The 2020 edition of the Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal (RIDM) film festival is divided into eight thematic sections.
There have, essentially, been two ways to conduct a film festival online since the pandemic began. The first, favoured by Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival, has a “day-and-date” concept, in which films are screened at a specific time. The other, used by the city’s Festival du Nouveau Cinéma last month, takes a broader rental-style approach, offering films that can be rented on-demand at any time during the festival.
The Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal (RIDM) has sort of split the difference on both approaches by dividing their schedule into eight distinct thematic sections that will each be made available for a seven-day stretch. The festival runs for three weeks, which means that some of the sections will run parallel for that week-long stretch.
Disrupting History (Nov. 12–18) features films that reshape and analyze various historical notions. Highlights include Ouvertures, which follows a Haitian art troupe as they work on a new multimedia project about the revolutionary general Toussaint l’Ouverture, while Michelle Latimer’s L’indien malcommode seeks to expose darkened and little explored corners of colonialism’s history by adapting the book of the same name by Thomas King. Ariel Nasr’s L’histoire interdite looks at the troubled history of Afghanistan’s film heritage, one that has more or less been erased by war. Photographer Gilles Caron, who died prematurely some 50 years ago, is the central figure in Histoire d’un regard.
The Exploring Nature (Nov. 12–18) program is a little heavier on the shorts. Feature highlights include Cenote, in which a Japanese filmmaker explores the cenotes (which are the surface-level connections between underwater bodies of water) of the Yucatan and Elizabeth Lo’s Stray, which follows the stray dogs of Istanbul. Piedra Sola is the tale of an Argentinian llama rancher who must deal with, as the festival notes put it, a marauding puma. I don’t know about you, but the words “marauding puma” are just about all I need to be sold on this particular idea.
Highlights of the Seeking Communities program include City Hall, the latest supersized opus from legendary documentarian Frederick Wiseman. This time, Wiseman turns his attention and fly-on-the-wall approach to Boston’s city government. Nicolas Lévesque’s Les libres focuses on a sawmill that employs ex-convicts, while Lynne Sachs’ Film About a Father Who gathers 35 years of footage of the filmmaker’s father.
Contemplating Dystopia (Nov. 19–25) highlights include Me and the Cult Leader, which centres on a road trip between a survivor of the Tokyo sarin gas attacks and the cult leader that ordered the attacks (!). A Shape of Things to Come contrasts the life of a hermit living in the desert with predictions about what our lives will be like as the climate crisis worsens. The Foundation Pit is a collage film that puts together pleas to Vladimir Putin from Russians to create a vision of the perilous position that Russia finds itself in.
Wintopia, screening as part of the Becoming Oneself (Nov. 19–25), is a biographical look at the work of late documentary filmmaker Peter Wintonick, culled entirely from VHS archives assembled by his daughter Mira Burt-Wintonick. Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt share directing credits on No Ordinary Man, a biography of trans jazz pianist Billy Tipton that mixes traditional documentary methods with footage of trans actors auditioning for the part of Tipton. Sébastien Lifshitz’s Petite fille explores similar themes in its depiction of seven-year-old Sasha, who was born a boy.
RIDM regular Dieudo Hamadi returns with En route vers le milliard, about survivors of the Six-Day War who travel to Kinshasa seeking reparation. It screens in the Challenging Power section alongside Landfall, about Puerto Rico’s status post-hurricane, and Softie, about a Kenyan activist who finds himself torn between his personal and political lives.
The Redefining Intimacy section features two films about CHSLDs — one a feature from Danic Champoux, the other a short from François Delisle (Chorus, Ca$h Nexu$) — as well as Claire Simon’s Le fils de l’épicière, le maire, le village et le monde, which chronicles the creation of the documentary streaming platform Tënk, and David Teboul’s Mon amour, in which the filmmaker, suffering from grief, decides to find the meaning of love in Siberia.
The festival’s final section is Surviving Violence, which mainly focuses on films about the repercussions of war. François Jacob’s Sous un même soleil explores the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, while Errance sans retour looks at Rohingya people in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. ■
For more film coverage, please visit the Film & TV section.