Montreal has several different film festivals, showcasing everything from overseas art-house drama to blood-and-guts horror – everyone’s got their preference, and mine is the International Festival of Films on Art (FIFA). With documentaries from the traditional to the experimental, the festival explores the vast realm of the arts: painting, photography, architecture, dance, theatre, music, writing, comics, you name it…
FIFA, not to be confused with organization heading up the ongoing global adoration for the sport “soccer,” celebrates its 29th anniversary this March, and from the looks of this year’s hefty program book and comprehensive website, it’s just as impressive as ever.
As much as I’d like to talk about every single film at FIFA – since they’re all at the fest for a good reason – that would be impossible. Thankfully their website lays it out by section, title, subject and country, making tough choices a little easier.
Among the films focused on the visual arts, Paris: The Luminous Years travels to the Paris of the 1920s and 30s, when artists and poets filled the cafes – the doc manages to capture the spirit of the times and give quite a comprehensive, heartfelt art-history lesson in the process. A new film on Jean-Michel Basquiat (pictured above) offers new insight into the painter’s take on graffiti-like art. Winds of Heaven: Emily Carr, Carvers, and the Spirits of the Forest delves into Carr’s life and work through the lens of her own journals, while maintaining a critical eye on the artist’s use of native imagery.
Dance has its day in a number of films (Montreal is a city that loves dance, after all), including Alicia Alonso: For Giselle Did Not Die, the story of the astounding artistic director of the National Ballet of Cuba, and New York Dance: States of Performance, portraits of seven New York City choreographers with their own unique takes on contemporary dance and its role in the world today.
Topping the list for horror and sci-fi fans are Monsterland, an investigation of how Frankenstein’s monster, King Kong, Godzilla and other movie monsters came to be, and The Owl in Daylight, a doc on author Philip K. Dick, best known for writing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the story that inspired the cult-classic film Bladerunner. Almost a horror film in its own right, but too sad to fall into that category, The Picture of the Napalm Girl follows up on the famous Vietnam War photograph, letting us hear the stories of the photographer and the girl, now a grown woman living in the U.S., in their own words.
Montreal musicians get screen time in Mtl Punk: The First Wave, wild stories of the city’s punk scene in the early 80s (the directors will be on hand on March 21 after the screening), and Karkwa – Les Cendres de Verre, shares some little-known details about the award-winning Quebec rock band. And jazz musicians get their time on the silver screen too: learn more about the lives of Cab Calloway, Charlie Haden, Django Reinhardt, Lena Horne and Benny Goodman, among other greats.
And what would a film fest in 2011 be without the post-modern twist of showing films about filmmaking? Martin Scorsese pays homage to East of Eden and On the Waterfront director Elia Kazan in A Letter to Elia, and the many talents and travels of an actor with a long family history of film are woven together in Isabella Rossellini – My Wild Life.
Along with all the films comes a performance called Hoop, by enthusiastic hula hoop dancers in the foyer of Place des Arts, which gives a taste of Marites Carino’s film of the same name. Also at Place des arts, Montreal painter Zilon sets up a studio for himself and the public, a demonstration of the artist’s beliefs in the democratization of art.
The International Festival of Films on Art (FIFA) 2011, March 17–27