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RIDM: Montreal International Documentary Festival highlights filmmakers’ choices

Reel Injun looks at Hollywood’s view of aboriginals. (Photo courtesy of RIDM)

To celebrate its 15th birthday, the Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM) has come up with a unique approach to showcase the greatest docs ever made.

Within its regular programming, they have created a special section of 15 films proposed by 15 well-known people in the world of film.

Composer of minimalist music Philip Glass, Cannes film fest president Gilles Jacob and Quebec’s own Philippe Falardeau, creator of the Oscar-nominated film M. Lazhar are just some of the film industry professionals who put forward their favourite documentary film. Their picks range from films made in the 1920s to the present day and include works that would not otherwise be screened.

Selections include Jonas Mekas’s 1972 film, A Journey to Lithuania, which chronicles Mekas’s return to his native country after many years of exile.

Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Afghan Alphabet explores villages along the Iran-Afghanistan border, meeting children who are denied schooling, in a rare look at the impact of the Taliban and the U.S. invasion on the lives of Afghan refugees in Iran. This film was proposed by Makhmalbaf’s daughter Samira, the youngest filmmaker to be screened at Cannes for her first film, The Apple.

Alanis Obomsawin, an Abenaki and Canadian filmmaker whose career spans more than 40 years, chose Neil Diamond’s first film, Reel Injun, which looks at Hollywood’s disturbing depiction of North American aboriginal peoples during the last century.

Diamond includes archival footage and interviews exposing the stereotyped faces of the Hollywood “injun” with grace and humour.

British documentary filmmaker Kim Longinotto proposed the great Werner Herzog’s Into the Abyss. This shattering documentary about the death penalty begins with an interview with Michael Perry, a young man convicted of a sordid triple-murder.

Herzog examines the sequence of events painstakingly and what starts as a sensational news item becomes a denunciation of social inequality that inevitably leads to violence.

Director Barbet Schroeder has won equal acclaim for his fictional and documentary work. His three documentaries are landmarks, and include General Idi Amin Dada, Koko: a Talking Gorilla and Terro’s Advocate. His “must-see” documentary is Andrew Jarecki’s Capturing the Friedmans, in which a Jewish American family’s world is shattered by allegations of child abuse.

The footage shot by the filmmaker captures the family’s slow collapse in the wake of a media and legal frenzy propelled by individuals who seem unreliable. The film paints a portrait of a questionable justice system beholden to a community’s collective hysteria.

Former law professor and master documentarian Frederick Wiseman is no stranger to the Montreal International Documentary fest. Last year, a 10-film retrospective of his work was presented and he gave a master class at the fest.

His proposal is Marel Ophül’s Hotel Terminus, which profiles a devastating character, Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie.

The film brings together this man’s life, he became known as the Butcher of Lyon—from childhood to his trial, examining what led to Barbie’s escaping justice for 40 years. The film won an Oscar for its unflinching look at humanity’s darkest side.

The festival runs till November 18. For screening times and descriptions of other films visit ridm.qc.ca.

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