Myanmar Diaries RIDM documentary festival Montreal

What to watch at RIDM this weekend

Montreal’s documentary festival is screening films about a coup d’état in Myanmar, travelogues by women and jazz legend Thelonious Monk.

The 25th edition of the Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM) is on from Nov. 17 to 27.

Myanmar Diaries 

On Feb. 1, 2021, the Myanmar military took over the country. In nearly two years since, the country, which was previously seeing a period of economic growth and freedom, was thrust into violence and chaos, with thousands of people imprisoned or killed. Myanmar Diaries is a startling film made by the Myanmar Film Collective to raise awareness of the injustices committed in the country. Ten anonymous Burmese blend recreation and archival footage to shed light on the horrors at play. Some of the footage is familiar, such as the fitness instructor Khing Hnin Wai filming a video, unwittingly capturing the takeover in action; others are lesser known but far more harrowing and disturbing. 

An undeniably important work, important and radical films of this nature challenge the critic’s responsibility. So what if some of the recreated scenes don’t quite work? The filmmakers are sacrificing their safety and potential lives to tell this story. The film’s collective nature similarly challenges the traditional understanding of narratives structured around individuals, as it instead privileges the collective. While hardly a revolutionary idea, it has a long legacy in documentary and activist filmmaking. It takes on special relevance here, tying the subject to the artist. Anonymity, in this case, offers a certain layer of protection and, more importantly, a sense of solidarity. 

Myanmar Diaries is screening at Cinéma du Parc on Nov. 19 at 3 p.m. and at the Cinémathèque Québécoise on Nov. 26, 8:45 p.m. 

Terra Femme 

Terra Femme

Scouring archives worldwide, filmmaker Courtney Stephens searched for the impossible: travelogues shot by women. Travelogues are a type of home movie shot while on a trip. While it might not be immediately apparent, most of these films were made by men for most of history. In this essay-esque approach, Stephens inquires about the nature of movement for women in images captured from the 1920s through the 1950s. What kinds of women were allowed to travel? How did their gaze differ from their male contemporaries? 

The film becomes a portrait of travel itself. What does it mean to have the ability to leave home to go on an adventure? What kind of privilege necessitates that kind of freedom and leisure time? Where does one go depending on one’s class? Without delving too deeply into the idea, the images’ nature also represents a kind of image scarcity. Now that everyone has a camera in their pocket with little thought to the cost of film, we’re often inconsiderate in what we decide to shoot. The images selected by Stephens are carefully curated, sometimes short snippets — brief moments captured only to save on film. How has our relationship to what we see changed in the past century? What have we lost in the abundance of images? Will we ever be able to recover our love of seeing? 

Terra Femme is screening at Cinéma du musée with a live performance by the director on Nov. 19, 6 p.m. and at Cinémathèque Québécoise on Nov. 20, 4 p.m. 

Rewind and Play

Rewind and Play Alain Gomis RIDM
Rewind and Play

Working with unused rushes of a 1969 interview with jazz legend Thelonious Monk, director Alain Gomis crafts a harrowing and challenging portrait examining blackness on screen. The interview, conducted for French TV, is often strained. The host is perpetually dissatisfied with Monk’s answers and curtness, structuring and restructuring the segment to save face. Though the host discusses visiting Monk back in New York years earlier, we get no sense of camaraderie or mutual respect. Monk is treated as a prop meant to uplift the ego of our presenter. The film is most compelling when Monk is frank when he admits frustrations or grievances with the process or the system itself. At one point, the presenter chastises him for being overtly critical, “it’s not very nice,” he says. But why does Monk have to be nice?

Running for just over an hour, Gomis almost reimagines a TV program from a completely new perspective. The editing is sharp without being showy or over the top. His edits are concise, amplifying what exists between the lines. The long close-ups of Monk’s face, dripping with sweat, offer a kind of non-presence that feels radical and combative. When Monk eventually begins to play the piano, the staggering weight of his talent consumes the space. The gap between his genius and the smallness of the studio exasperates and underlines his mistreatment. Gomis has been working on a film about Monk for a decade now, and if this is a hint at what he’s working at, it’ll be a very rich film. 

Rewind and Play is screening at Cinéma du musée on Nov. 20, 5:30   

For more on RIDM, please visit the festival’s website.

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