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
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


FNC 2015: Festival du nouveau cinéma presents North Korean version of The Tale of Chun Hyang

A scene from The Tale of Chun Hyang. The popular Korean folk tale has been told in films and on television many, many times. The Festival du nouveau cinema in Montreal is showing a verion made in North Korea in 1980.
A scene from The Tale of Chun Hyang. The popular Korean folk tale has been told in films and on television many, many times. The Festival du nouveau cinema in Montreal is showing a version made in North Korea in 1980.

Some of the films being shown at the Festival du nouveau cinéma will go into general release here in Montreal within the next few days weeks or months. But others fall into the “now-or-never” category. Unless you are a cinema scholar or have good connections, chances are you won’t be able to see them again. The Tale of Chun Hyang, being shown just once, on Saturday Oct.10, 2015, is one of these “now-or-never” films.

The Tale of Chun Hyang is a Korean folk tale that has been put on film many, many times. (Two thousand times according to the FNC program!) So far, I’ve only seen the one directed by Im Kwon Taek, in 2000. (Guess I’m a slacker!)

But the version being shown at FNC was made in 1980, in North Korea. While that country makes many films, we can’t see them very often.

Im’s film was visually stunning, so I’m wondering how this North Korean version, directed by Yun Ryong-gu and Yu Won-jun will play out.

The Romeo and Juliet story is often invoked when describing The Tale of Chun Hyang to Westerners. It’s only a rough approximation though. (SPOILER: Chun Yang has a much happier ending.) The conflict here is not so much between families as between classes. Many nobles and officials do what they please with the country, its assets and the people lower down on the social scale than they are. And women have the worst deal of all, as happens so often in fairy tales. See The Tale of Chun Hyang with your friends and you could probably have some interesting arty and political discussions afterwards.

Chun Hyang is the beautiful daughter of a woman who became the second wife of an official.
Mongryong, the young, handsome, honest decent son of an official falls in love with her and marries her in secret. Then he has to go away to study for his career advancement and he cannot take Chun Hyang with him. She suffers greatly in his absence. When she refuses to become the mistress of a newly arrived official, she is thrown into prison and threatened with execution, but she values her love and loyalty more than she values her own life. (A topic for further discusion, as well.)

The Tale of Chun Hyang
Directed by: Yun Ryong-gu and Yu Won-jun
Screenplay: Kim Sung-Gu, Paek In-Jun
Cast: Kim Yong-Suk, Choe Sun-Gyu, Yong Suk-Kim

In Korean with French subtitles.
Saturday, Oct.10, 2015, 5 p.m
Program #88
Salle Fernand Seguin of the Cinémathèque Québécoise, 355 de Maisonneuve Blvd. E.
Click to read more about The Tale of Chun Hyang on the FNC web site.

You can buy a ticket online here.

Click to read more about the other North Korean films on the FNC program. The Festival du nouveau cinema runs until Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015.

Black Film Festival starts tonight with special guests Martin Luther King III and Pras Michel

Fabienne Colas, left, founder of the Montreal International Black Film Festival, speaks to journalists at the festival's press conference. (Don't let the empty seats fool you - the event was quite well attended, but many guests chose to sit at the back of the room. )
Fabienne Colas, left, founder of the Montreal International Black Film Festival, speaks to journalists at the festival’s press conference. (Don’t let the empty seats fool you – the event was quite well attended, but many guests chose to sit at the back of the room. )

The Montreal International Black Film Festival starts tonight, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015 and runs until Sunday, Oct. 4.

The films include features, shorts and medium-length works, from Canada, Benin, Brazil, Bahamas, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Mali, South Africa, Senegal, Spain, Swaziland, Trinidad and Tobago, the U.S., the U.K., and Zambia.

There are dramas, documentaries, and animation, including Battledream Chronicle, the first feature-length animated film from Martinique.

In addition to the fims, there will be panel discussions, a film market and dance parties.

Guests include Martin Luther King III, musician Pras Michel, filmmakers Paul Haggis and David Belle (who will be honoured on Friday Oct. 2, 2015), filmmakers Souleymane Cissé, Moussa Touré, Abderahmane Sissako, and Pierre Magny (who will take part in a panel discussion on North-South collaboration on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015.)

Graduates of the Ciné Institue, in Jacmel, Haiti, will present their films on Friday, Oct. 2, 2015.

Tuesday’s opening film is the documentary Sweet Micky For President, in which Pras Michel of The Fugees travels to Haiti to help the presidential campaign of musician Michel Martelly, (aka Sweet Micky). Martin Luther King III will be given a 2015 Humanitarian Award before the film screening. These events take place at the Imperial Cinema.

The closing film, on Sunday Oct. 4, is Black Panthers: The Vanguard of the Revolution, in the Hall Theatre of Concordia University. Other films will be shown at Concordia’s DB Clarke Theatre, Cineplex Quartier Latin, and the former National Film Board cinema on St. Denis St.

Admission to the opening film is $25, the closing film costs $20, and others are $10. Several packages are available as well. Check the Montreal International Black Film Festival web site, www.montrealblackfilm.com/ for further pricing details, the film schedule, film synopses and trailers.
The Montreal International Black Film Festival has a Facebook page, too.

Fantasia film festival menu makes me hungry for the full, tasty feast

Mitch Davis, one of the general directors of the Fantasia International Film Festival, in his usual mood, which is very animated and highly enthusiastic! Davis has been known to knock over plants and other such stage props, which is probably one reason why there aren't any plants on that stage. Photo by Liz Ferguson
Mitch Davis, one of the general directors of the Fantasia International Film Festival, in his usual mood, which is very animated and highly enthusiastic! Davis has been known to knock over plants and other such stage props, which is probably one reason why there aren’t any plants on that stage. Photo by Liz Ferguson

On Tuesday, July 7, 2015, more than 200 people came to Cinéma de Sève at Concordia University to get the latest lowdown on the films, guests, venues and assorted events that make up the 19th edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival.

The festival will show comedies, dramas, horror, thrillers, action films, animated films and documentaries. There will be spirits, vampires, martial artists, good cops and bad, adorable characters and despicable ones.

There were enthusiastic speeches from the usual suspects, and some trailers, too. I appreciate those trailers immensely – a description from someone who likes a film is nice, but there’s nothing like seeing for yourself!

I saw many intriguing snippets; some of the Japanese films look really quirky, and I mean that in a GOOD way! And I want to see most, probably all, of the 12 Korean films that will be shown at the fest.

Some films are probably too gory for me, because I’m a big scaredy-cat, but that’s OK, I know that others like them. It’s difficult enough to see all the films that I want to see, so being able to rule some out is almost a blessing.
This year, the festival will show 135 feature films from 36 countries; obviously only a few could be mentioned at the press conference. That’s where the Fantasia catalogue and/or web site come in. I do like having a printed catalogue and a printed schedule, but I also appreciate the Fantasia International Film Festival web site, where I can find films by name, country, genre, or director. That’s great for those who want to read about all the documentaries or all the films from a particular country.

In venue news, there will be outdoor screenings on Concordia grounds; the McCord Museum will show films suitable for children (Fantasia shows more of those than you might think!); some films will be shown in the lovely auditorium of the Grand Bibliothèque, near the Berri-UQAM métro.

Among the revelations – Fantasia will show Roar, a rarely-seen film from 1981 that’s been given a new lease on life through Drafthouse Films. I’ve read many articles about it in the past few months, so I’m really eager to see it.

Roar features more than 150 wild cats who were being kept as pets by writer/director Noah Marshall and his family. That family included actressTippi Hedren (from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds) her daughter, actress Melanie Griffith, and two sons. They all act in the film. From what I’ve read, they were lucky to come out of the experience alive. Few people escaped unmauled, or unscratched, though. The film is being marketed with a catchphrase along the lines of: “No animals were harmed in the making of this film, but 70 people were.” Cinematographer Jan de Bont had his scalp torn off, and it took 120 stitches to sew it back onto his head.

Fantasia will also show Haemoo, a Korean film based on a tragic, real-life life incident. Kim Yun-seok is the star, it was produced and co-written by Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer, The Host, Memories of Murder, etc., etc), and directed by Shim Sung-bo, who was one of Bong’s co-writers for Memories of Murder.

Maybe this was announced earlier and I didn’t see it, but Kevin Bacon will come to present the film, Cop Car. Bacon plays a very bad sheriff hot on the trail of two young boys who have stolen his cruiser. There will be a Q&A after the film, and Mitch Davis encouraged everyone to come and ask Bacon lots of questions. He was chortling, in an infectious way, at the possibilities.

For me, the Fantasia press conference, and the festival itself, is like an ideal version of a high-school reunion – fun, friendly, all smiles, no bullies.

There is so much to say about the Fantasia International Film Festival; I guess the best thing is to write several posts, and not to go on and on with this one!

But I would like to say “thank you” to Fantasia organizers for holding their press conference in a place that had enough seats for the invitees. I wish that every organization would do that! Standing up for more than one hour, while also trying to take notes – it isn’t fun at all!

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14 to Aug. 4, 2015.
Tickets can be bought online from Admission and at the box office. Many films sell out amazingly quickly and many will only be shown once, so if something sounds good to you, avoid disappointment and buy tickets sooner rather than later.