The Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM) wrapped up its tenth and final day of programming on Sunday, November 24. This edition of the festival was notable for its genuine strides towards gender parity and its championing of young filmmakers, with 54% of RIDM’s 2019 films being directed by women, and 64% of films directed by filmmakers under 40. New Visions, a program highlighting notable first features, introduced audiences to women who go against the grain and reveal the daily rituals and traditions of communities across the world with enrapturing detail. The five-film line-up included Emily Gan’s Hot Docs winner for Best Emerging Canadian Filmmaker, Cavebirds. Reviewing the film at Hot Docs, Liam Lacey wrote, “Gan has a painter’s eye for suggestive poetic images.”
Here are the other four films in the line-up:
Another Word for Learning
(Canada, 71 min)
Dir. Jadis Mariette Dumas
The best part of Another Word for Learning is the young girl it profiles, Aisha. While the narrative structure of the film feels lost at times, the free-flowing design allows for the story of a brilliant Indigenous child’s complex relationship to the school system to shape itself. We see the mature and astonishingly eloquent 11-year-old navigate Vancouver’s education system, while the history of residential schooling, which involved her own mother, looms and lingers. Told with intimacy and grace, partially thanks to Dumas’ pre-existing personal relationship with Aisha and her mother, Another Word for Learning is required watching for skeptics of alternative schooling, as well as settler-Canadians wanting to better understand the residual effects of residential schools.
Sisters: Dreams and Variations
(Canada, 85 min)
Dir. Catherine Legault
Legault’s doc is a glimmering and playful family portrait focusing on the creative and visionary sisterhood of Tyr and Jasa. The film follows the sisters as they retrace their family’s Icelandic roots through the (literal) echoes of their grandmother’s voice. When they were young, their grandmother sent cassettes with recordings of herself singing her favourite Icelandic folk songs to their childhood home in East Vancouver. Honouring their grandmother’s playful spirit, the girls incorporate these recordings into their own music and visual art. The film is delightful for its portrayal of the sisters’ aura of eternal childhood, and the magic of it all ramps up when it’s revealed that the duo will get their long-awaited homecoming trip to Iceland. Jasa’s whimsical drawings, animated on top of the live footage with impeccable timing (especially in the parts in Iceland), perfect the film’s central feeling of pure wonder.
Os Olhos do meu Amor
(Portugal + Canada, 74 min)
Dir. Rui Silviera
Os Olhos do meu Amor, or rather, “The Eyes of My Love,” is a loving ode to a visually remarkable Portuguese tradition. Dedicated to his grandmother, Silviera captures the feeling of the Campo Maior paper flower festival in the intimate way only a local could do. The film is a meditation on a cultural phenomenon that is almost as calming to watch as the methodical process of crafting the paper flowers appears to be. On a volunteer basis, once every four years, the members of this small town in Portugal slave away over intricate wire and paper flowers that look deceivingly real in order to deck the streets completely. Mid-flower crafting, a woman remarks, “I haven’t slept with my husband in weeks!” with a mix of exhaustion and pure joy. The film takes a heart-clenching turn when a thunderstorm starts rumbling as the last flowers are being strung on awnings, but the town’s enduring optimism barely acknowledges it. With its faithful documentation of a gorgeous and meaningful tradition, Os Olhos do meu Amor is the perfect film to watch with your grandmother.
Don’t Worry, The Doors Will Open
(Canada, 78 min)
Dir. Oksana Karpovych
This film is an immersive scenescape that whisks you away on a colourful ride on Ukraine’s commuter trains. Almost entirely contained within the run-down cars of the electrychka, Don’t Worry paints the daily feelings and rituals of the Ukrainian working class with humour. Karpovych turns an affectionate lens on her home country, while having an eye for peculiarities North American viewers would find funny – such as a beer bottle permanently jammed in a door to keep it open. Don’t Worry is perhaps the most well-rounded of the New Visions picks filled with cultural content and visual richness. In a post-screening Q&A with the director, a man jolted his hand into the air to tell Karpovych he found the film boring. “Why didn’t you take the film in to the city, Kyiv?” he exclaimed. “A lot of films have been done about Kyiv,” Karpovych replied, good-naturedly.
The man in the audience can eat his words now, as Don’t Worry, The Doors Will Open won the award for Best New Vision.