RIDM always has way more films that look fantastic than any one person with other commitments can reasonably see in the space of ten days, which is a great problem to have. These are a few suggestions of things we’ve seen and loved.
The Chinese Mayor (2015, Hao Zhou) is a fairly nuanced look at displacement and development in China’s most polluted city, revealing corruption and political machinations along the way. The major players here are are refreshinglyportrayed as complex individuals in hard positions rather than as binary good/bad guys. Interestingly, the prevailing ideology of bootstrapping within a system designed to keep everyone “in their place” sounds very much like what you’d expect to hear from the North American right wing. The implicit comparison is almost certainly unintentional though, and doesn’t detract from the thoughtful portrayal of the main characters and the issue that binds them.
Following two Zimbabwean politicians attempting to establish a new Zimbabwean constitution, Democrats (2014, Camilla Nielsson) is poli sci nerd’s dream film. Witnessing the establishment of a nation’s constitution from scratch while attempting to move past decades of corruption and violence is fascinating, thanks in large part to the degree of access the filmmaker had to this process. On the other hand, at times it feels like two hours of parliamentary and committee proceedings. Regardless, Democrats is still quite gripping and suspenseful, with no co-opted voices or omniscient narrator.
This quirky and delightful film’s twist is great, but it doesn’t go far enough with it. There are a few too many perfectly timed situations shot and framed too perfectly, with people speaking a little too unnaturally, raising the question of how much of this was staged, especially given that it is a film about a community of performers. The ending also leaves the viewer wondering if things in Jesus Town may have been slightly less redemptive for Jesus once the cameras stopped rolling. Regardless, aside from a couple of gratuitous shots that implicitly fat-shame Jesus, Jesus Town, USA (2014, Billie Mintz and Julian T. Pinder) is still a solid evening’s entertainment.
Beautifully shot, mainly from a first-person perspective, Tell Spring Not to Come This Year (2015, Saeed Taji Farouky and Michael McEvoy) considers a point of view rarely taken up in films about the Afghan conflict. The first sequence in particular is quite intense, pulling the viewer right into the action and into the film’s argument, overcoming any potential dryness in the narration and sparking serious reconsideration of some of this viewer’s long-held ideas.
There’s almost nothing not to love about Yallah! Underground (2015, Farid Eslam). Along the lines of an updated, pan-national version of Slingshot Hip Hop, Yallah! comes out ahead with better production values, a much better representation of women, and, frankly, better music. Shot in a way that captures the artistic and activist energies of its main characters, this film’s sense of possibility seems all the more essential in light of recent events.
(Side note: Anyone scared of clowns will want to close their eyes for a few minutes at about the 50 minute mark.)
The Montreal International Documentary Festival – RIDM runs until Nov. 22, 2015.