Montreal International Documentary Festival

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18 September 2023 Festival

Filmmaker Sky Hopinka and the Bidayyat organization to be featured during 2023 RIDM


The Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM) is thrilled to announce two major programming sections for its 26th edition: Focus Bidayyat: New Beginnings, highlighting Syrian cinema created during the revolution, and a retrospective dedicated to experimental filmmaker Sky Hopinka. Two unique programming sections that serve to underline the relationships between communities and the lands they inhabit. The festival is also launching the presale of early-bird passports for the 2023 edition, which will run from November 15 to 26.

Focus Bidayyat: New Beginnings

This year, the RIDM returns with a new territorial Focus as it looks towards Syria through the Bidayyat organization. This program will consist of five screenings, three panels and a Masterclass.

Bidayyat is a Beirut-based Syrian production hub founded in the early days of the Syrian revolution. It was established with the intention of training young people in a tradition of Syrian and regional experimental documentary so as to tell the stories of ordinary lives in Syria during a time of revolution and war. Bidayyat has mentored dozens of young media activists, filmmakers, and writers, helping them produce over 50 shorts, 8 internationally acclaimed feature documentaries and over 100 online publications.

Focus Bidayyat: New Beginnings highlights some of the inventive and award-winning films that have emerged directly or indirectly from the organization, whose activities have shifted towards the creation of archives. These creative documentaries pioneered new cinematic languages, in responded to the rapid proliferation of affordable digital cameras and cell phone video used by Syrian citizens to document the reality and legitimacy of their revolt. They bear witness to the transformation of the lives of millions of Syrians by revolution and war.

Filmgoers can expect to discover Little Palestine, Diary of a Siege by Abdallah Al-Khatib, an elegy to Yarmouk, the former capital of the Palestinian diaspora, which withstood atrocities with dignity before being wiped off the map. In Still Recording by Saeed Albatal and Ghiath Ayoub, two art students from Damascus trade their carefree attitude for the revolution and move to Douma, a working-class suburb under rebel control. Our Terrible Country by Mohammad Ali Atassi and Ziad Homsi follows two dissidents who embark on a perilous journey from Damascus to Raqqa, then are eventually forced into exile in Türkiye as Syria tumbles into the abyss.

Focus Bidayyat also features two works by Rania Stephan: Threshold, a reworking of a 1987 Egyptian science-fiction film in which the audience becomes the main character, Mr. Kamel, a prisoner of time and space; and In Fields of Words: Conversations with Samar Yazbek, in which a writer and a filmmaker question the relationship between language and cinema as tools to represent war and violence.

The program is rounded out by Sara Fattahi’s Coma, about three generations of women who experience the drama of everyday life at an unprecedented time in Syria; and Tim Alsiofi‘s Douma Underground, which finds civilians seeking refuge in their basements as barrel bombs rain down on Ghouta.

Presented in collaboration with World Records, this series is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and McGill University’s Critical Media Lab.

Sky Hopinka: Redefining Potential Territories

A member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and a descendant of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, Sky Hopinka has been developing a multidisciplinary artistic practice for the past decade. As a musician, poet, filmmaker, and visual artist, he explores these art forms’ many possibilities through a personal approach. The cinematic works featured in this retrospective carry significant poetic and political weight. They offer rich meditations on language – the actual embodiment of culture and the means through which it is transmitted – as well as reflections on land and its colonial dispossession.

As an experimental filmmaker, Sky Hopinka explores both analog and digital formats, often working from archives. His bold aesthetic, formal and narrative choices navigate a tension between reality and abstraction, and skillfully invoke a sense of memory that’s both personal and shared. His use of music, a recurring element in his films, also manages to express a sentiment or statement that might otherwise remain buried in the space between images and words.

This retrospective will be presented in three parts, including two short film programs made up of films produced by the director. The selection consists of Dislocation Blues, Fainting Spells, I’ll Remember You as You Were, not as What You’ll Become, Jáaji Approx, Just a Soul Responding, Kicking the Clouds, Lore, Sunflower Siege Engine and When you’re lost in the rain

It will culminate with maɬni – towards the ocean, towards the shore. Inspired by the Chinookan origin-of-death myth, the filmmaker’s debut feature is a stellar cinematic poem that considers the importance of language and beliefs.

This Sky Hopinka retrospective is co-presented by VISIONS.

Presale of RIDM passports

The RIDM early-bird passport, which gives access to all festival screenings (save for Closing Night), is now available for presale at the special rate of $110, taxes included. Discounted passports can be purchased on the RIDM website until October 25 at 10 a.m. After that date, the price of a regular passport will be $140. Students and people aged 65 and over will be able to purchase an RIDM passport for $115, taxes included.

The complete RIDM lineup will be unveiled at a press conference on Wednesday, October 25 at 10 a.m. at the Cinémathèque québécoise, and made available online that same day.


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