FIFA returns with a focus on dance films for its 40-year anniversary

The closure of theatres encouraged dance companies to turn themselves towards digital creations

For its 40th edition, Montreal’s International Arts Film Festival (FIFA) presented a varied program inspired by the pandemic context of the last several years. In particular, they showcased a large number of dance films. So many, in fact, that they organized a seven-hour projection event titled La Nuit de la danse to show the majority of them. Following this event, the movies will all be available on their website.

Among the dance films, Hofesh Shechter’s Political Mother: The Final Cut kicked off the event. The 36-minute movie features nine dancers in different settings. They moved together in a group, with filming techniques making them look like a large, agitated crowd. Depending on the space, their identities seemed to change; in one scene they wore dresses and suits in an empty reception hall, while in another they were dressed in all-beige outfits in a dark room with walls made of brick and stones. The rhythmic music used drew viewers in from the start. Throughout the film, Shechter alternated between using sound effects like drums and the electric guitar, along with a low voice. 

Shechter created this film when the presentation of his show on stage was cancelled due to the pandemic. The Israeli choreographer is a major figure in the contemporary dance scene. Founded in 2008, his company tours internationally. Shechter’s recognizable style, including large arm movements, intricate sequences and synchronous choreographies, is present in Political Mother. Seeing the choreographer’s work on screen gives a different access to the movements’ details and the interpreters’ facial expressions. The smooth-moving camera also gives life to the work, almost assuming the position of another character in the story. 

According to Jacinthe Brisebois, 60 per cent of FIFA’s screendance programming comes from Quebec. The list includes two solo pieces choreographed by Margie Gillis and produced by Louis-Martin Charest. Titled When Dreaming Molly and Crow, they both take place in dark minimalist spaces, focusing on the interpreter’s movements with a precise use of lighting.   

Louise Bédard and Xavier Curnillon presented Démesure, created in Quebec City’s fine arts museum, the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec. Architectural details and playful movements merge in this 11-minute film, where a black and white visual aesthetic complements the museum’s immaculate white environment. Using the museum’s large, curved stairs as one its main settings, the film explores depth and freedom through group sequences, duets, and solos. The closeness to the dancers created by the camera balances the immensity of the arts institution. 

Dance and the pandemic

22 dance films were presented at La Nuit de la danse, while two longer screen creations are part of the festival’s general programming as well. Brisebois explained that FIFA’s selection committee received a particularly large number of dance film submissions this year, therefore encouraging the programming team to organize an event dedicated to them. 

For Brisebois, those creations were a way of presenting dance differently, as more than simple footage of a show on a stage. “When we see those films, it is completely different from what we would see in a live art show and that, we think, is really creative.” 

Pandemic measures prevented dance shows from happening during different periods over the course of the past three years. To support the dance field, arts councils dedicated specific budgets to digital projects. The Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec’s 2020-2021 budget report notes that they granted $3.5 million to digital projects in addition to their regular funding programs. Similarly, the Canada Council for the Arts states the support of “the ongoing digital transformation” as one of their priorities “for a strong rebuild of the arts sector.”

In the 2021 text Virtualised Dance? Digital shifts in artistic practices, researcher Marie Fol analyzed the needs of dance artists when adapting their work for the screen. The study was inspired by the growing number of digital live art productions in Europe amidst the pandemic. For the researcher, dance films are a rich creative avenue that deserve to be explored further. “The democratisation of screendance has the potential to welcome greater imagination and creativity in this art form,” wrote Fol. 

While the reason for this sudden boom of dance on screen was first linked to a need to feed connections between artists and their public, it has the potential to remain an important part of dance companies’ work. “By appropriating digital tools, by playing with or hacking them, artists create new codes, rituals, and rules,” noted Fol.

Even though dance films have always been part of the festival’s programming, Brisebois recognized that they never had so many films as they did this year. The programmer was particularly impressed by this year’s submissions. “It is an art form that is refining its mode of expression through movements, so it gets to say even more things. It’s fascinating,” she said, stressing the link of this type of creation with the viewer’s feelings.

While the creation of screendances might decrease now that venues are welcoming shows again, films like those presented at FIFA’s La Nuit de la danse testify to the inventiveness with which artists adapted to closures. 

FIFA will present around 200 art films this year. They are available online through the festival’s website. Access to the programming is included in festival pass purchases. There are also in-person screenings in different Montreal theatres. This event is happening until March 27. 


Visuals courtesy International Festival of Films on Art


Student Life

A new chapter for documentary films

Envisioning inclusion and documenting the imagined future of marginalized groups

At first glance, ‘Documentary Futurism’ might seem like an oxymoron—if the future has yet to happen, how can it be documented in the tradition of nonfiction storytelling? In their newest project, Cinema Politica seeks to answer that question the way they know best; through the creation and sharing of radical, independent documentaries.

“We came up with this idea of documentary futurism through being inspired by all of the Indigenous film programming we’ve been doing, in collaboration with Indigenous filmmakers and curators,” said Ezra Winton, co-founder and director of programming of the Cinema Politica film network.

“It’s bringing together documentary conventions and ideas of speculation and the imagination, even the fantastical.” Winton noted that, while nonfiction and speculation has been brought together in other forms, the combination has largely gone untouched in the documentary world.

Enhior:hén:ne [Tomorrow], directed by Roxann Whitebean. Enhior’hén:ne explores Mohawk children’s predictions about the state of mother earth 200 years into the future.
“The idea of being forward-looking with documentary has partially come out of 15 years of programming documentaries where the vast majority have focused on the past and the present, and the future part is always just the last 10 minutes,” said Winton. “We’re more interested in the whole thing being more forward-looking and that means not just envisioning inclusion, but ideas about social justice.”

After receiving the Canada Council for the Arts (CCA) New Chapter grant, the project itself started to shift from an imagined future to a reality.

“We called [the CCA] right away to ask, is this just to celebrate, or can this be critical?” recalled Winton. “And they told us they’re calling it the New Chapter for a reason. That they’re more interested in critical perspectives and less about national chauvinism.”

Project coordinator James Goddard came on board not long after, bringing with him knowledge of afrofuturism and experience working in the interdisciplinary speculative arts.

Enhior:hén:ne [Tomorrow], directed by Roxann Whitebean.
Goddard points to the work of Indigenous futurism and afrofuturism, the latter having garnered much attention since the recent release of Black Panther, as the driving force behind the new genre. “[People] are interested in the ways in which marginal groups tell stories about the future,” he said.

“The importance of that, especially for Indigenous groups in Canada, is that there have been literal legislative maneuvers right up until the 90s that the government was doing to erase Indigenous people, to eradicate the possibility of a future. So when Indigenous people tell stories about their presence in the future, it’s an important form of resistance. And that’s true of almost every marginalized community that has experienced a history of erasure.”

Cinema Politica put out a call for film proposals in September 2017. They received over 70 applications, which were then passed on to a panel of jurors for deliberation.

“It was doubly experimental because we removed ourselves from the selection process too,” added Goddard. “Had we played more of a role in the actual selection process, more of our pre-existing ideas about what we wanted from the project would have bled into that.”

We might have been heroes / Nous aurions pu être des héros, directed by Andrés Salas-Parra. In a world with nothing left to mine, communication has become the main resource for humanity to exist. The challenge? To stay connected.

Among the jurors is Nalo Hopkinson, a prolific author of six novels, including Brown Girl in the Ring, which Goddard described as a “landmark text for speculative fiction and afrofuturism.” Joining her is Skawennati, a media artist whose work addresses the past and present from an Indigenous perspective, and award-winning filmmaker Danis Goulet, who produced, wrote and directed the film Wakening, a source of inspiration for the project.

The jury deliberated based on their collective interpretation of the project goals, finally arriving at the 15 films commissioned to inaugurate the new genre. “There’s a lot of variation in the themes they deal with. Obviously a lot of the films deal with environmental collapse, one film in particular focuses on exploring sexuality and gender variants, there’s a film that looks at corporate culture, and a number of the Indigenous films engage with the idea of what happens after the settlers leave,” said Goddard.

“We really encouraged the artists to interpret it as they wanted to, politically, aesthetically, everything. We just basically set the canvas, and even then the edges of the canvas can still unfurl,” said Winton. “My expectations were just that this was going to be interesting and hopefully, probably, amazing. And my expectations were met.”

In the tradition of Cinema Politica, Winton hopes the films will not only start conversations about the alternate realities they present, but serve as a catalyst for grassroots social movements unafraid to look towards an imagined, brighter future. “We’re always tackling present, day-to-day issues, and that’s important, but also imagining a post-capitalist, post-colonial, post-gender binary, post-whatever it is, it’s exciting and it can be politically transformative.”

Featured film still from Lost Alien, directed by Tobias c. van Veen.


Films to fight cultural ignorance

The FIFEQ aims to give a voice to the voiceless through film

It is easy to settle into the rhythm of your life and forget that other ways of life exist. One way to stay open-minded about other people and their ways of life is to learn through books, the news or through an international film festival.

The International Ethnographic Film Festival of Quebec (FIFEQ) aims to give a voice to cultures and communities that may not otherwise have one. The films display unique parts of the human experience, and show the daily lives and struggles from people living around the world.

“It’s an opportunity to learn about other cultures and people that you were unaware of before. FIFEQ shows movies that you likely won’t see anywhere else,” saidAlizé Honen-Delmar, a FIFEQ coordinator. This year, FIFEQ received more than 250 film submissions from filmmakers all over the world, of which the team chose over 30 of their favourites and organized them by theme.

The 14th edition of the festival will take place in Montreal between March 12 and 20 at a variety of locations, but mainly at Concordia, Université de Montréal and McGill. Concordia will be hosting a portion of the festival on March 17 and 18, from 2:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. each day.

Concordia will be hosting two blocks on March 17: Ethnography of Objects which is comprised of films exploring the symbolic meaning of inanimate objects to various people and cultures; and Sink or Swim, which includes films about people living on boats, islands and anything else involving water.

The March 18 blocks at Concordia will be Going Through the Motions and Beyond Borders.

Going Through the Motions tells stories of rituals in different cultures, and Beyond Borders showcases films about the lives of migrants and refugees.

The screenings will be at the J.A de Sève Cinema in the Library building (LB 125), where there will be coffee and tea, as well as catered vegan food available. Entrance and the food at FIFEQ are free, and the festival is open to the entire student body and the general public.

Honen-Delmar’s favourite movie is in the Beyond Borders block. It’s about illegal border crossing in three different places: Mexico and the U.S., Morocco and Spain, and Zimbabwe and South Africa. “It’s interesting to compare the border tensions between different countries, and I think it’s especially relevant today, given current border tensions in America,” she said.

Lots of Monsters, which will screen at Concordia on March 18, is a short documentary centering around the Loch Ness Monster.

“As a film studies student, I love movies, and I also think being a volunteer is good because you can learn so much from the people you work with, and can share important information with others in the student community,” Honen-Delmar said.

In the past, FIFEQ has shown films on topics such as immigration, war refugees, religion and spirituality, and various other anthropological topics. If you’ve ever been to a Cinema Politica screening on a Monday evening at Concordia, you can expect to see films that are similar in content and subject matter.

According to their website, FIFEQ has been dedicated to “showcasing ethnographic film and visual anthropology” since 2003. They “promote representations of alterity—‘otherness’—that are articulated within an anti-colonial framework, [and] celebrate human agency and the diversity of environments we craft for ourselves.”

For more information, including the titles, times and locations of the films being screened, visit FIFEQ’s website.


The secret behind the best directors working today

Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins are at the forefront of a new movement of visceral films

Modern cinema has brought us so many films with too many cuts that make the action on screen nearly undecipherable. There are exceptions, but it is almost always a detriment, with many films using heavy editing as a lazy form of movie-making.

In contrast to this trend, Quebec-born Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins have been breaking away from the familiar by lingering on shots and not overly editing their films.  As Deakins said himself when discussing Sicario in a interview, “We built the tension by holding the shots a lot longer then somebody else might.” The success of his films, and those with a similar approach such as The Revenant, prove there is a place for films that dive into an unflinching, realistic and unrelenting style.

Villeneuve truly broke out into the mainstream back in 2013 with the release of his film Prisoners. The film depicts the lengths a father will go to in order to find his missing daughter, and the strain of such an experience. In short, the movie is emotionally draining. Prisoners was Villeneuve’s first real chance to prove himself in Hollywood, and he expertly handled the pressure of a demanding story, while working alongside some of the best established actors.

Audiences were drawn in by the story, the eerie tone and the devastatingly vulnerable performances of Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. The beautiful, dark, long, steady shots that compose the cinematography are an essential part of the film’s haunting mood. The first scene sets the tone not only for Prisoners, but for every subsequent Villeneuve project. We open with a shot of the woods. A deer walks into the frame. The camera pans out to show two hunters. One utters a prayer and fires. The deer falls. This one shot sets the bar for the rest of the film.

This type of brutal honesty has been lacking from the silver screen recently. Villeneuve brings it back in a big way, thanks to breathtaking cinematography. Every shot in his recent films are masterfully composed. Every scene has a purpose.

Enter cinematographer Deakins, a 12-time Academy Award nominee, who has worked on classic films like The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo and The Big Lebowski. Deakins was the reason actors Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro accepted roles in Sicario, they said in an interview with entertainment news site Collider. Brolin, Del Toro and Emily Blunt, who also worked on Sicario, expressed their respect for the established cinematographer and his legendary status in the filmmaking community. His more recent films include successes like Skyfall and No Country For Old Men. His works never fail to instill a sense of dread and unease in the audience.

Villeneuve has been at the forefront of a new movement in Hollywood of creating truly personal films with mainstream entertainment value. His passion for the medium of visual storytelling is unique in this age of blockbuster, mind-numbing nonsense. Combine that with the genius of methodological and experienced cinematographer Deakins, and the audience is left with a unique film experience that creeps into the very soul. Their films are reviving a genre of intense and visceral movies, and this revival can only have a positive effect on filmmaking.


Image+nation film festival comes to Montreal

Image+nation film festival comes to Montreal

From Nov. 24 to Dec. 4, the image+nation film festival will present a diverse array of LGBTQ+ films hailing from all corners of the world.

“I think it’s an important opportunity to see great independent film, and it’s also an opportunity to see yourself reflected on the screen if you happen to be a queer person,” said Katharine Setzer, the programming director for the festival.

Image+nation, which is in its 29th year, is the oldest queer film festival in Canada. It will present films from a variety of genres and formats, including powerful documentaries, beautiful shorts and award-winning features. There are over 30 films to choose from.

“There’s a power in coming to a festival,” said Setzer. “It is a genre festival—it is a queer festival. There’s a power of being with your people, sitting and congregating in the dark and watching images of yourself on the screen.”

This year, the festival will have a focus on Irish and American cinema, two countries that legalized same-sex marriage in the last year. Handsome Devil, the opening film of the festival, which will screen on Nov. 24 at 7:30 p.m. is part of this Irish focus. Directed by John Butler, the film is a coming-of-age story about Ned, a young outcast in a rugby-crazed, all-boys boarding school who sets out on a mission to finally have his voice heard.

According to Setzer, queer cinema has evolved over time. Although there’s still a place for coming-of-age and coming-out stories, the focus has shifted to representations of queerness that go beyond this, looking instead at the experience of living as a queer person in the world.

Golden Boys, an Israeli film directed by Revital Gal, takes a look at the ageing gay community in Tel Aviv and explores the challenges these men faced coming to terms with their own sexuality in a country which hasn’t always been open or tolerant. Golden Boys will screen on Dec. 3 at 3:15 p.m.

Although the festival includes films from around the world, it still has a local focus. Long-time festival staple Queerment Quebec gives an opportunity to see short films produced by Montreal filmmakers. These shorts will be presented on Monday, Nov. 28 at 7 p.m. at the Phi Centre and include bustling local talent.

Films from this year’s festival will be screened at a number of different venues, including Cinéma Imperial, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Concordia’s JA de Sève cinema and Cinémathèque québécoise.

Tickets can be purchased both at the door and online. Regular passes are $12.75 per film or $9.50 for students. For information on the festival or to buy tickets for screenings, visit


Rowling’s wizarding world is back

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them brings a whole new wizarding world to the big screen

Demiguises, erumpents and nifflers are just some of the fantastic creatures that have slipped out of Newt Scamander’s (Eddie Redmayne) magical suitcase, causing havoc in 1926 New York City in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

The film, adapted from J.K. Rowling’s book of the same title, is directed by David Yates and stars Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Colin Farrell and Dan Fogler. Written by Rowling, it has the same familiar feel the Harry Potter series offered. This familiarity makes it easier for the audience to relate to the film, although this era of the wizarding world is much darker.

Newt Scamander is a magizoologist studying all manner of magical beasts and creatures, cataloguing them for a book he’s writing. After disembarking in New York City, a mix-up between suitcases leads to a few of his creatures roaming free in a city rocked by anti-wizard sentiment. Newt, no-maj (American term for muggle) Jacob Kowalski (Fogler) and disgraced auror Tina (Waterston) team up and attempt to round up the magical creatures. Although they aren’t dangerous per se, these creatures can be annoying. One of Newt’s nifflers, a mole-sized creature attracted to objects that shine and sparkle such as coins and gems, gets into trouble ransacking a jewelry store and storing its contents in its marsupial-like pouch.

Things get more complicated when Newt discovers an obscurus is on the loose. This dark magical entity, taking the shape of a roiling black cloud, is a creation that comes about when a magical child tries to suppress their powers for fear of discovery by the non-magical community. While Newt wishes to find the child to save them from themself, other forces wish to use the obscurus for their own agendas.

The world we are introduced to in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a fractured one. The beginning sequence emphasizes this: headline after headline warning of humans suspicious of magical activity, calling for a second Salem witch-hunt in Manhattan. At the same time, there is fear of a magical war being sparked by Grindelwald, a powerful wizard tired of hiding from no-majs. Divisions exist between no-majs and wizards and between wizards themselves. Newt’s journey to document magical creatures brings him to the epicenter of these tensions, and he becomes entangled in an effort to prevent an all-out war.

Rowling’s incredible imagination is once again brought to life on the big screen. The creatures she’s whipped up are funny and troublesome, dangerous and sneaky. For a film that needed to introduce a whole other subsection of a hidden world, the pace is quite good, albeit a little information-heavy at times. It might have been worthwhile to take some more time to develop Newt’s character, especially seeing as how Fantastic Beasts is set  to be a five-part series. Newt is a funny character who has trouble interacting with humans. Instead, he finds refuge in his suitcase, which contains a whole ecosystem of creatures, beasts and magical things.

Fantastic Beasts is now in theaters.

4.5 stars out of 5


Big films make their big debut at TIFF

The Toronto International Film Festival screen is alive with foreign films this fall

As the mid-way point of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) draws near, the streets of the city get evermore crowded with journalists and visiting stars. For both obsessive and casual film lovers, here is a short report from the scene.

Korean master of film Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden is, in my opinion, one of the best films of the festival and of the year. It is a tense and visually exquisite erotic thriller that starts as a gothic melodrama, and gradually descends into the hell of perversion and violence that you would expect from the man who directed Oldboy. It’s sure to be a special experience if you’ve never heard of Sarah Waters’ novel, Fingersmith, which the film is based on, but I won’t tell you why.  What I can tell you is that it will leave you with some added understanding of the long-standing Japanese tradition of tentacle porn.

Maintaining the same level of perversion, Paul Verhoeven’s Elle is a shocking and darkly funny French thriller starring the excellent Isabelle Huppert. The film starts with a rape—careful, it has trigger warning written all over it. It is being promoted as a revenge story, but that’s not what it is, and even the ‘whodunit’ is not always central to the plot. Instead, it’s a surreal look at sexual passion and family dynamics, which are shown in an unconventional light. Although it sometimes feels a bit too cynical and calculated, the film is nonetheless a treat. A particularly memorable Christmas Eve dinner is one of its highlights.

No movie generated as much talk at this year’s Cannes festival as Toni Erdmann, but for all its strong qualities, it’s hard to understand what made it such a sensation. Its key concept is so exceedingly simple, perhaps it would have worked just as well as a short film, which is odd considering it clocks in at two hours and 42 minutes. What makes it worthwhile, is its touching depiction of a waning father-daughter relationship, the dullness of adult life, and the  magic of childhood—something that can never be truly reclaimed.

Finally, Kim Jee-woon’s The Age of Shadows is a thrilling action drama set, like The Handmaiden, in Japan-occupied Korea—which might give you some insight into current Japanese-Korean relations. Entertaining, brazenly patriotic and ultimately moving, the film was made with a great sense of scope on a remarkably small budget (IMDB estimates it at under $9 million). It’s not as bold as Jee-woon’s The Good, the Bad, the Weird, but features wonderful set pieces and a solid cast, led by Song Kang-ho who plays a man caught between resistance fighters and imperial police.

TIFF, sometimes referred to as “the Cannes of North America,” runs until Sept. 18.

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