Trio of films highlight my Saturday at RIDM

Occupy Love

By Marc Glassman
_Reposted from the RIDM blog

Why do we go to film festivals? I ask myself that question every time I go to one. For me, the prime thing is that I get to immerse myself in film for a weekend, or if I’m lucky, four or five days.

It’s a rare chance to remove myself from some of the daily burdens of life and think fully about the thorny issues surrounding documentaries–the ethics, the art and the practicalities of creating the work. Encounters with filmmakers, programmers and critics abound. It’s a time to meet new people in the documentary community and renew old friendships.

RIDM offers a plethora of interesting films and people. And it’s always terrific to be in Montreal. My first full day at the festival was Saturday, November 10 and I saw three intriguing films.

Meanwhile In Mamelodi is a verite feature, shot in a township near Pretoria, South Africa by a typically small crew, directed by Benjamin Kahlmeyer. Using South Africa’s hosting of football’s World Cup in 2010 as a structural device, the film follows the Mtsweni family over the Cup’s month long run. Without holding back from showing the grinding poverty and inicipate violence in the township, Kahlmeyer depicts the successful struggles of the Mtswenis to establish a tuck shop and maintain a loving familial bond. This is a sweet tempered film, well worth viewing.

On a far grander scale in terms of thematic reach and production values is The Fruit Hunters, the latest film by Montreal director Yung Chang (Up the Yangtze) and producers Eyesteelfilm. The sold-out screening was a monumental triumph for Yung, Eyesteel and production partners the NFB/ONF. Before the screening began, Yung warned his partisan crowd that they would be craving fruit by the end of the film and he was completely correct.

Shot in ravishing colours with superb animation sequences, The Fruit Hunters is a film of sensuality and desire. Yet no one takes their clothes off–they simply eat fruit. But what fruit! Not the bland “globalised” product that one purchases at local grocery stores. Yung takes us to Borneo, Hawaii, the Hollywood Hills and other exotic locales to sample (as the film catalogue eloquently puts it) “creamy cherimoyas, delicate cloudberries, orange coloured peanut-butter fruit“–to cite only three examples of many in the film.

Yung found several fruit hunters to take him, and now the audience, on his delightful journey of learning. The big surprise is Bill Pullman, the veteran character actor, who turns into a community activist in his endeavour to create a fruit growing co-op underneath the famous Hollywood sign. The Fruit Hunters will be out in cinemas soon and let’s hope that it turns into the one of the best “date movies” of the winter holiday season.

Another Canadian, Velcrow Ripper, returns to the documentary festival circuit with his latest idealistic depiction of a world in crisis. Like Scared Sacred and Fierce Light, Occupy Love presents the appealing dual sensibility of Velcrow, an activist who embraces spiritual responses to epochal events. Here, he takes us deep into the heart of the Occupy Wall Street movement while also offering sympathetic accounts of Egypt’s Tahrir Square protests and the Crees’ fight against the environmental destruction brought on by the Alberta Tar Sands project.

Crowd funded through donations by over 900 people, Occupy Love was shot, directed, produced and edited by Velcrow. There is no doubting that he sincerely believes that the best response to the world’s current economic, ecological and political crises is to love one another and build stronger communities. He was able to bring noted writer and activist Judy Rebick in from Toronto to back up his ideas–and the film features such noted leftist thinkers as Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben.

But one doesn’t have to be cynical to doubt Velcrow’s “love” solution. With Occupy in disarray, the Tar Sands making record profits and the Arab Spring looking far more problematic than a year ago, surely many activists must feel that love is not the answer. Still, this is a well made feature film essay made on a shoe-string budget; kudos to Velcrow Ripper for putting his ideas and feelings on the screen in such an artful manner.

You can catch two of these films in the next few days:

The Fruit Hunters by Yung Chang -> Tuesday November 13 at 5:30 pm (CJ – Cinémathèque)

Meanwhile in Mamelodi by Benjamin Khalmeyer -> Sunday November 18 at 6:00 pm (PAR – Excentris)