The Big Screen: Festival Nouveau uncovers hidden gems

The most exhilarating thing about Canadian film is seeing a wholly unpredictable discovery come through the darkness of a cinema to wild cheers and applause as the credits roll.

The most exhilarating thing about Canadian film is seeing a wholly unpredictable discovery come through the darkness of a cinema to wild cheers and applause as the credits roll.

It happened recently at the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma in Montreal (Oct. 8-19) with the world premiere of Brett Gaylord’s RiP: A remix manifesto, a documentary about copyright and culture.

The standing ovation from the capacity crowd at the Imperial Cinema was only the half of it.

A movie-as-mash-up six years in the making, Gaylord threw raw footage of concert performances, animation and talking-head commentary on the Internet and invited anyone to remix and recreate his film.

The Oct. 17 screening was only the start of a journey for the National Film Board/EyeSteelFilm wikimentary. As he and fellow creators took their bows, Gaylord steered his audience to so they, too, could re-edit his film.

‘We don’t want to keep everything hoarded up. Let’s allow some rights to go back to the public domain,’ Gaylord said earlier in the festival.

All of which makes FNC the most risk-taking, avant-garde, far-out film festival in Canada.

Another discovery title at the fest was Jean-François Kitchiguine’s One Sixty Nine, a 60-second film that grabbed the audience award in the Minute Moments competition.

More than just a first-time filmmaker, Kitchiguine picked up a rented camcorder to shoot his movie as recently as this month.

The camera cost $130 to rent for the one-day day shoot. Kitchiguine spent another $50 to feed his volunteer crew at Timmy’s.

The short opens to shots of nature, followed quickly by a bombardment of urban Montreal images edited to the rhythm of pulsating music.

‘My characters represent pollution, poverty and greed – a perversion that is not good for society,’ Kitchiguine explained.

Another hidden gem mined at FNC: Quebec City-shot ¿ l’ouest de Pluton, the feature-length debut of Henry Bernadet and Myriam Verreault.

The drama is a no-holds-barred portrait of a dozen suburban teenagers over 24 hours. As they party and drink and smoke hash and debate the absurdity of their insignificant lives, a space capsule rockets overhead with white-jacketed scientists nearby steering its path to Pluto.

‘It’s a revelation,’ FNC co-founder and programming director Claude Chamberlan says of the film.

As his festival’s 37th installment unfolded, Chamberlan was back at the place where he most loves to compete, and where he most loves to program – on Montreal’s Boulevard Saint-Laurent.

But beneath the glamour and outward civility, it was just three years ago when local film producers, distributors and bureaucrats attempted to throw over Chamberlan’s event and Serge Losique’s rival World Film Festival in favor of Alain Simard’s ill-fated startup the New Montreal FilmFest.

Today, the failed plotters are back in Chamberlan’s camp, and he’s back to launching Quebec films that flow from a confluence of creative and expressive urges seeking an outlet.

‘There’s no secret. Film programmers love to discover. We all have egos. We all prefer to be first with a film. I have that. But my festival is also avant-garde. We play both sides of the fence – with popular and cutting-edge film,’ Chamberlan says.

Montreal director Patricio Henriquez brought his documentary Under the Hood: A Voyage into the World of Torture to FNC, but also secured at the last minute a slot for a short film he’d just completed on Canadian Guantánamo detainee Omar Khadr.

‘He calls the public to go to cinema. And that puts the festival in another dimension,’ Henriquez says of Chamberlan’s fearless programming.

Another FNC world premiere, the NFB doc Nollywood Babylon by Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal, is an investigation into a Nigerian film industry where producers with a camcorder pump out cheaply produced DVDs that sell worldwide, and actually offers a lesson for our own film industry.

Prolific Nigerian director Lancelot Imasuen, profiled in Nollywood Babylon and present in Montreal to tout the doc, says the Nigerian government funded popular TV dramas until the 1980s economic crisis. After that, commercially savvy video retailers rushed in to fill the void by making fantasy pictures for the masses of Nigeria’s poor – voodoo thrillers, love stories, comedies and gangster movies.

And with that, Nollywood was born.

‘This is a direct-to-home industry, bypassing the cinemas,’ points out Imasuen, who is known back home as The Governor. ‘And this allows Nigerians to tell their own stories.’

But what makes the doc stand out is that the filmmakers don’t treat Nollywood as a curio. Instead, they trace the beginnings of Nollywood from the 1990s, when market traders found a way to move large supplies of raw VHS cassettes, to today, when many top Nigerian film producers are evangelists who extract donations from the country’s vulnerable and weak in gospel churches as they promise the return of Jesus Christ.

Canadian film hardly mirrors Nollywood with its urban tales infused with the occult and magic. But in our attempt to tell Canadian stories left out of the Hollywood narrative that pervades the local multiplex, there are lessons in Nollywood Babylon and other FNC titles in how to give local audiences a cinematic voice and identity in the face of a nearby dominant culture.

And it’s this discovery of much in little, of new influences and trends in film, that is the essence of what film festivals should be about.