The Rencontres Internationales du documentaire de Montréal just ended. It was an opportunity to see many truly excellent films. Sad to think that most of them will not be available to audiences here now that the festival is over. Judging from what I heard from friends and colleagues, I missed many of the best ones. But here are some I found excellent.
The most inspiring film to me was Position among the Stars, by Leonard Retel Helmrich. The third film in a trilogy dealing with the life of a poor family in Indonesia, it is spectacularly shot. Retel is now famous for his ingenious and inexpensive accessories allowing for striking and revealing camera movements, capturing life in surprising ways. There are some close-up shots of cockroaches observing the humans which are priceless! But he is also a great storyteller. And I was most impressed by his ability to maintain a coherent story line and dialogues along with the spectacular images.
Another truly captivating and disturbing film was the beautifully made The Tiniest Place, by Tatiana Huezo. It tells the story of one village in El Salvador which was practically erased from the map by the army during the civil war in that country some 20 years ago, at a high cost in human life. Now the survivors have returned and rebuilt the village. But their memories of the brutal repression are terrifying. One of the strongest scenes is from a dark, wet cave where dozens of people hid for a couple of years with their children – until the were found and dragged out. One of the few survivors tells the story. This film got a special jury mention.
Among the Canadian and Quebec films I saw, I particularly liked Inside Lara Roxx, a harrowing story of a young woman from Quebec who goes to Los Angeles to perform in porn movies – and becomes infected with the AIDS virus after just a couple of weeks. The film provides a revealing view of that industry, but most of all it’s an emotional journey through stages of despair and hope, with a very touching main character. Another film from the excellent Eyesteel Films production company.
Documentary film funding is not what it used to be. With broadcast windows few and far between and cutbacks everywhere, we doc-makers are turning to other sources, using other methods. And one of the new ways is web-based participatory, or crowd funding. This week I am participating in the Cuban Hat on-line pitch in the framework of the Rencontres Internationales du Documentaire de Montréal.
GRANNY POWER, the project I am pitching (see the video pitch here on Vimeo) together with my colleagues, is a feature length English-language film on the Raging Grannies. This film has been in the works for eight years – and it might as well be crowd funded, because no English-language broadcaster will support it. Could it be that politicized elderly ladies are not the flavour of the month?
The Grannies form a very original protest movement, singing for social justice, peace and environment. They will celebrate their 25th anniversary next summer. The film portrays the movement, but also opens a window on the challenges of remaining active as a citizen as you grow older. Our main characters are between 65 and 80.
Checking out the projects and pitches presented at Cuban Hat is interesting, and the more people vote, the greater the chance that the best projects will become finalists and have a chance to win post production services. Hope you can find the time!
Tobi Elliott, who helps with this blog, is one of the producers of the Granny Film. It was her idea to pitch Granny Power to the Cuban Hat.
The film has all the characteristics of a Longinotto documentary: it has amazing access to intimate situations, it deals with the rights of women, it’s tough and uncompromising, and doesn’t stay away from contradictions and difficulties. In this case, the main character is admirable, but Longinotto doesn’t idealize her, and at one point the film clearly shows her making a selfish and morally questionable choice which has serious consequences for a young woman who she has taken under her wing. The film is beautifully shot by the director herself.
I went to hear Longinotto speak at a workshop at Hot Docslast spring. I was very impressed by her modest and unassuming presentation. What struck me the most was her combination of caring for her subjects but her incredible tough-mindedness. She is so close to the characters that they will, it seems, let her film just about anything, no matter how hard it is.
And she does – even when the scenes are almost unbearable to watch, as in a famous scene from a female genital mutilation in Africa. Life is often unbelievably hard for women in ‘Third world’ countries, and Longinotto is determined to show it – but always from the perspective of people who are working to change the situation. It’s an attitude which seems to be rooted in her own harsh childhood experience as a homeless orphan, and her feeling that filmmaking “saved her life.”