5 Doc Premieres to Catch at Festival du Nouveau Cinema

Mad Dog Labine

By Pat Mullen

Montréal’s Festival du Nouveau Cinéma kicks off tomorrow and brings another must-see mix of Canadian and independent world cinema. Unlike other fests that are becoming little more than star-studded press junkets, FNC puts the emphasis on cinéma. The festival, like Vancouver’s VIFF, is gaining momentum as a hub to premiere the most original and innovative films for Canadian audiences. The documentary component at FNC remains strong even with Montreal’s RIDM giving a full slate of docs in November.

After kicking off this year’s festival with Barry Jenkins’ powerful adaptation of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk, FNC offers a mix of dramas, docs, and genre-defying content. There are festival circuit staples like Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, Sharkwater Extinction, and The Stone Speakers, along with must-see dramas for festival-goers including Capernaum, Birds of Passage, and the Quebecois gem Les Salopes or the Wanton Pleasure of Skin, which features a tour de force performance by Brigitte Poupart. There are also essential shorts like Emptying the Tank and Veslemøy’s Song. Those films are all worth a look, as are strong international docs like What You Gonna Do When the World’s On Fire?, Graves without a Name, and This Changes Everything, but here are five films premiering at FNC worth discovering:

Mad Dog Labine
Dir. Jonathan Beaulieu-Cyr, Renaud Lessard | Canada | World Premiere

Directors Jonathan Beaulieu-Cyr and Renaud Lessard take audiences to the Pontiac in the Outaouais region of Quebec for a docu-fiction slice of life tale. Lindsay Labine and her friend Justine, played by non-professional newcomers Ève-Marie Martin and Zoé Audet, spend their days in the working class rural region collecting bottles and scrounging for lottery tickets, hoping for a miracle to get them out of town. Shot in an up-close and intimate style that harnesses the natural power of the performances, Mad Dog Labine is an uncontrived portrait of Quebecois youths in an underrepresented corner of the country.

Black Mother

Black Mother
Dir. Khalik Allah | USA/Jamaica | Canadian Premiere

A highlight of RIDM’s 2015 festival was Khalik Allah’s breakthrough feature Field Niggas, which made an impact with audiences thanks to the director’s eye for social realism and aesthetic poetry alike. (He also served as cinematographer on Beyonce’s viral phenomenon Lemonade.) Allah delivers his follow-up documentary Black Mother, which draws upon traditions of oral storytelling to offer a portrait of the women of Jamaica and the dynamics of race, gender, and power that shape their lives. “The documentary’s exquisite sound design allows diffuse and divergent sentiments to elapse in a seamless flow guided by an elusive dream logic, often gorgeously overlaid with native music and songs of praise and prayer,” wrote Christopher Gray reviewing the film at Slant. “As with Field Niggas, the logic of Allah’s juxtapositions isn’t quite legible, but it’s intensely rhythmic, and Black Mother benefits from a more rigorous structural conceit.”

Cassandro, the Exotico!
Dir. Marie Losier | France | Canadian Premiere

Wrestling movies are all the rage these days when it comes to tackling perceptions of gender, masculinity, strength, and identity. After Denis Côté’s A Skin So Soft and Michael Del Monte’s Hot Docs champ Transformer comes Cassandro, the Exotico from director Marie Losier (The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye). The doc profiles Saúl Armendáriz, an American born wrestler who went on to become a cult hero as Cassandro. Cassandro breaks barriers while body-slamming rivals in the Mexico exótico circuit – aka the drag show equivalent of lucha libre wrestling. While exótico tends of have campy stereotypes of gay men, Cassandro owns the role by challengeing images of masculinity and heteronormativity as the queen of the ring. “It’s a moving and sometimes amusing portrait of grit and glitter overcoming adversity — and one that was made entirely on 16mm film, with the Paris-based director experimenting with different frame rates and sound effects as she follows the wrestler in and out of the ring,” wrote Jordan Mintzer of The Hollywood Reporter. “Shot over a period of five years, and punctuated by wrestling bouts that we often see accelerated at 18 frames per second, the documentary shows Cassandro in a variety of scenarios: kicking butt; doing flips or diving through the ropes in a dangerous wrestling move known as the “suicide”; working his makeup magic…”
-Cassandro will be in attendance for the screening.

The Russian Five
Dir. Joshua Riehl | USA | International Premiere

Is there anything more Canadian than a documentary about hockey? Joshua Riehl’s The Russian Five takes a trip back to the 1980s when the Soviet Union was collapsing and the American teams of the NHL were desperately scrambling to find players who could hold their own against Canadian talent. The doc tells the story of the Detroit Red Wings’ crafty strategy of drafting players from the famed Red Army (whose story might be familiar to audiences thanks to the doc of the same name). Mixing the adrenaline-pumping action of sports and the thrill of political intrigue, The Russian Five offers a winning combination for doc fans seen through the eyes of players Vladimir Konstantinov, Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Slava Fetisov, and Vyacheslav Kozlov. As tensions abound over US/Russia relations, what can audiences learn from this all-star line-up that would eventually lead the Red Wings to consecutive Stanley Cup wins in 1997 and 1998? Read an interview with director Joshua Riehl here.

The Russian Five

Tales from the Winnipeg Film Group
Dir. Dave Barber, Kevin Nikkel | Canada | Montreal Premiere

There is something magical in the waters of Winnipeg. Tales from the Winnipeg Film Group chronicles the eccentric collective genius to emerge from the most frozen and desolate of Canadian cities, Winnipeg. The sleepwalking capital of the world, documented most hilariously (and liberally) in Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg, has given birth to a peculiar caste of Canadian iconoclasts. This doc from Dave Barber and Kevin Nikkel chronicles the rise of Winnipeggean cinematic oddities ranging from Maddin to John Paizs (Crime Wave) to Mike Maryinuk (Home Cooked Music) to Norma Bailey (Bordertown Café) with wonderfully unclassifiable voices in between. It’s a must for any film buff and doc fan eager to chew on the maple leaf. Read more about Winnipeg’s contribution to Canadian documentary in this article by Kevin Nikkel.

Festival du Nouveau Cinéma runs Oct. 3 to 14. *Get more information here.