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Film Festival Today

Founded by Jeremy Taylor

Above all, Film (Cinemania 16 – RIDM 2010)

Written by: FFT Webmaster | December 19th, 2010

Montréal is very much a festival city–Jazz, Humor, Food, Etc., Etc., But above all Film.

Two rather different film festivals have just finished (both have been running 16 and 13 years, respectively, so they’ve smoothed out their problems, more or less, and so run smoothly).

Cinemania 16 (www.cinemaniafilmfestival.com) owes its energy and imagination to two programmers, founder Maidy Teiitelbaum, and general manager Genevieve Royer. It consists of 31 feature films, from French-speaking countries with, and, this is the crucial addition, English subtitles (you hear quite a bit of French in the line-ups which shows these are first-class films, largely from France, which play to receptive audiences there but don’t cross the Atlantic very much). They’re entertaining, stylish films of greater substance than most Hollywood offerings–and these films are rarely available to North American audiences. For example, Mensch, a thriller with more plot development than regular Hollywood versions: although it contains violence, it’s not the constant mindless violence so many films use to lure teenage males into cinemas.

Cinemania ‘s films are shown in evenings, in one location, the lovingly restored, with traditional decor, Theatre Imperial. Stars from France and other countries visit too–last year Costa- Gavras offered a workshop, this year Isabelle Huppert and others came to Montreal.

These are different films from the ordinary fare. For example, Une Execution Ordinaire, scripted and directed by Marc Dugain from his book of the same name, takes place in the last year of Stalin’s life. Stalin’s people grab a young, and attractive, urologist, and send her beloved husband to prison so she can concentrate her efforts on keeping the ruthless dictator alive. There are fine portrayals of the three principal protagonists, with Andre Dussollier outstanding in the role of Stalin.

Hors-la-Loi (Outside the Law)reminds audiences of the Franco-Algerian war and its savagery, in both countries. It offers unsympathetic portrayals of many characters on both sides, particularly at the top; further down the chain they’re somewhat more sympathetic. Viewers are shown how attitudes are formed, roles created and assumed. This is film is chilling–and thrilling. It’s a co-production among various countries, particularly France and Algeria.

Current events play a significant role in many of the other films. “Illegal” is a bit unbalanced in its portrayal of illegal immigrants. The heroine, who eventually returns, semi-peacefully, semi-complacently, to her native Russia, confronts a state–Belgium–and its workers, all of whom, almost without exception, are portrayed as a heartless lot, as least as far as asylum-seekers are concerned.

Toronto is a big documentary centre–Hotdocs etc–but Montreal is too. The very term ‘documentary’ was first used here by John Grierson, founder of the National Film Board, (NFB) whobuilt up the Oscar-winning institution, recruiting such magnificent talent as his fellow-Scot Norman Mclaren (who won an Oscar for Neighbours)

RIDM (www.ridm.qc.ca)– is very diverse –Montreal International Documentary Festival–RIDM in French. It begins with 3 days of intense debate about every aspect of documenary film-makin.

RIDM then started with Les Fros, a sensitive look at multiculturalism in Quebec’s forests. Canal D, Quebec’s main documentary channel, awarded its Prix de Publique to Chercher le Courant, a film about plans for the construction of 4 mega-dams, for hydro-electric power, on one of Quebec’s last major untouched rivers.

A number of Russian, Polish and other films present very different perspectives from what was once the official Russian or Soviet line. Russian Lessons, for instance, brings together two Russian film-makers crossing Georgia from opposite sides, to meet in the middle. In this way they highlight evidence of Russia’s aggression towards its former partners in the USSR and the disinformation and propaganda directed at the Western world, apparently often successfully.

Another interesting Russian film, (albeit a British-US co-production), is My Perestroika. The film-makers look at 5 people who went to school together and how they have fared, in their very different ways, in the convulsive period Russia has been going through.

Gasland, which won Special Jury prize at Sundance, is a frightening look at the damage to the environment (water table and atmosphere) caused by the gas industry’s drilling for natural gas across the US by “fracking”–(hydraulic fracturing.)This process was facilitated by Dick Cheney pushing through the 2005 Energy Bill which exempted the oil and gas industry from emission standards dating back to the 1970’s.

Q and A sessions were lively–for instance La Part d’Ombre, a film about a Quebec women of Cambodian origin returning to her native land to try to understand the horrors that went on there drew angry responses.

Wasteland takes us to see garbage collectors at the world’s largest landfill in Rio de Janeiro The garbage is used to create works of art–this may seem gross at first, but director Lucy Walker makes it seem almost poetic.

Not all films are so grim and serious, of course. Two of the US’s leading documentary film-makers, D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus came up to present their latest film. Kings of Pastry follows the 3 of three finalists in France’ s top pastry chef competition. This humorous, and very human, portrayal of some of France’s leading chefs looks at their families, their coaches, even the judges!

There were many more films –200 in all–spread around seven locations. Lively discussions of films and film-making, Doc Circuit Montreal, went on not just inthe Cinematheque Quebecoise’s Salle Norman McLaren–renamed RIDM Lounge for the occasion–but also in the nearby Bibliotheque Nationale.

En route is the NFB which offers a permanent , free videotheque, where one can see films one missed in festival–and thousands of others.

So if you have any spare time in the Montreal area next November, there are at least two significant filmfests worth checking out.

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