The other day, I realized that I hadn’t written anything on my blog for almost five months. And that’s a shame. The main reason is that last June I got a job working in the communication department for Montreal International Documentary Festival (most commonly known as the RIDM. R-I-D-M. Not the “rhythm”…). My role, more precisely, was to take care of social media. So, frankly, after spending five days a week working from 9 to 5 (and sometimes even more – especially during the festival itself), I was less willing to write on my blog and referred to spend my weekends doing other things, going out, seeing my friends, etc. But, now things are calmer as my contract for the festival is, unfortunately, over. So, I thought it would be a fun idea to tell you about my experience at this unique event. And I don’t mean as an employee but as a festival-goer. I did something similar after going to the TCM Classic Film Festival. Hopefully, telling you about it will pique your curiosity and make you want to come to the festival one day (when it will be easier to travel). I know documentaries aren’t the type of films I usually write about on this blog, and it’s not necessarily the most accessible type of film. Sadly, people often believe that they are boring, but the RIDM are proof that they are far from being. And I’m not just saying that because I worked there. If you love cinema in general and are looking for a good time, it’s the place.
After an edition online last year, we chose the option of a hybrid edition for the 24th RIDM. It involved the possibility to see films in theatres (from November 10th to November 21st) or online (from November 14th to November 25th). The in-person part took place in three different theatres in Montreal: the Cinémathèque québécoise, the Cinéma du Parc and the Cinéma du Musée. The Cinémathèque quebecoise was used as the festival headquarters as the team worked for the duration of the event. Also, the opening night was at the Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin (not far from the Cinematheque). However, it was the only event that took place there. The online part was a good option for those living outside of Montreal (it was available all across Canada) or for people who weren’t comfortable going to a movie theatre yet.
Despite the possibility of an in-theatre edition, it was still hard to have as many activities as usual and as many international guests. However, we did have some fun and interesting ones, and a few international filmmakers visited us. Among them, we welcomed Ukrainian-born Russian director Vitaly Mansky who came for a retrospective of his films. French movie director Julien Chauzit – a very sympathetic person- presented his film La colline (The Hill). French movie director Amandine Gay came for her film Une histoire à soi. And American director Ben Russel attended the screening of The Sleeping Mountain.
My role before and during the festival was to do its promotion on social media and encourage people to participate. But, let’s put my professional life aside for now, and let’s dive into my experience as a festival-goer!
So, it all began on the evening of November 10th with the opening night, which, as I said earlier, took place at the Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin in the Quartier Latin in Montreal. I attended the event with my boyfriend. Fun fact: my best friend volunteered at the festival, and she began on the opening night, serving wine for the guests! She did a great job! I suggested it to her without being really serious as I knew she also had a full-time job during the day. But she turned out to be motivated by the suggestion and truly enjoyed her experience (well, from what she told me!). Anyway, back to the opening night. Before the screening began, I took a few pictures for Instagram stories and discretely entered the projection room to take a nice photo of the theatre. The guy there initially seemed to wonder what I was doing here, but I was super quick and didn’t disturb him very long.
The film screened was Futura, an Italian feature directed by Pietro Marcello, Francesco Munzi and Alice Rohrwacher. In this thought-provoking documentary, we meet teenagers and young adults from different cities of Italy as they tell their opinion on the future of their country. Although I watched half of the film before the festival (yeah, we had these kinds of privileges), the viewing experience was much more interesting in a movie theatre. I really enjoyed it and, overall, gave him a rating of 4. We could rate the films for the public vote. 1 being the worst rating and 5 being the best. My boyfriend loved it and gave it a rating of 5. The presentation of the festival itself by our programming collective and other noteworthy people preceded the screening of Futura. We also saw the short film Des voisins dans ma cour by Lebanon-born director Eli Jean Tahchi. It explores the frontier between Parc-Extension and Ville Mont-Royal, two neighbourhoods of different social classes in Montreal, shamefully separated by a fence since the 60s. The director was here to introduce his film briefly, and we were all truly amazed by his hair. More seriously, his presentation was brief but a good way to prepare us for the film and its symbolism.
For most festival-goers, things started on the 11th with the regular programming. Although everybody (in Canada) could see Futura online, the screening at Quartier Latin was on invitation only. On my side, on that Thursday, after an intense day of work, I went downstairs to the Norman-McLaren Space at the Cinemathèque québécoise for the 25th anniversary of L’Inis (The National Institute of Image and Sound). Before going on, I’ll make a brief informative parenthesis. For those who didn’t know, Norman McLaren was a Scottish-born Canadian director mainly known for the stop motion films he made for the National Film Board of Canada (NFB). His film Neighbours won the Oscar for Best Short Film in 1952. The room named in his honour was used during the festival for special events, such as round table discussions, the Forum RIDM (the professional part of the festival), discussion panels, and special screenings. In the evening, it became a fun bar. For the anniversary, L’Inis presented a program of eight of its best documentaries : L’absence qu’il reste (Toby Fraser, 2009), Le poids de la ressemblance (Marie-Claude Fournier, 2010), Des insectes et des hommes (Helgi Piccinin, 2011), Chevette 83 (Luis Oliva, 2013), Floyd (Pierre-Yves Beaulieu, 2016), Salomé & Joseph (Laurence Dompierre-Major, 2018), Jo (Carmen Rachiteanu, 2018) and Fissure (Eli Jean Tahchi, 2019). A discussion hosted by Jean Hamel, L’Inis managing director, with four filmmakers (Dompierre-Major, Piccinin and Tahchi) followed the screening. I made some great discoveries by watching these short documentaries I hadn’t heard about before. They were all super intriguing in their own way and had unique subjects and approaches. My personal favourite was Des insectes et des hommes which is an excellent proof that you can make films about any possible topic. Indeed, it was about an insect exterminator. I loved how it explored the human side of this person and his connections with the clients. It was only 11 minutes, but, honestly, I would have liked that to be a feature film. Oh, and I believe everybody fell in love with Jo, the main character of Carmen Richiteanu’s film. The discussion with the three directors was worthy and a great way to have their vision of their work. Afterwards, I believe I stayed at the Norman-Mc Laren Space to enjoy a drink with my colleagues.
On the evening of November 12th, I hesitated between seeing Seuls (Alone) by Paul Tom at the Cinema du Musée or This Rain Will Never Stop (Alina Gorlova) at the Cinema du parc. Both films seemed worthy but, as they were taking place at the same time, I had to make a choice. So, I finally went with Gorlova’s film. The main reason was that the programmers told us that it would be impressive on the big screen and, overall, it intrigued me. Also, I know that Seuls was to be screened in theatres in Montreal after the festival, so it wasn’t my only option to see it. Of course, the fun part about the festival is that the director and the protagonists were at the screening. I didn’t like This Rain Will Never Stop as much as I would have thought, but it was indeed visually stunning (a beautiful black and white cinematography). Also, I thought the protagonist was truly endearing. It’s a co-production between Ukrania, Germany, Lettonia and Qatar that follows Andriy Suleyman, a guy of Syrian and Ukrainian roots that works for the red cross. He goes back to these places he had to leave due to the conflicts that tore them apart. After the screening, I joined colleagues at the Cinemathèque for a drink and attended the end of the Q & A with directors presenting their films for our first program of short and medium-length documentaries. I had watched some of them before the festival began, more precisely Poème fantôme (Laurence Olivier – not the British actor), Reminiscences of 15 musicians in Beirut attempting a re-imagination of the Egyptian classic Ya Garat Al Wadi (Charles-André Coderre), Minimal Sway While Starting my Way Up (Stéphanie Lagarde – that was probably my favourite title of all the films presented at the festival) and Ëdhä Dädhëchä¸ | Moosehide Slide (Dan Sokolowski).
Saturday evening, the 13th, was pretty busy in terms of screenings. Encouraged by one of our colleagues who knew how to sell this film, I went to the Cinema du Parc to see the French documentary Le Kiosque by Alexandra Pianelli. I was accompanied by my Communication team, and we saw other colleagues there. I’m so glad I saw that because I can easily say that it became my favourite film at the festival. Well, at least, my favourite feature film. Le Kiosque is a fun, light and touching feature taking place in a newsstand in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. Pianelli and her mother own and work in this tiny place full of magazines, journals and newspapers and welcome their regular customers each day. The documentary is filmed with a subjective camera, from Pianelli’s point of view. We don’t really see her, but we hear her as she interacts with the customers (some are real characters that could inspire screenwriters for a fiction feature) and explains how newsstands work. There are some funny, touching and thought-provoking moments. And, once again, it’s the perfect proof that you can make documentaries about everything and that it can take all kinds of forms. I gave this film a note of 5 because it extended my expectations, and I loved it. No, it’s not necessarily a masterpiece, but if you ever have the chance to see it, don’t hesitate.
Afterwards, I went to the Cinéma du musée to assist to the screening of Une histoire à soi by Amandine Gay. The director herself was there for a Q & A after the screening. I realized she was kind of a superstar when the audience acclaimed her with enthusiastic applauds as she climbed on the stage. She’s also a funny, dynamic and passionate person. She revealed fascinating information about her film and its making. Briefly, Une histoire à soi revolves around the theme of adoption and presents the portrait of five people from different places in the world who were adopted. Each background story is unique. It was interesting to see how they interacted with the fact that they were adopted and with the concept of adoption itself. The film was made via archival images, stills and moving ones.
Sunday the 14th was another exciting evening as I went to the Cinema du Musée with my boyfriend for the Soirée de la relève Radio-Canada. During this special event, six films by emerging Canadian filmmakers were presented, and the jury chose a winner who won funding to produce a documentary series. The film that were screened for the occasion were 5:1 (Sara Ben-Saud), Le vendeur de Broaway (Trick or Tree, Simon Larochelle), Le vent du Sud (The Southern Wind, Aucéane Roux), Casting Nelly (Jérémie Picard), L’Innu du futur ( The Future Innu, Stéphane Nepton) and Soeurs (Julia Zahar). The prize was awarded to Aucéane Roux. It was well deserved, and the subject of her film was an intriguing one. Add to that the fact that it was beautifully shot. Overall, I thought all the films were excellent. I saw four of them before the festival, but it was a pleasure to see them again and discover the two I hadn’t seen yet, the winning one and Le vendeur de Broadway (probably one of the funniest documentaries I ever saw in my life). A lot of beautiful talents in perspective!
On the next day, on the 15th, I saw a film that was so weird I wouldn’t even know how to resume it and can’t even tell you if I liked it or not. That was Aleph by Iva Radivojevic. It’s like an experimental documentary taking place in different parts of the world with different characters. Some sequences are definitely better than others. I chose to see it because, not long before the festival, I discovered that Radivojevic received a Princess Grace Award, more precisely a Film Graduate Scholarship, back in 2011. And anything that has something to do with Grace Kelly usually catches my attention. The main thing I could conclude from this film is that it takes you out of your comfort zone. The screening took place at the Cinema du parc. After that, back to the Cinemathàque québécoise for drinks with colleagues.
On November 16th, I took a break and didn’t see any film. However, my friend was volunteering at the cinematheque so, between films, we spent a bit of time together. I almost when to see Eastwood at the Cinema du parc as it intrigued me. It’s an Iranian film directed by Alireza Rasoulinejad. It revolves around the fact that the filmmaker, after seeing Clint Eastwood on a photo in a newspaper, decides to look for that iconic American actor in the city of Sirjan in Iran. I think it’s the type of film I would have liked, but I guess after Aleph, my brain needed a break!
Of course, Wednesday, November 17th, was one of the festival highlights, as it was Karaoke Night! But we’ll come back to that. Since I wanted to enjoy my free tickets as much as possible, I went to see DƏNE YI’INJETL | The Scattering of Man (Luke Gleeson). It was at the Cinémathèque, in a theatre just next to our office. So convenient. That was the first feature film made by Gleeson. It revolves around the construction of BC Hydro and how it had damaging consequences on the Tsay Keh Dene Nation. It’s a sad narrative about something that wrongfully impacted society and the environment. Honestly, I wasn’t super focused as I was probably thinking about which song I would sing at the karaoke, but I’m still glad I saw it. So, the karaoke night was something, in the good sense of the term. I usually don’t think karaokes are that extraordinary, but this time, it was different. I can positively say that the RIDM know how to karaoke. The ambience, the animator, the participants were just all sparkling. I liked how we were mixed with people from the film industry, such as directors, producers and distributors. Everybody was there for a good time. Not something you would see in Hollywood. The RIDM team sang a group song *drum roll* Bohemian Rhapsody! I was really into it. I also sang Rapture by my favourite band, Blondie, simply because I knew the rap by heart and had to sing it on the karaoke one day! Later I sang Madonna’s La isla bonita with a lady I didn’t know. However, I recently realized that she was Émilie B. Guérette, who presented a film at the festival in 2017, L’autre Rio. Well, I think it was her. Anyway, it was fun. We went on with other group songs and an evening that ended much later than it was initially supposed to (and I’m not complaining). My boyfriend came briefly at the beginning and, later, my friend who volunteered at the festival came also. It was nice to see people having fun like that. I feel like it had been a while.
But back to films. Although I loved the karaoke night, Thursday was also one of my favourite evenings. The reason is that I went to see a documentary with my cousins, my sister and a childhood friend of my sister. So, they were all people I knew for a long time, and I’m so grateful they came to encourage the festival! We went at the Cinema du Parc to see Le dernier refuge (The Last Shelter) by Ousmane Samassékou. I’m glad we went with that as it was, in my opinion, a documentary of real quality. The action takes place in a refuge situated on the frontier of the Sahel, which hosts migrants who left their countries and their difficult conditions to go on an uncertain journey. It focuses on two girls from Burkina Faso, Esther and Kady, and their friendship with Natasha, an elderly migrant. It’s a difficult film, and it has a lot of uncertainties, but it’s also a significant one. Indeed, it makes us discover a world with which we aren’t familiar. After that, we grabbed a bite and had a drink at Le Darling, a cool bar in Montreal with creative deco! I believe after that I returned to the Cinemathèque to end the evening, but I’m not 100 % sure.
On Friday the 19th, I opted for another program of short films. These were five short documentaries presented on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Vidéographe. Just like the 25 years of L’Inis, that special screening was taking place at the Norman-McLaren Space at the Cinémathèque. These revolved around various tragic moments of recent history, Pinochet’s dictatorship, the deportation of the Kalmouk people by the USSR, the violent altercations of 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, etc. Artist and director Luc Bourdon chose the films among 2300 titles collection. The final selection included Intervalle (Nayla Dabaji, 2014), Nutag-Homeland (Alisi Telengut, 2016), Terres fantômes (Félix Lamarche, 2019), Les femmes de Pinochet (Eduardo Menz, 2005) and La statue de Robert E. Lee à Charlottesville (Pierre Hébert, 2018). These films were presented with creative, alternative and experimental structures. There are some I prefered to others. My favourite one was Les femmes de Pinochet. I don’t think I had seen anything like that before. It’s very impactful, considering how the director used the sound and the image. It’s not something that leaves you indifferent. I also admired the breathtaking animation work on Nutag-Homeland. A discussion hosted by Luc Bourdon with four of the directors (all of them except Alisi Telengut, which is too bad since I’m sure she would have had relevant things to say about her film) followed the screening. The idea of choosing more recent films on historical events went well with the concept of memory. However, I believe it could also have been a good idea to celebrate the 50 years of Vidéographe with five films, one for each decade. But I guess it was not the general purpose. For those who don’t know, Vidéographe is an artist-run centre based in Montreal “dedicated to the research and the dissemination of moving image practices, [including] experimentation in video art, animation, digital arts, documentary, essay, fiction and dance video.” (Vidéographe)
In terms of work, Saturday evening was my most exhausting day as it was the last considerably busy day of the festival. It wasn’t only filled with screenings, the closing night and the award ceremony, but also the closing party. I don’t even know how I managed to have the energy to celebrate after all the craze of the closing film and the award ceremony were over. I didn’t see any movies that evening as it was way too busy with social media and all that. The award ceremony went well, I guess but, on my side, I had problems with Facebook where I was announcing the winners. So, I was half-listening. But, overall, I can say congrats to all the winners! The Grand Prize – International feature went to Looking for Horses by Stefan Pavlovic. The Grand prize- National Feature went to zo reken by Emmanuel Licha. You can discover all the winners here. I must admit shamefully that aside from All of Your Stars are but Dust on my Shoes (Haig Aivazian), which received a special mention for Best International Short or Medium-Length Film, I didn’t see any of the winning films. It’s more a coincidence than anything. zo reken intrigued me, but time flew, and it was impossible to see everything. After that chaotic award ceremony, I ran at the Cinema du Musée where the closing film was presented, Gabor by Joannie Lafreniere. In this film, the director introduces Hungarian-born Canadian photographer Gábor Szilási. I didn’t stay for the screening but did a few stories for Instagram. I would have liked to, but honestly, I was too mentally exhausted. It looked like a beautifully shot and heartwarming feature. However, I’m proud to say I hold the door for Mr Szilási (oh la la)! Funny enough, a few years ago, my best friend (the one who volunteered at the festival) and I went to the opening of an exhibition of Szilási photographs at McCord Museum. And the photographer was there as well! Afterwards, although I was exhausted, I couldn’t miss the closing party which was taking place at the Cinémathèque Québécoise (of course). It definitely was worth it!
Although the closing night took place Saturday, the last day of the in-theatre festival was on Sunday, the 21st. It was a much calmer day, but I still went to see a film at the Cinémathèque: Sunny, a Georgian film by Keti Machavariani. That social documentary follows a researcher who conducts door-to-door surveys in Tbilisi, Georgia and asks the participants their opinion about all kinds of subjects related to their country. It’s interesting to see the contrast between the answers, the social classes, etc. Also, even tho it was a less “spectacular” film, it reminded me a bit of Futura. So, it was the perfect way to close the festival chapter.
And that was the end of the in-theatre edition of the RIDM. Of course, I could go on by talking about the online edition, but it would probably be boring. As a total, I saw 43 short, medium and feature films before and during the festival. It was a wonderful experience. If you have the occasion to come to Montreal and discover the art of documentary cinema and how resourceful it can be, I highly encourage you! After all, I travelled between Montreal and Los Angeles for the TCM Film Festival. So why not the other way around? Plus, it’s *cough* affordable *cough*.
Of course, it was a wonderful experience, not only as a festival goer but also as an employee. Although it was a bit overwhelming at times, hosting the social media was truly stimulating. I received a nice award : “Prix Cinéphile du Pilier de Comptoir de la Cinémathèque Québécoise”, which roughly means that I’m a cinephile who constantly hung at the Cinémathèque [bar] during the festival. I’ll take it!
If you want to know more about the RIDM, I invite you to visit the website here.