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An Introduction to RIDM: Five Essential Leftist Films

By Nov 09, 2017

RIDM or Rencontres Internationales du Documentaire de Montréal (Montreal International Documentary Film Festival), is a gem in the Montreal film scene sadly still flying under the radar of many self-declared student cinephiles. I first came across the festival in a Japanese Cinema class I was taking in 2016 and attended a screening for Raise your Arms and Twist not long after. The Nietzschean dive into Japanese idol culture unexpectedly became my favourite movie of the year and I’ve been awaiting the festival’s return ever since. For the past few weeks, I’ve been gauging interest amongst my co-editors at Slate: Journal of Moving Images, and amongst students in my film and media studies courses. I was shocked to find that not one person I spoke to (amongst many supposedly avid film lovers) were planning to attend, or had even heard of RIDM. Thus, I set out to create this introduction, not only out of respect for the value of RIDM itself but also because documentary filmmaking is so deeply rooted in leftist discourse, and advancing the agenda on issues of structural inequality.

        RIDM offers a special of five movies for $30 for all McGill students. I will provide the code to redeem the discount at the end of this article but first, to accompany the student deal, and as a showcase of what RIDM has to offer, I have compiled a list of five documentaries which caught my eye as being especially unique, and essential to the interests of this journal.

13, a Ludodrama about Walter Benjamin
Dir. Carlos Ferrand
French with English subtitles (November 16)
English original version (November 18)
Screenings at: Cinémathèque Québéqois Nov. 16 5:45 PM and Cinéma du Parc Nov. 18 1:00 PM

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            Walter Benjamin, as any serious film, cultural studies, or communications student will recognize is the famous author behind The Work of Art in the Age of its Mechanical Reproduction. His classic essay details the adaptations art has undergone with the advent of film and photography, two fundamentally reproducible media. 13, un Ludodrame sur Walter Benjamin recounts the philosopher’s life in Paris from 1933 to 1940 hiding from Nazi capture. The film combines archival footage, contemporary scenes, animated sequences and puppetry to recreate the last years Benjamin’s life, through covered passageways, flashes of brilliance, and a looming threat to Europe and life as he knew it.

Qing Ting Zhi Yan (Dragonfly Eyes)
Dir. Xu Bing
Mandarin with English subtitles (November 14)
French subtitles (November 18)
Screenings at: Cinéma du Parc Nov. 14 5:30 PM, and Cinémathèque Québécois Nov. 18 7:00 PM

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Dragonfly Eyes is a story composed from 10,000 hours of surveillance footage. The difficulty and dedication it must have taken for the director to compile this film is itself a monumental achievement and signalled to me that whatever the outcome this would be worth seeing. The story is simple. It tells the tale of a woman leaving a monastery, finding a job, meeting a man, and then their separation. We never see the faces of the protagonists of any of the people populating their world. Theirs is the pixelated mass caught by security cameras every day. The film is supposedly a commentary of the inherent violence in our societies. Does it pose that surveillance is the solution or is it a sly critique of contemporary security states? I can’t wait to see for myself. 

To Singapore with Love
Dir. Tan Pin Pin
Mandarin, Thai with English Subtitles
Screening at: Cinémathèque Québécois Nov. 12 6:00 PM

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This one I was shocked to find in the RIDM catalogue. Admittedly, I had not encountered it myself but was strongly recommended it by organizers of the festival. To Singapore, with Love rather tells the story of people from Singapore, long exiled by their home country. Many, including myself, have at various times held Singapore up to be a model of well-ordered success among the semi-authoritarian states of the world. It is about the sacrifices made by activists, erased by the history of the home they cannot return to. Singapore as well as its neighbour Malaysia (a country with which I have more academic acquaintance) have been touted as success stories in generating economic growth without driving inequality. Yet, they are authoritarian one-party states. To Singapore with Love will surely generate a fascinating reflection on authoritarian developmental states in South East Asia.

No Intenso Agora (In the Intense Now)
Dir. Joao Moreira Salles
Portuguese with English subtitles
Screenings at: Université Concordia – J.A. de Sève Nov. 12 5:00 PM, and Pavillon Judith Jasmin Annexe – Salle Jean-Claude Lauzon Nov. 19 5:00 PM

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Brazilian director Joao Moreira Salles incorporates amateur films of the Prague Spring in 1968, and his own mother’s footage of a trip to China during the Cultural Revolution to create an essay on the ability of the camera to capture seismic historic events. Described as being, “at once personal and analytical, melancholic and critical, In the Intense Now questions the true value of the audio-visual documents that became part of the world’s collective memory.” This strikes a chord with my own studies in historiography and communications. After all, the insidiousness of the norm is specifically the strength with which its claim to impartiality captures our minds.

Mimikrija ir jos Sindromai (Syndromes of Mimicry)
Dir. Anastasija Pirozenko
Lithuanian with English subtitles
Screenings at: Pavillon Judith Jasmin Annexe – Salle Jean – Claude Lauzon Nov. 14 6:00 PM, and Cinéma du Parc 3 Nov. 17 6:00 PM

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            On May 1st, 2004 Lithuania officially joined the European Union, a symbolic completion of its casting off the Soviet past. While, Lithuania existed under direct Romanov and then Soviet imperialism for over a century, it’s now turned towards the West. Pirozenko films the participants of newly popular Yoga classes, performances at newly open nightclubs, and other aspects of daily life in the new Lithuania as it strives towards assimilation with a foreign Western culture, and against its roots in the reality of its Eastern Europe past. This is the story of a country in transition, struggling between two conflicting selves


            Though I want to stick with the theme of formally recommending 5 films to fit RIDM’s student special (by the way the code is TC2017), I can’t help but also informally suggest Also Known as Jihadi, and Do you Wonder who Fired the Gun? For details on those movies feel free to browse RIDM’s website and enter the code in the “Buy and Venues” section to collect the discount. The point being: there’s so many worthwhile movies RIDM has to offer. I never expected the first and only film I saw last year to leave a lasting impression but here I am a year later, excitedly counting down towards a new round of screenings. Don’t take my word for RIDM but experience it for yourself. For anyone with an interest in film, leftism, media studies, cultural studies, really for anyone with an interest in the world around them, RIDM is a great learning opportunity, and a resource of interesting films McGill students could otherwise never see.

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