Film Festivals

FFM 2017: The Montreal World Film Festival is not dead yet, thanks to volunteers!

MONTREAL- Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017 – Film fans stretch to catch a glimpse of director Xu Haofeng and his actors before a screening of Chinese film, The Hidden Sword, at the Imperial Cinema. The Hidden Sword is in competition at the 2017 Montreal World Film Festival / Festival des films du monde. Photo by Liz Ferguson.

This year, like last year, the Montreal World Film Festival/Festival des films du monde is a shadow of its former self. The festival doesn’t seem to be getting any money from any level of government. All the same, it IS still alive, thanks to some wonderful volunteers! I doff my metaphorical hat to them!

You’ll see them selling tickets, working as ushers etc., but there are more unseen workers behind the scenes, as well. Without their work, the cinemas would be dark.

Many of the volunteers don’t even know festival founder Serge Losique, but they do follow his maxim: “It’s all about the films!”

While I didn’t formally interview any of them, I can see that the volunteers range in age from their early 20s to 60s, maybe even 70s. While some of the older volunteers are retirees, others are giving up precious vacation days. They are film fans have enjoyed the festival for decades and they don’t want to see it die. Several people now working for free were on the festival payroll for many years.

The volunteers and the people who are still buying tickets truly appreciate the festival’s dedication to films from the far corners of the globe that are not made in the familiar Hollywood mold. (If I had a nickel for every time I heard that over the years. . .seriously, I really would be rich.)

(Do you care about those film fans, government people? While most of them are tax-paying citizens, some of them are tourists, from other parts of Canada, and the U.S., who have been coming to Montreal for the festival for years.)

Check out the festival this long holiday weekend. Many directors are here with their films, and some brought their actors, too. Sometimes there are Q&As in the cinema right after the screening, but even if there isn’t one, you can usually ask questions in the lobby. At the very least, if you liked the film, you can thank and congratulate the director. They seem quite willing to have their pictures taken with fans, too. A nice souvenir of the festival! Fans are quite friendly, too. If you ask nicely, most will be happy to tell you what they have seen and what they thought of it.

MONTREAL- Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017 – Chinese director Xu Haofeng, second from right, with actors and others associated with his film, The Hidden Sword. The Hidden Sword is in competition at the 2017 Montreal World Film Festival / Festival des films du monde. Photo by Liz Ferguson.

Films are being shown at the Imperial Cinema, Cinéma du Parc and the Dollar Cinema. From my own experience I can say that some of them are very good! And people I trust have said the same about other films. So far, I haven’t seen anything that I regret. I particularly liked The Hidden Sword, from China, directed by Xu Haofeng, and Y de Pronto el Amanecer, from Chile. It was directed by Silvio Caiozzi. Both films are playing in competition.

Links to schedules are below. Unfortunately, there isn’t a fancy printed program this year, nor is there the “big book” of yesteryear, but at Cinéma du Parc, you can pick up a schedule, with synopses, of the films that are being shown there.

The Montreal World Film Festival / Festival des films du monde continues until Monday, Sept. 4, 2017. Tickets are $11 each, or you can buy a booklet of 10 coupons, which must be exchanged for tickets, for $85.

The Imperial schedule is here.
Cinéma du Parc schedule is here.
The Dollar Cinema schedule is here.
To read a film’s synopsis, click on its category, which will be in blue on your screen.

For example, REG is Regards sur les cinémas du monde / Focus on World Cinema, and DOC is Documentaires du monde / Documentaries of the world. (I won’t list all the categories here.)

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Sommets du cinéma d’animation 2016: Review of the documentary Oscar

A screen grab from Oscar, an NFB/ONF documentary about jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. The film was directed by Marie-JosŽe Saint-Pierre.

A screen grab from Oscar, an NFB/ONF documentary about jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. The film was directed by Marie-JosŽe Saint-Pierre.

In the 12-minute NFB/ONF documentary Oscar, filmmaker Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre uses animated sequences, archival footage, photos, news clippings and other documents, radio and TV interviews with Montreal-born jazz pianist Oscar Peterson to chart his career and to depict the loneliness of life on the road and the toll it takes on a marriage, on the relationship between a father and his children and on musical performance, too. (Peterson was only 19 when he married for the first time. He tells an unseen interviewer that he should have waited until he was at least 40.)

A telegram reads: “I miss you Daddy. When are you coming home?” We also see a divorce document – genuine or recreated, I don’t know – that lists the respective parties as “Oscar Peterson” and “Mrs. Peterson.” That’s how it was in those days, married women didn’t even have a name of their own. More cringe inducing is a radio segment from 1944 in which announcer Jeff Davis calls 18-year-old Peterson a “coloured boy with amazing fingers.”

Oscar Peterson had a regular gig at Montreal's Alberta Lounge.

Oscar Peterson had a regular gig at Montreal’s Alberta Lounge.

In addition to talk about the hardships of touring, we see daytime and night-time photos of Montreal back in the 1940s, are reminded how popular our city was with U.S. tourists, and revisit the tale of how U.S. impresario Norman Granz was riding in a Montreal taxi when he heard Peterson on a live radio broadcast from the Alberta Lounge. Granz instructed the driver to take him there right away.

When he was still a young man, Oscar Peterson shared a bill at Carnegia Hall with his idols Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and Ray Brown.

When he was still a young man, Oscar Peterson shared a bill at Carnegia Hall with his idols Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and Ray Brown.

In the next sequence, Granz has taken Peterson to Carnegie Hall, where he plays on a bill that includes Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie. (Granz was Peterson’s manager for most of his life; a New York Times obituary for Granz says that Peterson named one of his sons after him. Google tells me that late in life Peterson had a daughter named Celine. Was she named for our national songbird? Anybody know?)

An animated depiction of CBC radio host Peter Gzowski is astounded when Peterson tells him that he thinks ahead while he’s playing, or more precisely, that he plays behind his thinking.

Needless to say, Oscar contains lots of Peterson’s music, too, a bonus for old fans and newly created ones.

Oscar is part of a three-film selection called Animating Reality 1: Familiar Faces, that will be shown on Sunday, Nov. 27, at 1:15 p.m., as part of the Sommets du cinéma d’animation film festival, at the Cinémathèque Québecoise, 335, de Maisonneuve Blvd. E.

NOTE: Casino, a 4-minute film by Montreal director Steven Woloshen, uses music by Oscar Peterson. Casino is among the films in the International Competition – Programme 3, that will be shown at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 27, at 1:15 p.m., at the Sommets du cinéma d’animation.

 

Sommets du cinema d’animation: ‘If you scan an octopus, be sure you really clean your scanner well afterwards’

joan-gratz-blue-clay

You don’t hear about scanning tentacles everyday; neither do you get to talk to an Oscar winner. But some of us did both yesterday (Friday, Nov. 25, 2016) when filmmaker Joan Gratz gave a master class at the Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation here in Montreal. We learned a lot and laughed a lot, too.

Gratz’s Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase won Best Animated Short at the 65th Annual Academy Awards in 1993. (Snow White announced the award. Seriously! Gratz did not mention this herself, but I saw it on YouTube.)

I had seen it before, but did not realize that she had created the images with clay. Gratz explained how she does that, and showed us many of her other films, including Kubla Khan, Puffer Girl, and Pro and Con.

I will expand this post with more images and anecdotes from Joan C. Gratz.

Meanwhile, you can see her latest film Primal Flux, as part of the International Competition 3 selection, at Sommets du cinéma d’animation, on Saturday Nov. 26 at 5p.m. and Sunday Nov. 27 at 3 p.m. Both screenings will be in the Salle Principale of the Cinémathèque Québecoise.

Cinémathèque Québecoise
335, de Maisonneuve Blvd. E.
Montréal, Québec, H2X 1K1
Berri-UQAM Metro

There’s lots to see and do at Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation in Montreal

A frame from Diane Obamsawin's film Here and There. Is Obamsawin a Habs fan?

A frame from Diane Obamsawin’s film Here and There. Is Obamsawin a Habs fan?

The 15th edition of Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation, at the Cinémathèque québécoise, will squeeze many activities into a mere five days.
The film festival’s schedule includes short and feature-length animated films from around the world, master classes, and a free stop-motion workshop for children (I’m jealous!).

Canada’s venerable nation Film Board (NFB/ONF) is well represented and there are competitions for student films, from Montreal, Quebec, elsewhere in Canada and abroad.

Admission to the films: $10 for adults, $9 for students, seniors and those 4-16 years old.

At Les Sommets du cinema dÕanimation, filmmaker Joan Gratz will demonstrate her signature technique, claypainting.

At Les Sommets du cinema dÕanimation, filmmaker Joan Gratz will demonstrate her signature technique, claypainting.

Among the other presentations: Finding Work in the Animation Industry; The secrets behind virtual monsters and creatures; Money and Eyeballs (How to get funding and exposure for your films); Round table discussion (How do journalists and critics work in a community as tight-knit as animation?); A Near-Perfect History of Animation. The Animation lecture cost $9, but the other events listed above are free.
There are two master classes: A 90-minute Master Class with Joan Gratz, who “will present her films and reveal the secrets behind her signature technique, claypainting” is free.

A frame from Diane Obamsawin's film I Like Girls. Mathilde, right, says that her first girlfriend was "half horse, half Wonder Woman."

A frame from Diane Obamsawin’s film I Like Girls. Mathilde, right, says that her first girlfriend was “half horse, half Wonder Woman.”

A ticket for a five-hour Master Class with Diane Obomsawin is $9.

Visit the web page of Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation here.

The catalogue of Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation is here, in PDF form.

Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation, Nov. 23 to 27, 2016

Cinémathèque québécoise
335, de Maisonneuve Blvd. E.
Montréal, Québec, H2X 1K1
Berri-UQAM Metro

FNC 2016: Festival du nouveau cinéma brings us quality and quirkiness

Claude Chamberlan, left, co-founder of the Festival du nouveau cinŽma, and programmers Philippe Gajan and Julien Fonfrde introduce the festival's 45th edition at a press conference. (Liz Ferguson photo)

Claude Chamberlan, left, co-founder of the Festival du nouveau cinŽma, and programmers Philippe Gajan and Julien Fonfrde introduce the festival’s 45th edition at a press conference. (Liz Ferguson photo)

Autumn brings us crisper days, falling leaves, pumpkins, turkey and the 45th edition of the Festival du nouveau cinéma. There will be 138 features and 170 shorts from 62 countries, from Afghanistan to Yemen. On the festival’s web site you can search for films alphabetically, by type of work, genre, or country. (Read about the films here; consult the schedule here.)

The festival opens Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016 with Kim Nguyen’s Two Lovers and a Bear, set in the snowy Arctic. (The closing film, Maliglutit (Searchers) from Zacharias Kunuk is an Arctic film, too.) While the opening and closing events are “invitation-only,” the two films will have other screenings during the festival.

There will be some well-known names among the directors and stars, along with many talents that might be new to us. The well-known directors include “friends of the festival” Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch, along with Andrea Arnold, Lav Diaz, Werner Herzog, Hong Sang-soo, Hirokazu Kore-Eda, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Bruce McDonald, Kim Nguyen, Park Chan-wook, Ulrich Seidl, Sion Sono, and Bertrand Tavernier.

Retrospectives will look at the works of Michael Cimino and Krzysztof Kieslowski, among others.

Documentaries will cover many topics, including music (French electronic music, Iggy Pop) actors (Toshiro Mifune) and filmmakers (Abbas Kiarostami, Sion Sono).

The festival is blessed by its place on the calendar it can nab hits from other festivals, from Sundance in January right up to the very recent ones in Toronto and Venice.

Those hits include Toni Erdmann, a German-Austrian co-production about a very serious businesswoman who is miffed that her prankster father is more popular with her friends and colleagues than she is. At one point he disguises himself as a Kukeri, a Sasquatch-like creature of Bulgarian folk legend.

In Aquarius, from Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho, Sonia Braga plays a retired music critic who resists ruthless developers who want to tear down the beach-front apartment she’s lived in for decades. The film was expected to be Brazil’s Oscar contender, but it fell victim to politicial wrangling.

The festival will present The Handmaiden, Park Chan-wook’s tale of love and deception, with French subtitles. That version is called Mademoiselle.

These critters are the stars of the French TV show Le Ball Trap.

These critters are the stars of the French TV show Le Ball Trap.

The festival will also present episodes from TV series that were made in Argentina, Belgium, France, Poland, and the U.S. One of the more bizarre selections is Le Ball Trap, a French production featuring stuffed animals. Not the kind of stuffed animals you buy in a toy store – stuffed as in taxidermy. Formerly living creatures which are now looking somewhat worse for wear.

The P’tits Loups section offers films for “children of all ages.” They’re mostly animated shorts, but there is a 100-minute live action film called Les Malheurs De Sophie, and a 53-minute presentation of classic Wallace and Gromit films Grand Day Out and The Wrong Trousers.

There will be master classes with directors Ulrich Seidl of Austria, Félix Van Groeningen of Belgium, Nadav Lapid of Israel and Jennifer Reeder of the U.S.

Other events include a cinema quiz and musical evenings. Read about them on the festival’s web site under “All Events.”

In the last few years, many local film festivals have featured virtual reality components and FNC 2016 has lots of them. Read more about virtual reality at FNC here.

This year, locations for films and other events include: Cinema Imperial; Cinema Du Parc; Theatre Maisonneuve; Pavillon Judith-Jasmin Annexe (the former NFB/ONF Cinema); Cineplex Odéon Quartier Latin; Theatre Saint-Denis.

The Festival du nouveau cinema runs from Oct. 5 to Oct. 16. Tickets can be bought online; prices range between $8 and $13. Passes and booklets are available, too. (Click here for FNC ticket information.)

Spike Lee’s Michael Jackson film, a Black Lives Matter documentary, comedies, dramas and shorts on menu at Montreal International Black Film Festival

Singer Michael Jackson in his younger days.

Singer Michael Jackson in his younger days.

The Montreal International Black Film Festival (Sept 28 to Oct 2, 2016) is already underway. (Sorry. Mea culpa that I did not write about it sooner.)

Among the highlights is Spike Lee’s documentary, Michael Jackson’s Journey From Motown To Off The Wall, which will be presented by the director himself on Saturday night at Concordia University.

Spike Lee was a guest of the Montreal International Black Film Festival in 2014 and he's back again this year. That's festival founder Fabienne Colas next to Spike Lee. (Liz Ferguson photo)

Spike Lee was a guest of the Montreal International Black Film Festival in 2014 and he’s back again this year. That’s festival founder Fabienne Colas next to Spike Lee. (Liz Ferguson photo)

Or, you could opt for Sembene! a documentary about the Sengalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene. A favourable review by Matt Zoller Seitz of rogerebert.com says the film makes “the director, who died in 2007, sound not just like a great artist and relentless person, but a figure out of a legend or folktale: an invincible juggernaut of a storyteller; the man who gave voice to African stories that, until the early post-colonial period, had been largely voiceless on film.” “One of the recurring points made by various witnesses is that until Sembene burst onto the scene, images of Africa were mainly about pretty scenery with exotic wildlife that visiting American and English movie stars could have adventures in front of. In other words, the continuation of colonialism through cinema. Sembene did much to counter that tendency, although he never enjoyed the kind of widespread acclaim that other international directors, including Chinese and Japanese masters, have sometimes enjoyed in Western nations.”

A Sunday afternoon screening of the documentary Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement will be presented by the director Laurens Grant and followed by a panel discussion.

The documentary Poverty Inc. looks at how efforts to help people in other countries often make things worse than they already were A Variety review says the film is ”an easy-to-understand docu-essay with a tough-to-accept message, especially as it implies that some aid organizations may actually be cashing in on their concern.” “The problem, “Poverty Inc.” cautions, is that few pause to think what happens after they’ve written the check, never fathoming that the mere act of giving can actually have have a detrimental effect.” “Poverty Inc. treads a delicate line between condemning NGOs and encouraging otherwise generous-minded souls to think twice about the sort of support they provide to societies in need — the key advantage here being Miller’s solution-oriented focus on the “right” kind of aid.”

In the film Ben & Ara, Joseph Baird plays Ben and Constance Ejuma is Ara.

In the film Ben & Ara, Joseph Baird plays Ben and Constance Ejuma is Ara.

Canadian connection: U.S. actress Constance Ejuma, female lead in the film Ben & Ara, studied theatre at the University of Toronto.

The films mentioned above are just a sampling. The festival is showing shorts and features, comedies, dramas and documentaries. The films were shot in Belgium, France, Martinique, Senegal, the U.S. and elsewhere. In addition to Concordia University, screening venues include Cinema du Parc and the former NFB/ONF cinema on St. Denis.

Tickets can be bought online. Click to consult the Montreal Black Film schedule.

Fantasia 2016 Review: The Wailing

Poster for the Korean horror film The Wailing.

Poster for the Korean horror film The Wailing.

“An old stranger appears in a peaceful rural village, but no one knows when or why. As mysterious rumours begin to spread about this man, the villagers drop dead one by one. They grotesquely kill each other for inexplicable reasons. The village is swept by turmoil and the stranger is subjected to suspicion.”
– Synopsis from the press kit for The Wailing.

Dread, murder, unexplainable events, irrational behaviour, gossip, rumours, nightmares, fear of the other, a large, fierce dog, big, black crows and mesmerizing rituals. That’s what you get in Korean horror film The Wailing (aka Goksung, 곡성).

I’ve wanted to see it ever since I read the rave reviews from the Cannes Film Festival. It did not disappoint! (The Cannes critics liked director Na Hong-jin’s earlier films The Chaser and The Yellow Sea, too.)

The Wailing is set in the beautiful, misty mountains of rural Korea, where people still live in old-fashioned homes with tile roofs. It looks like the kind of place where nothing much happens from one decade to the next.

A string of gruesome murders disrupts the tranquility and we watch as policeman Jeon Jong-gu (Kwak Do-won) tries to figure out if and how they could be connected. While a newspaper headline blames the disorienting effects of poisonous wild mushrooms for the first murders, Jong-gu wonders if some kind of virus might be going around? (The presumed perpetrators all had horrible rashes.)

There's a lot of rain in The Wailing; it increases the feeling of dread.

There’s a lot of rain in The Wailing; it increases the feeling of dread.

Then there’s gossip about a strange Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) who lives in the forest. Some people are convinced that he’s evil, and responsible for the deaths, directly or indirectly. Supposedly he’s been seen wandering in the woods, half naked, chomping on dead animals. One woman says he’s a ghost, feeding on the spirits of the living. Any stranger could come under suspicion in an isolated community, but Japan’s earlier occupation of Korea would further complicate the way the locals view this interloper. Whoever or whatever he might be, a visit to his dwelling proves that he’s not just your everyday recluse.

Policeman Jeon Jong-gu is neither the suave, super cop of some films, nor the corrupt, crooked one of others, rather he’s an Everyman type; pudgy, and a bit of a doofus. After he gets a pre-dawn call to investigate the first murder scene he lets his wife and mother-in-law talk him into eating breakfast first – a few minutes more or less won’t make any difference to the dead, right? His boss and the other cops are not impressed when he finally shows up. Slacker!

Jong-gu seems rather indifferent to his wife (then again, this is not a romantic comedy) but he dotes on his cute young daughter, Hyojin (Kim Hwan-hee). Then she develops a rash too, and starts acting so much out of character that possession seems like a real possibility. When Jong-gu looks at her school notebook, it’s full of strange scribblings and scary drawings. (Have you seen The Babadook?) It also looks like it’s been mauled by a creature with long, sharp claws.

A mudang (shaman) is called in. The shaman is played by Hwang Jung-min and he’s great. I’ve seen shamanic rituals in many other Korean films but the ones here are exceptional, especially the second, longer, night-time one. (I read an article online that some people on the film set thought Hwang really was possessed.)

Hwang Jung-min plays a mudang, or shaman in the Korean film The Wailing.

Hwang Jung-min plays a mudang, or shaman in the Korean film The Wailing.

The Wailing is NOT one of those films where the villain confesses everything, or some expert explains it all before the credits roll. If you go with friends you could have some very interesting post-film discussions about what really happened, who was good and who was evil. The Internet is full of contradictory theories, with some people essentially saying “I’m right because I’m Korean!”

If you read those theories, bear in mind that director Na Hong-jin told the Korea Times: “I mulled over the ending and decided I had to leave it open.”

A final note: Sadly, we Montrealers don’t get to see many Korean films outside of film festivals. If you like the sound of The Wailing try to see it at Fantasia because it will be more impressive there, on a big screen, with a great sound system and the famous, enthusisatic Fantasia audience. Furthermore, some scenes take place at night or in murky interiors – you’ll be able to see them much better in the cinema.

The film is 156 minutes long, but doesn’t feel like it.

The Wailing
Goksung
곡성
Director: Na Hong-Jin
Writer: Na Hong-Jin
Cast: Kwak Do-won, Hwang Jung-min, Jun Kunimura, Kim Hwan-hee, Chun Woo-hee
In Korean with English subtitles, 156 minutes long, showing at the Fantasia International Fim Festival Monday, July 18, 2016 at 9:35 p.m., in the hall Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., Montreal.

RIDM 2015 Review: Polar Sea 360° is a virtual-reality voyage to the Arctic with a rich, detailed, online component, too

Screen grab from Polar Sea 360 web site. Clicking on it won't do anything!

Screen grab from Polar Sea 360 web site. Clicking on it won’t do anything!

Go to RIDM’s UXdoc Space at Cinémathèque Québécoise, put on the virtual reality headset, and you’ll find yourself immersed in the Arctic – except you won’t need big mitts and an extra warm coat.

You can look right, left, up, down or behind you; there’s always something to see. You might be in a helicopter, on a blue-sky, sunny day, hovering above ice, snow, glaciers and icebergs or somehow outside the ‘copter, looking into it at the pilots. You might be on the deck of a small boat, in the dining room of cruise ship, or riding through a small village on an all-terrain vehicle. On top of all that, you can see the aurora borealis shimmering in the night sky in its mysterious way.

For me, it was a fascinating experience and well worth the trip to the Cinémathèque, which is conveniently located mere steps from the Berri-UQAM metro. But that’s not all, there so much more!

Before and/or after experiencing the Arctic in this way, you can find a wealth of information, from many points of view, at the web site polarsea360.arte.tv  There is a video with several chapters, and a “magazine” with 10 episodes; some of these episodes also have short videos embedded in them, as well. During the main video, and many of the video segments, viewers can use the arrow keys on their computer to get a 360-degree view. (The project can be enjoyed on smartphones and tablets, too, but I used a desktop computer. If you have a virtual reality headset at home, you cam use that. too. The web site has links to three companies that sell them.)

Screen grab for the Polar Sea 360¡ web site shows Arctic ice bergs.

Screen grab for the Polar Sea 360 web site shows Arctic ice bergs.

Polar Sea 360° is an international project with participants from Canada, Argentina, Denmark, France, Germany, Greenland, Ireland, Norway, and Switzerland. They include Arctic residents, authors, amateur explorers, biologists, a Canadian Coast Guard officer, filmmakers, geographers, geologists, historians, photographers, a prof in international politics, sailors, sea captains, scientists, singers, and veterinarians.

Climate change, and the way it affects people, wildlife and the landscape, is a major topic of the videos and the texts. The trip offered by the French cruise ship Boréal would not have been possible in past decades, because the ice was thicker then. Increased access to the Arctic means more shipping, exploration for oil and minerals and the habitat destruction and pollution that can come with that.

We also learn about the DEW Line, the Franklin expedition, explorer Roald Amundsen, and Inuit history and culture, including the forced relocation of some Inuit to Resolute Bay to shore up Canada’s arctic sovereignty claims, the abuse at residential schools, the importance of narwhal and seal in the traditional Inuit diet, their hospitality customs, hunting methods, throat singing, traditional place names, historical routes, and the problems of the present day; Nunavut has highest suicide rate in Canada.

A graphic about Arctic sovereignty from Polar Sea 360. The international, interactive project combines information about ecology, geology, history, politics and more.

A graphic about Arctic sovereignty from Polar Sea 360. The international, interactive project combines information about ecology, geology, history, politics and more.

The waters being navigated in Polar Sea 360° are part of the famous, near mythical, Northwest Passage. Mention of it takes me back to Grade 6 history class. (You, too?) In those days, we didn’t learn much about the negative aspects of exploration and the imperialism that came with it. But we did learn about the Northwest Passage – for centuries, explorers dreamed of it and searched for it – a quicker way from Europe to the riches of Asia. The man (of course, it would be a man!) who found it would be rich, famous, admired, bring glory to his country, etc. It was a big deal then and it has become a big deal once again. Read more about the RIDM presentation of Polar Sea 360° here.

 

Polar Sea 360°

Country : Canada, Germany
Year : 2014
Language : English, French, German
Runtime : (up to you!)
Platform : Réalité Virtuelle / Virtual Reality (Samsung Gear Vr)
Website : http://polarsea360.arte.tv
Production : Irene Vandertop, Thomas Wallner, Stephanie Weimar
Artistic Direction : Thomas Wallner
Technical Direction : Scott Herman
Sound : Janine White
Contact
(Production)
Thomas Wallner, Deep Inc., thomas@deep-inc.com

Visit the UXdoc Space at Cinémathèque Québécoise, 335 de Maisonneuve Blvd E., from Nov. 12-22, 2015, from 11a.m. to 8p.m., to see Polar Sea 360° and other interactive presentations.
RIDM (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal) runs from Nov. 12-22, 2015. Visit the web site ridm.qc.ca for more information.

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.

FNC 2015 Review: The Sandwich Nazi

Vancouver deli owner Salam Kahil is the star of the documentary film The Sandwich Nazi. The film was directed and edited by Lewis Bennett. It's one of many films being shown at Montreal's Festival du nouveau cinŽema. (Photo by Rommy Ghaly)

Vancouver deli owner Salam Kahil is the star of the documentary film The Sandwich Nazi. The film was directed and edited by Lewis Bennett. It’s one of many films being shown at Montreal’s Festival du nouveau cinŽema. (Photo by Rommy Ghaly)

The Sandwich Nazi is a documentary portrait of Vancouver deli owner Salam Kahil. His customers call him Sal. Anyone who thinks Canadians are dull and boring has not met this guy.

Sal has a dirty mouth and a big heart. Viewers can assess some of his other parts in the last moments of the film.

Sal was born into a large family in Lebanon. He left home at an early age for assorted reasons. He lived in 18 countries before coming to Canada in 1979 and he has the photos to prove it. I didn’t hear him name our city, but it looks like he lived here in Montreal for a while.

When he was no longer “young and pretty” he went into the deli buiness, with La Charcuterie Delicatessen, a “Scandinavian place with a French name” being the most recent one. In addition to sandwiches, he sells imports you probably won’t find at your local supermarket. Customers are fond of the pickled asparagus from Denmark. When someone calls to ask if he has “Norwegian cooking chocolate” he says there’s probably some in the back. (You can see that chocolate on the La Charcuterie’s web site and lots more – Viking Bread, Norwegian fishballs, many cheeses, condiments, cookies, candy and sweets, including the very yummy Anthon Berg Marzipan Plum in Madeira. The site includes a recipe for Danish meatballs! )

(Looking at that website made me want to visit Montreal’s La Vieille Europe on St. Laurent, since it might have some of those things.)

Sal has many stories to tell, most of them crude. He says he used to be a male escort who could be hired by men or women. He says he has also been a very successful sperm donor (twins!) for women who did not have (or want) a male partner.

He tells these stories to his customers as he prepares their sandwiches. They’re an extra garnish, you might say. Are they all true? Are some exaggerated? Who knows? Who cares?

The sandwiches themselves are HUGE. Sal says they’re the best in the world and his customers seem to agree. Don’t go the film on an empty stomach.

The film’s title is a reference to the “soup Nazi” from the Seinfeld TV show. That guy made great soup but customers could be banished forever if they did not obey his many rules. Sal has rules, too; payment is cash only and he demands politeness and respect from his clients. For the most part, he seems to get it. We only hear one or two banishment stories.

As far as I can recall, the “soup Nazi” did not have any redeeming qualities beyond his culinary talents. In contrast, Sal and his army of volunteers prepare meals and distribute them to the poor and the homeless of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on a regular basis. He treats those people with warmth and respect and they are obviously happy to see him and his food. He feeds the volunteers, as well. We learn about many other good deeds in the film.

The documentary was made over several years. On more than one occasion, Sal says he will return to Lebanon to visit his family, even naming a departure date. But he doesn’t go. When he’s finally ready to make the trip, the film crew wants to accompany him, but his family says no. Sal documents things himself, and shares his footage with the filmmaker and viewers upon his return. This includes a hair-raising, high-speed drive through a sniper-infested area – not something that happens on your average vacation.

The Sandwich Nazi is one of the hundreds of films being shown at the Festival du nouveau cinéma. Read more about The Sandwich Nazi on the FNC web site.

 


The Sandwich Nazi
, directed and edited by Lewis Bennett
Original Version In English, 72 minutes long

Tuesday Oct. 13, 2015, 21:30
Program #163
Cinéma du Parc 1, 3575 Ave, du Parc