Dig in to Montreal’s documentary fest

RIDM head programmer Bruno Dequen on 2017 program highlights


From Kalina Bertin’s Manic

The Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal is celebrating its 20th year.

The festival screens the best in documentary film from all over the world, though as head programmer Bruno Dequen puts it, RIDM’s focus has sharpened in recent years.

“Since 2011, we’ve been more recognized internationally,” he says. “That’s undeniable. There’s more openness to different forms of documentary storytelling — hybrid or untraditional forms. Last year, we had a whole section we called Hors limite. It won’t be back this year, but there are several films — including some in competition — that some might consider fiction. I’m thinking perhaps of Dragonfly Eyes, which is a work of fiction but one that’s constructed through real images that were captured by Chinese security cameras. The story is completely fictional, but the material is real, so to speak — it is undirected material.”

Dequen also points out that RIDM’s crowds have skewed younger over the last few years, a major achievement in a world where most festivals worry about their ageing customer base.

“It’s been said that our festival has the most rapidly renewing crowds. Whether that’s true or not, I have no idea. (…) I think documentary is more popular now than it’s been for ages. There are platforms like Netflix that find place for tons of documentaries. Whether or not that’s opened people’s minds about what a documentary can be, I’m not so sure about. The majority of the documentaries you find on streaming services aren’t bad at all, but they generally follow a certain format: lots of talking heads, a little B-roll, tons of music, more often than not a biographical subject…”

For its part, the RIDM focuses on the documentary as cinematic art, showcasing films that while not necessarily purely experimental in nature, will often favour a cinematic treatment of reality over cold, hard facts.

“That’s what guides our programming: documentary as artistic, politicized expression,” says Dequen. “The two are always connected – it’s not just art for art’s sake. We’re not a purely experimental film festival. We’re always looking for something where there’s an exploration of cinematic language, so we do privilege films that follow the idea of an open investigation rather than foregone conclusions.”

Five festival picks from Bruno Dequen

canibaCaniba (Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel)
“Lucien will be there to present this movie about a Japanese cannibal. You’ve got to know what you’re getting into, but anyone who liked the kind of experimentation that was present in Leviathan (by the same filmmakers) won’t want to miss that one. It’s not exploitative, which is what’s interesting about it.”

Maison du bonheur (Sofia Bohdanowicz)
“There was a retrospective of her work at FNC this year, but she wanted to screen her newest one at RIDM. She shot it in France, in Montmartre. She paints a portrait of this old lady in her home using 16mm film. It’s a very tender, very poetic film. (…) It has a very intimate tone that’s found, actually, in a lot of Canadian films this year.”

Manic (Kalina Bertin)
“That one’s been talked about a lot since it screened at Hot Docs. It’s the first feature by a Montreal filmmaker, Kalina Bertin. She looks towards her brother, her sister and her late father; he was almost certainly a cult leader, and both of her siblings are bipolar. She explores what kind of impact their father could have had on them.”

maman-colonelleMaman Colonelle (Dieudo Hamadi)
“This movie won the top prize at the Cinéma du réel festival this year. We’ve presented all of Congolese filmmaker Dieudo Hamadi’s films. This one is about a female police chief who specializes in crimes against children and crimes of a sexual nature. It’s a pretty rough topic — part of her job is to protect children that are accused of being ‘evil’ and put through some type of exorcism.”

Taming the Horse (Tao Gu)
“He mostly worked in experimental film before this, but this one is about a childhood friend of his who lives in China and is living in deep depression. He filmed him over a very long time and discovered the kind of malaise that’s creeping over Chinese youth as the country grows more capitalist and more materialistic.” ■

Find the complete RIDM program here.