Today at RIDM

Films about African-Americans down and out at Lexington & 125 and a look inside Montreal’s police academy, screening at the documentary festival.


Field Niggas

Montreal’s documentary film festival — the Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal (RIDM) — runs through Nov. 22. Here are reviews of two films screening at the fest for the first time today.

Field Niggas

In a 1963 speech, Malcolm X referred to the “field Negroes [sic] who lived in huts, had nothing to lose. They wore the worst kind of clothes. They ate the worst food. And they caught hell.” Khalik Allah introduces us to Harlem’s most destitute residents, the modern counterpart of these slaves, through asynchronous voiceover interviews and slow motion nighttime shots of the corner of 125th Street and Lexington Avenue.

As a photographer first, each of Allah’s shots are beautifully and thoughtfully framed portraits in movement. Saturated colors from neon pawn shop signs, headlights, sirens, and streetlamps illuminate the hazy corner where drugs and alcohol are rampant. The hypnotic images of smoke, and the filmmaker’s editing style give the documentary a uniquely hallucinatory feel. Allah forces you not only to see and listen to those you would normally avoid, but to observe the night through their eyes.

After smoking some K2, one woman astutely says “125th is a prison without the gates.” These kinds of thought provoking statements on life, race, respect, and equality are scattered throughout the endless stream of nonsensical monologues; everyone is high on something. Speech is either staccato or slurred depending on the individual’s chosen poison. After seeing this voyeuristic and immersive film, you will leave the theatre feeling like you spent the night tripping on the Harlem street corner, overhearing bits of conversations, trying to match the voices to the faces, and observing the people around you. It is a bleak and powerful experience that most would not choose to be exposed to in person. Don’t miss the once in a lifetime opportunity to discuss the film with the director who will be in attendance. (Daphne Idiz)

Field Niggas screens at Cinémathèque Québécoise (335 de Maisonneuve E.) on Thursday, Nov. 19, 8:30 p.m. and again on Saturday, Nov. 21, 4:45 p.m.

Police Académie

Police Academie

In the wake of the events that lead to the death of Fredy Villanueva in 2008, many questions were raised concerning the tensions between the citizens of Montréal-Nord and the SPVM. Director Mélissa Beaudet chose to approach the subject from a different angle. With Les poings serrés (2010), she documented a boxing club ran by an unusual police officer in Quartier Saint-Michel. With Police académie, Beaudet now delves deeper into the subject of law and order and explores the formation of future police officer candidates, from their final year at Cégep de Maisonneuve to their admission to l’École nationale de police du Québec.

Police académie follows three future police officers – two male, one female – with completely different backgrounds. One of them is the stereotypical jock, the other one is a 26 year-old man who hesitated between majoring in philosophy and entering the police force, and the third one is the daughter of a police officer.

The strength of Beaudet’s documentary lies in its ability to shed light over a wide array of topics, ranging from the questionable gang mentality that persists among students (the same that can also be found among college students in other faculties) to the various intervention simulations they’re subjected to during their $8000, 15-week program at l’École nationale de police du Québec, in Nicolet.

Police académie brilliantly refrains from spray-painting the all-too-easy slogan “all cops are bastards” all over the place. Instead, the director chooses to include snippets of conversations that reveal the diversity and complexity of personalities among the candidates. From the girl who does not understand how philosophy classes will help her become a better police officer to the candidate who reaffirms his support for the students who marched in Spring 2012, this documentary paints a portrait of a milieu that can reconcile paintball games among students with difficult domestic abuse interventions. (Ralph Elawani)

Police académie screens at Excentris (3536 St-Laurent) tonight, Nov. 19, 6 p.m. and again at Cinema du Parc (3575 Parc) on Nov. 22, 9 p.m.

For the full RIDM schedule and ticketing info, go to the festival’s website.