RIDM Review: Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr

Omar Khadr, centre, talks to members of the media outside the Edmonton home of his lawyer Dennis Edney.
Omar Khadr, centre, talks to members of the media outside the Edmonton home of his lawyer Dennis Edney.

The fine Canadian documentary Guantanamo’s Child Omar Khadr is many things at once – chilling, heartbreaking and heartwarming; a record of shameful behaviour but also one of kindness and dedication; and a testimony to the resilience of the human body and spirit.

Omar Khadr was only 15 years old when he was gravely injured in a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002. That made him a child soldier by definition, though it did not save him from being accused of murder and being imprisoned for 12 years. (A photograph taken after the battle shows gaping holes in his chest; I was amazed that he survived at all.)

In the film, Khadr himself describes the torture and ill treatment he suffered at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan and later at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. His account is backed by former prisoners and the former military men who witnessed or delivered this torture themselves. Treatment and medication were withheld when Khadr would not or could not say what his interrogators wanted to hear, in contravention of the Geneva Convention.

We see videotape of a visit that CSIS investigators made to Guantanamo. Khadr is happy to learn that they are Canadians, you can hear it in his voice – he mistakenly thinks they have come to help him, but then he realizes that’s not the case at all. When he tells them about his wounded arms, one man says “you look fine to me.” This interview was not new to me, it’s part of the film You Don’t like the Truth: Four Days Inside Guantanamo, but watching it still makes me sad and angry. It’s one more lesson to all of us that we can’t necessarily depend on our own government to look out for our interests, even though it is legally and morally obliged to do so.

Omar Khadr as a teenager.
Omar Khadr as a teenager.

Those are some of the shameful things in Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr. Now for the positive side.

Edmonton lawyer Dennis Edney spent years representing Khadr and fighting for his release. It took four years of effort before he was even allowed to meet with Khadr. Others might have given up long before then. Edney has won many awards for his work, and probably deserves many more. Khadr was returned to Canada in September, 2012, and sent to prison. In May, 2015, he was released on parole into Edney’s custody. He lives with Edney and Edney’s wife Patricia, in their Edmonton home. Khadr says that over time, their relationship has changed from a lawyer-client one to a father-son one. It’s lovely to see the way they interact with each other. Edney says he looks forward to seeing Khadr graduate from university. He wipes away tears describing prison visits with Khadr at Guantanamo, when he tried to reassure him that eventually he would be released and that they would go camping and fishing together in Alberta. Edney wanted to show Khadr photos or maps of the places they would go, but even that was not allowed.

Despite the treatment he received, Khadr is amazingly, remarkably calm. (he could probably write a self-help book about surviving under intense pressure.) He takes obvious joy in just breathing fresh air, and being able to look up at the sky. He talks of his decision, while still in Guantánamo, not to allow the people who were mistreating him to take up too much space in his head. I wonder how many of us could do the same? Khadr wants the chance to prove to former prime minister Stephen Harper, and other Canadians, that he is not the man they think he is.

Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr is co-directed by Toronto Star journalist Michelle Shepherd and Patrick Reed. Shepherd followed the case for years and also wrote a book, Guantanamo’s Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr, which was published in 2010. Reed’s previous films include Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children (2012), which is about former General Roméo Dallaire and his campaign to end the use of child soldiers.

Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr (click on the film’s name to be taken to the RIDM synopsis)
Directed by Patrick Reed Michelle Shephard

Country : Canada
Year : 2015
Language : English, Arabic
Subtitles : English
Runtime : 80 min.
Production : Peter Raymont
Cinematography : John Westheuser
Editing : Cathy Gulkin
Sound : Downy Karvonen, Sanjay Mehta, Peter Sawade

Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, 6 p.m.
Theatre J.A. De Sève, Concordia University, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
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 Review: They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile

Members of the band Songhoy Blues are among the musicians who appear in the documentary film They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile.
Members of the band Songhoy Blues are among the musicians who appear in the documentary film They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile.

They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile is a documentary about the difficulties faced by residents of northern Mali, especially the musicians, after a Tuareg rebellion in 2012 was hijacked by Islamist forces. Mosques, tombs, libraries, and ancient manuscripts were destroyed. The imposition of sharia law meant veils for women, amputated limbs for convicted thieves and a ban on all music – even ringtones on cellphones. Musicians fled cities like Gao and Timbuktu in fear for their lives. Among those who appear in the film, some went to Bamako, in Mali’s south, while others went to refugee camps in Burkina Faso.

Malian musician Fadimata Walett Oumar, who is nicknamed Disco, right, and her husband Hassan (Jimmy) Mehdi, in a scene from the documentary film They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile. The film is being shown at RIDM, Montreal's documentary film festival.
Malian musician Fadimata Walett Oumar, who is nicknamed Disco, right, and her husband Hassan (Jimmy) Mehdi, in a scene from the documentary film They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile. The film is being shown at RIDM, Montreal’s documentary film festival.

The people we meet include established stars Khaira Arby and Fadimata Walett Oumar (nicknamed Disco, because she was a big Madonna fan in her younger days). Disco is a longstanding member of the group Tartit, though it is not named until near the end of the film. She is also married to a high-ranking Malian soldier who changes allegiance more than once, which makes their lives somewhat complicated. The film also serves as a promotional vehicle for a younger band called Songhoy Blues, and includes footage from their U.K. tour. (Earlier this year, they toured North America, making stops at SXSW and in Toronto, too.) You can find music by Khaira Arby, Tartit and Songhoy Blues on iTunes; click on their names to go there. The film’s soundtrack will be released, but sadly, it isn’t ready yet. If you like what you heard in the film, check out Tinariwen, as well.

Khaira Arby is among the Malian musicians who appear in the documentary film They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile.
Khaira Arby is among the Malian musicians who appear in the documentary film They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile.

Most of us will never see the wonders of Timbuktu in person, so I appreciated glimpses of them in the film. I suspect that some scenes were shot before the widespread destruction and that many of those intriguing structures no longer exist.

At 100 minutes, the film seems stretched out. I expected lots of music, since it is about musicians, after all, but got tantalizing snippets instead. There is lots of talking, and some of it is repetitive. Perhaps I am just a victim of my own expectations – the film has many positive reviews on the Internet. Sample quote from a review in the Austin Chronicle:
“Social journalism of the highest order, They Will Have to Kill Us First is by turns horrific and front-loaded with sonic heroism. It’s also one of the most vibrantly shot and masterfully edited documentaries of this or any other SXSW year.”

Full disclosure, I did watch They Will Have To Kill Us First at home via an online screener, which must have reduced its power considerably.

(Justified) spoiler: The film ends with a joyous outdoor concert in Timbuktu, with lots of happy women and children among the audience.
They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile (Click on the film’s name to read more about it on the RIDM web site.)

Friday, Nov. 13, 2:30 p.m.
Cinéma Du Parc 1 (Buy tickets here)

Saturday, Nov. 14, 215 p.m.
Cinéma Du Parc 2 (Buy tickets here)

They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile
Country : Mali, United Kingdom
Year : 2015
Language : English, Bambara, French, Songhay
Subtitles : English
Runtime : 100 min
Production : Kat Amara Korba, Sarah Mosses, Johanna Schwartz, John Schwartz
Cinematography : Karelle Walker
Editing : Andrea Carnevali, Guy Creasey
Sound : Phitz Hearne
RIDM (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal) runs from Nov. 12-22, 2015. Visit the web site ridm.qc.ca for more information about the festival.

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.