Montréal) is Montreal’s documentary film festival. It runs from Nov. 10 until Nov. 20, 2016. The festival’s (English) home page is ridm.qc.ca/en. Here are my three suggestions for tonight, Friday, Nov. 11, based on the descriptions in the festival’s catalogue and reviews from the Internet. I have not seen these films yet myself, but I intend to.
The Illinois Parables will only be shown once, so it’s now or never!
From RIDM: “A suite of Midwestern parables questioning the historical role belief has played in ideology and national identity.”

Michael Pattison has a VERY enthusiastic review on the web site RogerEbert.com. He has certainly convinced me! Here are some extracts: “The best film I saw at this year’s Berlinale was Deborah Stratman’s “The Illinois Parables.” . . . Her latest project, an hour-long essay film, traces the history of “America’s most average state” (and its fifth most populous) from the seventh century to the mid-1980s, all weaved together from an inescapably present-day vantage point. . . .Stratman’s rhythms are seductive, her chosen histories fascinating, her modes of address playfully demanding. She employs archival imagery (moving and still), witness testimony, verbal and dramatic re-enactment, voice-over, on-screen text, and her own 16mm footage—which, in capturing present-day pockets of the eponymous state in richly colored analog, makes the whole thing feel like a document from another age. “I see no hierarchy between these modes,” the filmmaker remarked, “and I’m interested in the poetic sparks created when one style abuts another.”

From Erika Balsom’s interview with director Deborah Stratman on the web site of the British Film Institute:
“I love infrastructure, and I love the way that stories can be hidden or embedded in places without the landscape necessarily giving them up. I like that landscape is coy, but seductive as well. I love pilgrimage, and going to see what it feels like to be in different places. I like how Simon Schama, Rebecca Solnit and John McPhee write at the intersection of geography and history. I’m interested in how the landscape can contain a politics. It contains anything, can hold everything – maybe that’s why it’s so important to me.”

There are other positive reviews for The Illinois Parables out there, I’ve just chosen to link to these two.
The Illinois Parables is 60 minutes long. Friday, Nov. 11, 19/7 p.m.
Cinémathèque Québécoise – Salle Fernand-Seguin

An image from the documentary film INAATE/SE/ [it shines a certain way. to a certain place./it flies.falls./]. The film is being shown at the RIDM  film festival in Montreal.

An image from the documentary film INAATE/SE/ [it shines a certain way. to a certain place./it flies.falls./]. The film is being shown at the RIDM film festival in Montreal.

INAATE/SE/ [it shines a certain way. to a certain place./it flies.falls./].
You can see this curiously named film on Friday at 9 p.m., or Sunday, Nov. 13 at 5:30 p.m. (If you do an Internet search on INAATE/SE/ I suggest that you put it within quotation marks, or your browser might be unhappy.)
From the film’s Vimeo page: “Adam Khalil and Zack Khalil’s new film re-imagines an ancient Ojibway story, the Seven Fires Prophecy, which both predates and predicts first contact with Europeans. A kaleidoscopic experience blending documentary, narrative, and experimental forms, INAATE/SE/ transcends linear colonized history to explore how the prophecy resonates through the generations in their indigenous community within Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. With acute geographic specificity, and grand historical scope, the film fixes its lens between the sacred and the profane to pry open the construction of contemporary indigenous identity.”
Leo Goldsmith at Brooklyn Rail writes:  “the Khalil Brothers . . .eschew all documentary convention, unleashing a full audiovisual arsenal against the traumatic circularity of history. . .(with) “animated fantasias, satirical remixing, goofy humor, and psychedelic interludes—all of which amounts to a cinematic language that’s utterly uncategorizable: dynamic, hilarious, angry, and sensorially overwhelming, but never passive.”

INAATE/SE/ [it shines a certain way. to a certain place./it flies.falls./].: 9 pm, Salle JA de Seve, Concordia University.

An image from David Lynch: The Art Life. The documentary is being shown at Montreal's RIDM film festival.

An image from David Lynch: The Art Life. The documentary is being shown at Montreal’s RIDM film festival.

David Lynch: The Art Life: 9:30 p.m. at Concordia University, Friday Nov. 11 and Sunday, Nov. 13 at 8:30 p.m, at Cinematheque Quebecoise.
Deborah Young, Hollywood Reporter: “Although it is more about painting than his filmmaking, David Lynch, The Art Life will entrance the director’s fans and, who knows, inspire budding, out-of-the-box creators in an artistic coming-of-age tale, told in his own words and deliberate tones. . .Kept company by his toddler daughter, Lynch works on new paintings and artwork in his studio in the hills above Hollywood, where he recounts unsettling stories from his past that resonate with the haunting quality of his films.”
Nick James, on the web site of the British Film Institute: “Lynch, mostly in voiceover, narrates his life more thoroughly, poignantly and evocatively than I’ve ever heard from him before.”
Guy Lodge of Variety has this to say about David Lynch: The Art Life:
“Nominally focused on the celebrated filmmaker’s lesser-known dabblings in fine art, “The Art Life” emerges as a more expansive study of Lynch’s creative impulses and preoccupations, as he relates first-hand the formative experiences that spurred and shaped a most unusual imagination.”

“(Jon) Nguyen and his team were previously responsible for 2007’s similarly fond, close-quarters doc “Lynch,” which followed the director through the completion of . . . “Inland Empire,” a decade ago. They know their subject intimately by this point, and not just in an interpersonal sense: “The Art Life’s” own construction is colored by an understanding of Lynch’s aesthetic, from the serenely brooding, grainy textures of Jason S.’s camerawork to the thrumming, Badalamenti-channeling menace of Jonatan Bengta’s score, which moves from swarming synths to sparse, dripping-tap keyboard plinks.”

David Lynch: The Art Life: 9:30 p.m. in the Hall Building at Concordia University.

RIDM 2015: Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton is one of many delights to see at Montreal’s documentary film festival

An image from Guy Maddin's film Bring me The Head of Tim Horton, one of many documentaries on the RIDM program.

An image from Guy Maddin’s film Bring Me The Head of Tim Horton, one of many documentaries on the RIDM program.

Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton – as a film title, it’s quite arresting, don’t you think? It’s one of the 144 films that will be shown at RIDM, Montreal’s documentary film festival. Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal, the festival’s full name, will run from Nov. 12 to Nov. 22, 2015, at several venues in downtown Montreal, many of them conveniently located near metro stations.

The film clip from Bring Me the Head that we saw at the RIDM press conference was hilarious. The 32-minute production from Guy Maddin and Evan and Galen Johnson is a (sort of) “making of” about Hyena Road, a war film by Paul Gross. The RIDM synopsis says the film “is possibly the wildest making-of movie of all time.” I don’t doubt that for one minute!

While we’re on the subject of Guy Maddin, the festival will also show The 1000 Eyes Of Dr. Maddin in which French filmmaker Yves Montmayeur observed Maddin while he made his latest feature, The Forbidden Room, which was the closing film at the recent Festival du nouveau cinéma.
Speaking of arresting film titles, how about Imagine Waking Up Tomorrow and All Music Has Disappeared and They Will Have to Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile. While the first one sounds like a scary thought, it’s more about redefining our relationship to music, but the second is about the all-too-real dangers of being a musician in Mali.

RIDM will show 144 films from 42 countries; subjects include austerity and the economy, surveillance, wars and conflicts, and their effect on soldiers and civilians alike, family relationships, or the lack thereof (women who are childless by choice), work, or the lack thereof, astronomy, the environment, politics, music and architecture. Many films combine several of those elements. We might recognize our own situations in one of the 49 short and feature films from Quebec.

The usual suspects: In regard to directors, Chantal Akerman, Patricio Guzman, Albert Maysles, Ulrich Seidl and Frederick Wiseman, are just a few of the names that might ring a bell.

An image from the film L.A. Plays Itself, by Thom Andersen.

An image from the film L.A. Plays Itself, by Thom Andersen.

A Thom Andersen retrospective will give Montrealers a chance to see (or re-see) his wonderful, 170-minute film Los Angeles Plays Itself along with seven other Andersen works of various lengths, with the shortest and earliest being Olivia’s Place, a six-minute film about a Hollywood cafe, that was made in 1966. Thom Andersen
will give a free talk on Film, Architecture and the City at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (1920 Baile St.) at 3 p.m, on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015.

The well-written synopses in the RIDM catalogue make everything sound wonderful, but below are just a few of the films I’m especially looking forward to (besides the ones already mentioned above). Clicking on the name of the film will take you to the RIDM web site for more information about it.

Le Bouton De Nacre: “A new philosophical essay by Patricio Guzmán, exploring Chile’s painful past using water as a metaphor. A majestic and heartbreaking tribute.” I thought Guzman’s Nostalgia for the Light, a film about memory, astronomy, the desert and the dead and disappeared of Chile, was fantastic, so I must see Le Bouton De Nacre.

Another film with a Chilean connection is Beyond My Grandfather Allende (Allende Mi Abuelo Allende) by Marcia Tambutti Allende. The director is the granddaughter of Chilean President Salvador Allende, who was overthrown on the first infamous 911, Sept. 11, 1973. Perhaps The Place, about a meteorological observatory in Poland, might be a little bit like Nostalgia for the Light. It sounds interestring, at any rate. Star*Men is about astronomers from the U.K. who went to work in the U.S. during the Cold War and the space race.

Oncle Bernard – L’anti-Leçon D’économie is about Bernard Maris, who was one of the people killed at the offices of Charlie Hebdo earlier this year. “A fascinating and almost unedited interview with the late economic analyst for Charlie Hebdo, a tireless debunker of the myths of an ever more obscure market economy.” The film is from Richard Brouillette, who made the very long but totally engrossing film L’encerclement – La démocratie dans les rets du néolibéralisme (Encirclement – Neo-Liberalism Ensnares Democracy).

Llévate mis amores (All of Me) is about Mexican women who feed the migrants who are their way to the U.S. border; Le Divan du monde is about a psychiatrist in Strasbourg, France who helps many refugees and immigrants. “The therapy sessions of an atypical psychiatrist who sees therapy as humanist and political work.”

Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr. I’ve been following the story of Omar Khadr for a longtime, so naturally, I want to see the latest installment. In 2002, 15-year-old Khadr, a Canadian citizen who had been taken to Afghanistan by his father, was arrested for the death of a U.S. soldier there. Khadr ended up in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay Cuba. Successive Canadian governments abandoned their legal and moral duties and did little or nothing to help him. Khadr did receive support from lawyers, journalists, filmmakers, members of Amnesty International and citizens of the world. He’s now out on parole and living in the Edmonton home of his lawyer. (Toronto) “journalist Michelle Shephard and filmmaker Patrick Reed recount the story in all its complexity, analysing the U.S. government’s position and Canada’s non-intervention. . . “the film is the first time we hear Omar Khadr speak at length, after so many years of being forced to remain silent while others discussed him.”

On a more local front, Métro gives us a behind-the-scenes look at Montreal’s subway network; it was made by Nadine Gomez (Le Horse Palace). Police Académie, by Mélissa Beaudet, follows the training of three recruits (the English title is Cop Class). Pouding Chômeurs looks at how changes to the unemployment insurance program have caused hardships for many.

There will be discussions, interactive events, installations, expositions, and nine (!) parties, including a karaoke night, during the festival. You can find links to those RIDM events here.

The films mentioned above are just a teeny, tiny sampling of the films on the RIDM schedule. You can read about all of the films, watch trailers for many and buy tickets on the festival’s very comprehensive web site, ridm.qc.ca.
RIDM takes place Nov. 12 to Nov. 22, 2015 in Montreal.

Cinema Politica: After the Last River explores Attawapiskat’s troubles

AFTER THE LAST RIVER kids protest

The northern Ontario town of Attawapiskat has been in the public eye a lot over the last few years, because of its housing crisis. Victoria Lean’s documentary film, After the Last River, provides a much deeper look at the situation than you’re likely to get on a nightly newscast. The stories that she tells would be interesting (and distressing) at any time, but they are particularly relevant now, as the federal election gets nearer.

Lean visited Attawapiskat for the first time in 2008. She tagged along with her father, ecotoxicologist David Lean, who had been invited there by the Cree community to share his expertise. De Beers had just opened a diamond mine in the area and residents were worried that this would lead to an increase the already high mercury levels in the local fish that were part of their traditional diet. That’s exactly what did happen.

Canadian diamonds are marketed as ethical, in contrast to “conflict diamonds” or “blood diamonds” from Africa, but an article on the Mining Watch Canada web site says “There are no clean diamonds. Exploring for them, digging them out of the ground and selling them requires sacrifices from the natural environment, from the wildlife and fish that live on it, and from the Aboriginal people who depend on it. . .The federal, provincial and territorial regulatory frameworks in Canada are inadequate to protect the environment from long term and cumulative environmental effects.” (The film informs us that the federal government weakened environmental protection legislation when it passed Bill C-38 and C-45.)

An aerial view of the Attawapiskat River community.

An aerial view of the Attawapiskat River community.

Victoria Lean returned to Attawapiskat several times over the next five years. She began making a film with an ecological focus, but as she explains in her director’s notes, “it expanded to the community’s rights to education, healthcare, housing and a clean and safe environment. One of the goals of the film is to draw attention to a number of intersecting challenges.”

Among the things we learn in After the Last River: In the 1970s and 1980s, the federal government built homes with substandard materials, and that housing has deteriorated further since then. Many homes do not have running water; residents use buckets for toilets. Some homes are plagued with black mould. In 1979, 30,000 gallons of diesel leaked under the elementary school, which remained in use, despite bad smells and students complaining of headaches. The school finally closed in 2001, and the students were moved into portables, right next to the toxic site. They had to wait until 2014 for a new school.

Relatively recent news clips from Parliament and the Ontario legislature show that both levels of government are adept at playing the old “it’s-not-my-department” game. It’s truly maddening to watch those clips, after seeing the terrible conditions that people are living in. Old news clips shot in the north show that little has changed in decades.

Residents discussing their situation with Lean say that “People in the south think that we own diamonds and we’re rich. They don’t know what’s happening here.” “We’re not rich; it’s just the land that rich.”
The mine has not improved the lives of the people of Attawapiskat. In fact, it looks like the mine has only brought benefits to DeBeers and its immediate employees.

Amazingly enough, the amount of royalties paid by DeBeers to the Ontario government is confidential. However, through diligent digging, the CBC discovered that: “the provincial government made more money on salt royalties in 2013-14 than diamonds. De Beers Canada, which owns the only diamond mine in the province, paid $226 in royalties while salt netted the province $3.89 million in royalties.” “. . .De Beers paid little or nothing for most of the seven years its Victor mine has been in production in Northern Ontario, about 90 kilometres west of Attawapiskat.”

De Beers is said to have its eyes on 15 more diamond deposits in the area.

After The Last River
Victoria Lean / Canada / 2015 / 86 ‘ / English
Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, 7 p.m.

Concordia University
1455 de Maisonneuve West, Room H-110
Montreal, QC
Canada

Director Victoria Lean, producer Jade Blair and special guests will be in attendance. The screening is co-presented with the Sustainability Action Fund and Mining Watch Canada. The venue is wheelchair accessible.
For more information visit Cinema Politica’s Facebook page for this event.

See Guy Maddin’s surreal documentary film My Winnipeg, Saturday afternoon at the Cinémathèque Québécoise

Guy Maddin's film My Winnipeg includes a surreal story about racehorses who were trapped in a river when they fled a fire in stable. The horses remained there, frozen in place, until spring arrived. The frozen horses even became a local tourist attraction!

Guy Maddin’s film My Winnipeg includes a weird tale about racehorses who were trapped in a river when they fled a stable fire. The horses remained there, frozen in place, until spring arrived. The frozen horses even became a local tourist attraction!

Montrealers! You can experience the wonderful film My Winnipeg this afternoon, for the first time or as a repeat visit, at the Cinémathèque Québécoise. And I strongly suggest that you do just that!

With My Winnipeg, director Guy Maddin made something that’s both very intriguing and very hard to classify. That’s par for the course with Maddin, though. (The first Maddin film I saw was Tales of the Gimli Hospital. So strange! I did not write about it at the time. Maybe some day.)

My Winnipeg combines elements of history, myth, fantasy, personal memoir and docu-drama. Even with that description, I’m probably leaving many things out, since it’s been a few years since I saw this 2007 film. Watching it was like being a guest in someone else’s fascinating, foggy dream. It was mesmerizing and occasionally hilarious, though Maddins delivery remains deadpan throughout.

Among the things I remember: Maddin talks about insomnia, his childhood home, a large network of secret alleyways that covers the city, without appearing on any maps, the brutally cold winter that saw race horses fleeing a burning barn only to die in the river, where they remained, frozen stiff, until spring came. Walking onto the ice to “visit” the horses became a popular thing to do.

Winnipeg is the capitol of Manitoba; Maddin takes us to the provincial legislature where he talks about Freemasons and examines the alleged symbolism and significance of the building’s architectural elements and the statue of the Golden Boy on the building’s dome.

In scenes set in Maddin’s childhood home (over a beauty parlour) elderly U.S. actress Ann Savage portrays his mother. Many early viewers thought that she WAS his mother. I believe that she won an award or two for her work. (I’ll try to verify that.)

Other things I remember: An old-fashioned looking map (like something from a film or TV show made back in the 1950s) showing Winnipeg as the centre of the world with various lines converging there, a visit with an astronomer, some kind of Nazi parade during World War II (it was part of a civil defence exercise, in case Canada was invaded by Germany).

My Winnipeg is a treat and it’s made by a Canadian, too. What’s not to like?

(Disclaimer: In the interest of speed, I have written this post based entirely on my memory of the film – except for the part about when it will be shown, the address of the Cinémathèque Québecoise, etc. After posting I’ll do some research and modify this post if necessary. And I’ll add some quotes from favourable reviews. I know they won’t be hard to find, because I’ve read them before.)

I’m back, with some review snippets. My Winnipeg has 119 reviews on imdb.com, though sadly, many of the links are broken, including the one to the review written by Al Kratina, my blogleague at the Montreal Gazette’s Cine Files. Tsk! Technology is not always our friend.

Esteemed film critic Roger Ebert liked My Winnipeg a lot. Here are some excerpts from his review: “If you love movies in the very sinews of your imagination, you should experience the work of Guy Maddin. . . If you hear of one opening, seize the day. Or search where obscure films can be found. You will be plunged into the mind of a man who thinks in the images of old silent films, disreputable documentaries, movies that never were, from eras beyond comprehension. His imagination frees the lurid possibilities of the banal. He rewrites history; when that fails, he creates it.”

“(1) Shot for shot, Maddin can be as surprising and delightful as any filmmaker has ever been, and (2) he is an acquired taste, but please, sir, may I have some more?”

Mark Kermode of The Observer says: “Fans of early David Lynch will find a kindred spirit in Maddin’s surreal monochrome vision, while his infatuation with the archaic mechanics of early cinema yields peculiarly modern dividends.”

“The narrative tone is sonorously ‘factual’, yet how much of this alternative history should we believe? . . .Is there really a surreptitious taxi trade serving backroads and alleyways that do not appear on any maps, crisscrossing the city over a maze of hidden rivers through which the true blood of the locals flows?”

Kermode’s final verdict? My Winnipeg is “poignant, truthful and hilarious.”

A.O. Scott of the New York Times says:  “After seeing “My Winnipeg,” Guy Maddin’s odd and touching tribute to his hometown, I was tempted to do some further research.”

But . . .”Fact-checking “My Winnipeg” would be absurd, since the film, which combines archival documentary images with freshly shot, antique-looking passages, is more concerned with lyrical truth than with literal accuracy. And even though I suspect that some of its more outlandish assertions are at least partly grounded in fact, Mr. Maddin is engaged less in historical inquiry than in hallucinatory autobiography, ruminating on the deep and accidental relationship between a specific place and an individual life.”

As “My Winnipeg” conjures it, the bond between city and filmmaker is ambivalent and reciprocal. Much as he may dream of taking that one-way rail journey to somewhere else, Mr. Maddin can no more spurn Winnipeg than it can disown him.”

“. . . unleashing his eye and imagination on the prosaic, sad reality of an ordinary North American town, he proposes an alternative account that is mysterious, heroic and tragic. His Winnipeg is a place where ghosts commingle with regular citizens and may in fact be the true native spirits.”

 

See My Winnipeg (2007) 35 mm, directed by Guy Maddin, 80 minutes long, in the original English version, on Saturday, June 13, 2015 at 5 p.m., at the Cinémathèque Québécoise, 335 de Maisonneuve Blvd E., (metro Berri-UQAM)

You can watch a trailer for My Winnipeg on the Cinémathèque’s web site. That trailer is not bad, but the excerpt below, about the secret alleys, will give you a better idea of the mood of the film.

Just a warning about the Cinémathèque’s web site – the page for “Today at the Cinémathèque'” says that the 5 p.m. film is La nuit du rêveur. What? A change in schedule? I feared that I had written this post for nothing. But no, La nuit du rêveur is the French name of the film. This version does not have French subtitles, though. This screenings is part of a series called Les nuits du cinéma, which runs until June 20, 2015.

Tickets at the Cinémathèque Québécoise are $10 for adults, $9 for students and seniors. Admission is FREE for those 16 years old and younger. How great is that?