RIDM 2016: Sundance Now has got a deal for you!

Here are just a few of the music documentaries available from Sundance Now.
Here are just a few of the music documentaries available from Sundance Now.

Going to Montreal’s documentary film festival RIDM today? It’s the festival’s last day for this year.

If you go, consider having a chat with the people from Sundance Now. They have tables at all or most of the RIDM locations.

You can get a 37-day free trial of the video-on-demand service from them. If you sign up on the Internet you will only get one week. Sundance Now specializes in documentaries, but it has fiction films, and TV shows, too. You can watch them on iOS, Apple TV, Android, Roku,
Chromecast, or the web.

While it doesn’t have as many films as Netflix does, (not yet anyway) once a film is added to the Sundance Now collection, it remains in it – it isn’t deleted a few weeks or months later. That’s a plus, right?

If you don’t like the service, just cancel it before the 37 days are up.

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RIDM 2016: Review of documentary film El Futuro Perfecto

In a scene from the hybrid documentary El Futuro Perfecto, Zhang Xiaobin, centre, and her fellow students in a Spanish language class prove that they understand the meaning of the word "ojos."
In a scene from the hybrid documentary El Futuro Perfecto, Zhang Xiaobin, centre, and her fellow students in a Spanish language class prove that they understand the meaning of the word “ojos.”

Xiaobin is a young woman of 17 who moves from China to Buenos Aires to join her parents.

Signing up for Spanish lessons allows her to make friends, expand her horizons and contemplate many possible futures.

Each student in the class is given a Spanish name (she gets Beatriz). They can play at new identities – a nurse from Barcelona, a business woman from Colombia, a lawyer from Montevideo.

They read questionable statements from their text book, “If I marry a rich man, I won’t have to work.” (Tsk, tsk!)

They practice mildly stilted dialogue exercises, inviting each other to meals or to the movies. Outside the classroom, Xiaobin uses those phrases when talking to Vijay, an immigrant programmer from India, and they really do go places together. They still act like they’re practicing, though. They order orange juice, and then decide to leave a few minutes later without even tasting it. “Should we go? “Let’s go.” The audience in the cinema laughs.

After the film, a friend said that the person who played Vijay was not a good actor. I’m not sure about that. I think he might have played his part exactly the way director Nele Wohlatz wanted him to.

The dialogues in their text books will sound familiar to anyone who’s ever taken a language class, but some of the overwrought things Vijay says sound like they’re from a melodramatic telenovela.

Kitty content: After a few dialogues about cats, kittens start to appear in the homes of some of the students.

El Futuro Perfecto is not a typical documentary at all. It’s some sort of hybrid thing – drama/documentary/improv, based on the real-life experience of star Zhang Xiaobin. Many parts are quite funny, too. I would have been happy to spend more time in the world of El Futuro Perfecto, but it’s only 65 minutes long. Maybe writer/director Wohlatz and her cast said every thing that they wanted to say within that time frame. If so, kudos to them for not dragging things out.

Learn more about El Futuro Perfecto or buy tickets on the web site of RIDM, Montreal’s documentary film festival.
El Futuro Perfecto, 65 minutes long, in Spanish and Mandarin with English subtitles.
Director: Nele Wohlatz
Cast: Zhang Xiaobin , Saroj Kumar Malik , Jiang Mian , Wang Dong Xi , Nahuel Pérez Biscayart
Producer: Cecilia Salim
Cinematography: Roman Kasseroller, Agustina San Martín
Sound: Nahuel Palenque
Editing: Ana Godoy
Production: Murillo Cine

El Futuro Perfecto
Sunday, Nov. 20 at 2:30 p.m., Cinémathèque Québécoise, Salle Principale, 335 de Maisonneuve Blvd E.

RIDM 2016: Review of documentary film NUTS!

The documentary NUTS! uses animation, photos, old film footage and newspaper clippings to tell the story of medical charlatan Dr. J.R. Brinkley.
The documentary NUTS! uses animation, photos, old film footage and newspaper clippings to tell the story of medical charlatan Dr. J.R. Brinkley.

The documentary film NUTS! tells the story of Dr. J.R. Brinkley (1885-1942). He became a very wealthy man by selling his alleged medical expertise, along with his dubious potions and questionable procedures.

J.R. Brinkley was a pioneer in three fields – medicine, business and radio. He became rich and famous as the “goat-gland doctor.” He claimed to cure impotence and infertility by implanting goat testicles, or pieces of them, into his male patients, who then went on to father “miracle babies.” A public relations man saw to it that articles about Brinkley appeared in newspapers across the U.S. It was suggested that one of these miracle babies might grow up to be another Lincoln, Edison or Shakespeare. Men flocked to Brinkley’s clinic in the tiny town of Milford, Kansas for the surgery and paid hundreds of dollars for it.

Brinkley gave health advice, sexual and otherwise, on his own radio station, KFKB, which was one of only four commercial stations in the U.S. at the time. He received thousands of letters from listeners and answered them on a show he called Medical Question Box, which ran several times per day. He recommended his own elixirs, which could be ordered from the station or bought from many pharmacists. KFKB grew from 500 watts in 1923 to 5,000 in 1927. In between his talks, the station ran lectures, French lessons, and played country music instead of the staid “potted palm music” of more conventional stations. This increased the popularity of country music.

NUTS! artfully combines animation with archival footage, photos, and newspaper articles about Brinkley. He’s often seen in a white suit, like Col. Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame. Like a wealthy entrepreneur of our own day, Brinkley also ventured into politics. He ran for governor of Kansas twice, and got lost of votes. When his broadcasting license and his license to practice medicine were revoked in Kansas, he moved to Texas where he built a palatial estate and set up a one-million-watt radio station over the border in Mexico. (Many years later, the DJ Wolfman Jack would broadcast his shows from that station.)

Brinkley bought fancy cars, airplanes, three yachts and even hired a filmmaker to document a family cruise to the Galapagos Islands. Brinkley, wife Minnie and son John are seen toting guns and looming over dead creatures. They caught five turtles, too. Green Turtle Soup!

Most of the film describes Brinkley’s life as just one roaring success after another, the same way his prolific biographer-for-hire Clement Wood did in the book The Life of a Man. The only thing that kept his life from being totally perfect were some little skirmishes with hidebound naysayers in the American Medical Association and elsewhere who were determined to halt the course of progress, etc., etc. They called him a quack.

The financial success was real, but unfortunately for many of his patients, Brinkley WAS a quack, much better at selling than he was at surgery, but somehow it took years for the general public to find that out. He had gone to medical school, but it was an unaccredited one, and he did not complete the course.

In 1939, in a very unwise move, Brinkley took his nemesis, the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Morris Fishbein, to court, accusing him of libel. Brinkley lost the case and his reputation was shattered. Injured patients (or their survivors) sued him for damages. By 1941 he was bankrupt, and in 1942 he died of a heart attack.

NUTS! is quite fascinating just as it is, but I would have liked to know more about all the harm Brinkley did. The Internet helps with that, though. A review of the book The Fraudulent Life of John Brinkley, by Pope Brock says that hundreds of his patients died. That being the case, I find it amazing that he couldn’t be stopped sooner.

We might like to think that we live in a more sophisticated age these days, but there are all too many quacks out there, and the Internet is even more powerful tool than a one-million-watt radio station.

Minor Canadian connections that don’t appear in the film: When he was separated from his first wife, Brinkley kidnapped his young daughter and fled to an unspecified location in Canada, for an unspecified period of tiime. Later, after he achieved fame and fortune, Brinkley liked to fish in Nova Scotia. Oh, not particularly a Canadian thing, but Brinkley was also a bigamist.
NUTS!
Country : United States
Year : 2016
Duration : 79 min.
Director: Penny Lane
Editing : Penny Lane, Thom Stylinski
Production : Caitlin Mae Burke, Penny Lane, James Belfer, Daniel Shepard
Writer : Thom Stylinski
Sound Design : Tom Paul

You can see NUTS! Saturday, Nov. 19, 3:30 p.m. as part of RIDM, Montreal documentary film festival.
Cinémathèque Québécoise – Salle Principale
Director Penny Lane will attend the screening, which will be presented with French subtitles.

Last minute news! RIDM Honours Leonard Cohen with free screening of 1965 documentary about Montreal’s late poet and musician

Caffeine and music! Two of life's essentials. Leonard Cohen with coffee and a harmonica, in a shot from the 1965 NFB documentary film, Ladies and Gentlemen. . .Mr. Leonard Cohen.
Caffeine and music! Two of life’s essentials. Leonard Cohen with coffee and a harmonica, in a shot from the 1965 NFB documentary film, Ladies and Gentlemen. . .Mr. Leonard Cohen.

Tonight, Friday, Nov. 18, 2016, at 7 p.m., RIDM, Montreal’s documentary film festival, in association with with the National Film Board of Canada (NFB/ONF), will present a free screening of the 1965 NFB documentary, Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen by Donald Brittain and Don Owen.

In the black-and-white film, a 20-year-old Cohen returns to Montreal “to renew his neurotic affiliations.” The film includes scenes of streets that have probably changed a lot since those days. An email from RIDM says the film is a “casual portrait” of Cohen. “We see him reading his poetry for a rapt audience, alone at home, or socializing with family and friends.”

The film will be shown, free of charge, at RIDM Headquarters (3450, St. Urbain St., near the corner Sherbrooke St.). “A limited number of seats will be available,” (because the rooms are not huge!) The atmosphere will be very special, I’m sure!
Read more about RIDM on the festival’s web site, ridm.qc.ca

Leonard Cohen in his bath tub. Notice the Esquire magazine. Product placement? What's that on the window ledge? Could it be. . .a transistor radio? Ask an old person.
Leonard Cohen in his bath tub. Notice the Esquire magazine. Product placement? What’s that on the window ledge? Could it be. . .a transistor radio? Ask an old person.

 

RIDM 2016: Review of documentary film The Great Wall

An image from the documentary The Great Wall, whch is being shown at the 2016 RIDM documentary film festival in Montreal. For me, the curves of this fence suggest the dragon-like undulations of The Great Wall of China.
An image from the documentary The Great Wall, whch is being shown at the 2016 RIDM documentary film festival in Montreal. For me, the curves of this fence suggest the dragon-like undulations of The Great Wall of China.

The Great Wall is about walls and borders, old and new. The old one is the Great Wall of China, as described by Franz Kafka, in his short story Building The Great Wall of China, which was written in 1917, though not published until 1931. (Coincidentally, I happened to read it a few weeks before I heard of this film. Everyone seems to call it a short story, but it reads more like a philosophical essay to me. )

The short story’s nameless narrator is someone who worked on the wall himself, thouands of years ago; he muses about why it was built the way it was – in many unconnected pieces of 1,000 metres each, with great gaps in between. He declares that it was dysfunctional and the authorities must have known that, so they must have intended it to be dysfunctional. . .but again, why?

The film’s narrator, Nicola Creighton, reads excerpts from Kafka, in the original German, while we look at walls and very tall fences marking borders in Europe and North Africa. Those North African scenes were shot in Melilla, a small chunk of Morocco that Spain has held on to since 1497.

Because I had read the story recently, I caught a change that had been made to Kafka’s words. He wrote: “Against whom was the great wall to provide protection? Against the people of the north.” The film narration says “people of the south.” This north-south change occurs several times in the narration.

Walls and fences alone are not enough to keep the “others” out. There are watchers in the sky, in airplanes, surveillance cameras with night vision, and the kind of towers you see in films about prisons and concentration camps.

Often, it is not clear where we are in the world, though palm trees hint at a hot climate. Is that because one border often looks like another? Is it because some refugees/migrants don’t always know where they are, either? Should we think of it as a metaphor, more than anything?

Sometimes, the forces of law and order give us a clue: what does it say on the back of their uniforms? POLICE, POLIZEI or GUARDIA CIVIL? In Greece, their shields say POLICE, but there is another word writen in Greek alphabet.

Some scenes start in one country and end in another (far as I could tell). The Great Wall was shot in 11 countries; I did not recognize all of them. One city had a large, strange, ugly building. I want to learn the story of that. (As in, who are the guilty parties?)

There are scenes of huge skyscrapers in big cities, with pedestrians in suits walking around looking powerful and purposeful. My thought about that was, those buildings are another kind of wall or border, that will succeed in keeping strangers out. It’s likely that few migrants will be able to enter them, except perhaps as cleaners.

The music in the film gives an air of menace to many scenes. On the other hand, we often hear birds singing. My interpretation of that: birds are almost everywhere, they sing on good days and bad, they can go to any place that the wind and their wings will take them, unlike humans, they know no borders.

Coincidence: This was the second time this week that I have seen Maersk shipping lines onscreen. The other time was in a documentary about the “boat people” who fled Vietnam 40 years ago. Some of them were rescued by a Maersk ship.

At 72 minutes, The Great Wall felt a bit longer than it is. Some viewers might find their interest flagging toward the end. Or not. I’m not sorry that I went. There’s lots of food for thought in the film.
The Great Wall, 2015, from Ireland.
Director: Tadhg O’Sullivan
Camera: Feargal Ward
In German with English subtitles

The Great Wall is being shown as part of RIDM, Montreal’s Documentary film festival. See it at 8:30 pm, Friday, Nov. 18, at Cinéma du Parc, 3575 Ave du Parc. You can read more about it, and buy tickets on the RIDM web site. The trailer below looks very dark. Most of the scenes in the film are not like that.

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.