Speaking of Control, I finally got a chance to see it this past weekend during the final days of Montreal’s Festival du Nouveau Cinema. And my warm feelings for the film were rooted in reasoning much like my thoughts on the festival as a whole: It was very stylish and soulful; it was extremely well cast (or programmed, as it were); and it uniquely set itself apart from its counterparts (whether music biopics or other festivals).
So despite finding myself joining in the festival offerings halfway through the ten day event, Control was just a highlight among highlights during my favourite of Montreal’s seemingly never-ending lineup of film festivals.
At 36, Festival du Nouveau Cinema is actually Canada’s oldest film festival, five years TIFF’s senior. Founded in 1971, by Claude Chamberlan and Dimitri Eipides, it was known as the Montreal Festival of New Cinema and New Media until 2004. It focuses on independent world film and new media, distinguishing itself from the slightly more publicized Montreal World Film Festival, which happens in late August.
The past few years have been bumpy ones for FNC. In 2004 Daniel Langlois, director of FNC since 1999, left the organization to begin the New Montreal FilmFest, which was initiated and created with the support of SODEC (Société de développement des entreprises culturelles) and Telefilm Canada after a dispute between these Canadian government sponsors and the Montreal World Film Festival. Langlois initially programmed the New Montreal FilmFest to coincide with the formerly named Montreal Festival of New Cinema and New Media. According to press reports pertaining to the controversy between the Montreal World Film Festival and the New Montreal FilmFest, Langlois planned to merge the two festivals, but failed to do so when the FCMM refused any such merger. The dates for the inaugural New Montreal FilmFest were ultimately changed to avoid conflicting with the dates of the FCMM. In 2005 both the FNC and the New Montreal FilmFest came under new management. In early 2006, the New Montreal FilmFest folded after the failure of its inaugural festival.
So just under two years later, the dramatic early 00s for Montreal film festivals seem to have severly rebounded. In August, the World fest had great attendance and earned overwhelmingly positive press. And last week, during some unusually warm mid-October days and nights, the FNC continued to bounce back as well. The festival ran from October 10-21, and Executive Director Nicolas Girard Deltruc informed me on Tuesday the festival had already reached half of 2006’s attendance, and was on track to beat it by Thursday (it did). What’s more, audience responses from the half dozen or so screenings I managed to attend (its hard to be a good festival goer when youre in your home city, still attempting to live your daily life on top of it) were overwhelmingly positive, and the nightly free events (even the Closing Night Party was free and open to the public) at the Societe des arts technologiques (SAT) were packed and, from my perspective at least, incredibly fun.
But anyway… More specifically, the new media component of the festival, entitled Le Futur Du Cinema? aimed “to investigate the fate of film in the age of emerging technology.” It was divided into three segments, each with its own series of special events and performances. The first is Fantastic Voyage, which exhibits 8 interactive installations (some on 360 degree screens and others in techno-chambers sensitive to human response), including the National Film Board and Canadian Film Centre’s Late Fragment, a TIFF-pick that is probably more better suited to this festival. Technically the first interactive feature length film, it allows spectators to “create, build and edit their own versions of the film,” said co-director Anita Doron. The other segments were The Audience at the Centre, a lecture series discussing ideas relating to immersion in cinema, and Actions(s)!, which had workstations set up at the SAT where people are asked to uploaded photos and videos, helping in its creation (some of it is available here).
On Friday night at the SAT, I found myself drunkenly enjoying the giant 180 degree dome set up outside the building, which was kept up until we hours of the night (among other installations), complete with beanbag chairs on the ground where you could gaze up at a bizarre version of outerspace complete with slightly erotic space people orbiting around each other as the Earth zoomed in and out from behind them. Inside, Montreal hip hop label Ninja Tune threw its 10th anniversary party to coincide with FNC, djing the greatest hits while a packed SAT danced on (the attendance significantly boosted when the JUSTICE concert let out down the street, and a seemingly endless parade of Montreal hipsters took advantage of the hipness). And just 24 hours later, the venue transformed itself into a Romania-themed closing night party (Montreal’s affluent Romanian community was there in full force, some dawning elaborate historical/cultural costumes) for the closing night-film, Christian Mingui‘s endlessly lauded 4 Months, 2 Weeks and 3 Days. The installations and other various visual delights remained in tact, offering some party distractions that were pretty incomparable.
While the festival ended with a Romanian bang, the hours prior also saw a bunch of awards handed out by Quebec cinema legend Denys Arcand (whose latest, Canadian Academy Award submission L’Age Des Tenebres, made its Quebec debut at the festivals to sold out screenings). Among the winners were Academy-snubee “The Band’s Visit,” directed by Eran Kolirin, which was awarded the Louve D’Or for best feature film; Richard Green, who won the acting award for his performance in Kriv Stenders‘ “Boxing Day“; Hana Makhmalbaf won the Daniel Langlois Innovation Prize for “Buddha Collapsed Out Of Shame“; Rodrigo Pla‘s “La Zona” won the Radio-Canada People’s Choice Award; and “XXY,” Lucia Puenzo‘s film, won the critic’s prize.
I saw none of the winners, I’m sorry to say. Though I did see XXY at TIFF, and couldn’t of anyway here anyway.. since (in my one personal annoyance with the festival) some films in non-French or English languages screen (understandably given Quebec’s vast majority of Francophones) with French subtitles. It was the reason I couldn’t finally see 3 Months either. But even so, I managed to take part in the many anglo-friendly screenings, including a bunch of films I missed at TIFF (while I’ll admit FNC’s October timing leave it forced to have a large percentage of films that already played in Toronto or Cannes, I’ll definately suggest they pick out the best offerings). In addition to aforementioned Control, I was enthralled with Guy Maddin‘s psuedo-documentary and personal love letter to his hometown, My Winnipeg, despite my hesitation due to lack of Winnipegian knowledge and my shaky feelings towards Maddin’s past work. My Winnipeg is an unbelievably ambitious and surprisingly accessible despite use of Maddin’s silent-film techniques. It made me kinda sad I missed Maddin’s live narration during its premiere at TIFF. And keeping with the Winnipeg theme (and TIFF handmedowns), I was less happy with Bruce McDonald‘s Winnipeg-set The Tracy Fragments. Perhaps equally as ambitious as Maddin in his total use of split screens (signs of Warhol and Figgis), I found the result a little too music-video for my liking (and downright irritating). Ellen Page does a good job keeping up with what must have been an unusually challenging gig, but I might have rather sat through 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days despite not being able to understand it. Sometimes less is more.
My other screenings consisted of Gregg Araki‘s Smiley Face, which I’ve actually seen twice before but due to perfect timing (no other anglo friendly films were on at the time) and my guilty affection for the pot-romp (particularly Anna Faris‘ incredible comedic performance), I took it in again. Going in I felt like it was a waste considering all that was out there, but going out, I don’t think there could have been a better way to spend a rainy and tired morning (when is this movie coming out?? its been on the festival circuit for almost a year!) And finally, Sandrine Bonnaire‘s harrowing documentary, Elle s’appelle Sabine, which is the directorial debut of the French actress. It details the life of her autistic younger sister, whose condition went undiagnosed for nearly 30 years. The film is extremely affecting (and sometimes challenging to watch for that reason): It takes together decades worth of home movies juxtaposed with new footage of Sabine at the home she now lives in after a horrific experience in a mental institution. The film never gets oversentimental, and in the end Bonnaire has put together a very powerful and very informative piece of work.
All in all though, the movies are just half the FNC experience. It might have been challenging to take it all in while in my own city (life does go on..), but it was also hard not to notice how well fashioned it was to a city I know pretty well: Diverse, accessible and a whole lot of fun.
(Thanks to Dallas Curow for taking photos.)