What’s on at Montreal’s ethnographic film fest

We spoke to the festival’s coordinator about this year’s programming and what exactly “ethnographic film” means.

fifeq mondo banada
Mondo Banana

The International Ethnographic Film Festival of Quebec (FIFEQ) is a little bit different than the other film festival offerings in Montreal. The ethnographic theme, suggesting the exploration of cultural phenomena, is interesting but also kind of vague, which allows for an element of surprise and discovery.

We spoke to FIFEQ coordinator Sabrina Moro about the history of the fest, how they’ve expanded this year and the program.

fifeqKayla Marie HIllier: How did the festival come about?
Sabrina Moro: The idea for the festival came about in 2003. There was a university conference on visual anthropology between students from the Université de Montréal, McGill University and Concordia University, and from that conference emerged the idea of celebrating ethnographic film and visual anthropology every year. 2004 was the first edition of the festival and it’s kept going over the years. In 2007, Université de Laval in Quebec City joined the festival, so now it takes place simultaneously between Montreal and Quebec City and it’s organized by the four universities: McGill, Concordia, the Université de Montréal and Université Laval.

KMH: What’s new this year?
SM: Usually the festival runs for three days simultaneously in Montreal and Quebec starting on the Thursday and ending on the Sunday. This year it’s going to be 10 days. We’ve tripled the amount of screenings.

Much Ado About Knotting
Much Ado About Knotting

We’ll also have a performance called Sensory Ethnography in association with Synesthesia Creations on March 21. It involves a whole installation with screens — they’ll really appropriate the space to do projections, screenings, sound mixing and music mixing. It’ll be very interactive, very immersive. The whole idea behind the setting is to make the audience feel what it’s like to attend the OpenMind Festival. I think it’s going to be great. It’s the first year that we’re doing this but we’ve had so much fun organizing this event, I think it will show.

KMH: For people who haven’t attended the festival before, what can they expect from the films that you’ll screen? What qualifies as an ethnographic film?
SB: The festival doesn’t seek to propose a very strict definition. During the programming meetings, this question would come up all the time: what is ethnographic film? And we didn’t try to have a very strict definition. We tried to always open up the question. The goal of the festival is to celebrate ethnographic film by asking what is ethnographic film? And the selection of films we’ve made try to answer that question.

KMH: Can you tell us about some of the films?
SB: Home in Mind takes place in Second Life, the computer game. It’s an exploration of how people interact with the computer and how they build a life within a fictional and not-real world — but it’s very real at the same time. It’s very interesting and also very contemporary.


La voix de la Toundra is an ethnography of the Nenets people, a community who live in Northern Finland and Russia. But it’s also the portrait of a filmmaker, because the film follows Anastasia Lapsui, a filmmaker who was the first to shoot films in her mother-tongue of the Nenets.

There was a film that was submitted, Mondo Banana, which is a portrait of bananas across the world, in all its forms and all its uses. It’s absolutely fascinating and it’s so much fun to watch. But you learn so much about bananas as a cultural product. It’s also a reflection on globalization — it’s a wonderful film that will be screened at Concordia.

At the closing ceremony, we’ll screen two films which have a theme in common: banal or strange interactions that happen in spaces, specifically the backseats of taxi cabs. So we’ll have Taxi pour deux, a fictional and somewhat experimental movie shot in Montreal. And the other one is Taxiway, on taxi drivers and taxi cabs in New York City. ■

The International Ethnographic Film Festival of Quebec runs March 13–23. For more information, head here.


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