Brownstein: A peek into the reel world of the RIDM documentary festival

Programmers Marlene Edoyan, Ana Alice de Morais and Hubert Sabino-Brunette offer their top picks from the more than 140 docs they’ve chosen for the 26th edition of the fest, which begins Wednesday.

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The recently resolved strikes by American actors and writers may have played havoc on the fiction-film front, and consequently on much of the film-festival front this year, but there were fewer such problems in the doc world.  

One of the bigger issues facing the 26th Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal (RIDM) — which kicks off Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Imperial Cinema with Lina Soualem’s heartfelt tribute to her actress mother, Bye Bye Tiberias — was not trying to fill it with films, but rather keep its numbers down. 

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More than 140 docs from 47 countries will be showcased at six downtown venues throughout the fest, which wraps Nov. 26. All of which explains that while most festivals have but one programming director, the RIDM employs three programmers sifting through the veritable avalanche of offerings from around the world. They are Marlene Edoyan, Ana Alice de Morais and Hubert Sabino-Brunette, and they came together as a unit three years ago.  

They are, natch, unabashed lovers of the genre. 

“The way the three of us see documentaries is they can take so many shapes and forms,” says Edoyan, holding court in the RIDM offices in a former clothing manufacturer atop a Mile End highrise.  

“It allows filmmakers the kind of flexibility to create storytelling with innovative, open approaches. It can be experimental, cinéma vérité. It can be observational. It can be almost anything. That’s what makes the documentary genre the best.” 

When not programming the festival, Edoyan directs and produces docs.  

Sabino-Brunette, a film prof and holder of a PhD in cinema, hails from the less-is-more school of film. 

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“I really appreciate short documentaries,” Sabino-Brunette says. “It’s a wonderful way to express yourself but in a condensed form. To me, short documentaries are the best part of this amazing genre.” 

“I completely agree with my two colleagues,” muses doc producer and Brazilian native de Morais, who moved here in 2006. “What better way to tell the stories of the worlds we live in? It’s acting on another level. It’s the best.” 

And having toiled in documentaries in a previous life, I concur with all three of them. As maddening and unpredictable as this genre can be, there is also a magical quality that unfettered realism brings to the table, almost compensating for its relative lack of lucrative financial rewards. 

On the other hand, doc makers aren’t reliant on the Tom Cruises of the film world or their mega-salaries, which means that the more crafty directors can make epic docs for a fraction of the price of their fictional counterparts. And with ever-evolving tech strides, some can even shoot their masterpieces on cellphones. No surprise that this year’s RIDM features several such productions. 

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These newer techniques also enable newcomers to get into the game faster, as evidenced by the 40 filmmakers who will be presenting their debut or second films at the fest this year. 

“But capturing human relationships is even harder to create in documentaries than fiction when you have to gain the trust of your subjects,” Edoyan notes. “We have different kinds of challenges.” 

This city — home to the National Film Board of Canada — and this province and country have always been at the forefront of doc-making. And once again, the RIDM is top heavy with homegrown films. 

“Historically, Quebec has had a huge impact on the scene. Our documentaries are at the foundation of Quebec cinema,” says Sabino-Brunette, referring to the contributions of luminaries like Michel Brault and Donald Brittain. 

“Quebec documentarists always seem to have a point of view that sets them apart from others in the rest of the country,” Edoyan says. “I think it has to do with exposure to different kinds of cinema that allows them to be more curious.” 

Here are the top two picks of the three programmers: 

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Knit’s Island (France; directed by Ekiem Barbier, Guilhem Causse and Quentin L’Helgoualc’h) — Edoyan: “A film about the daily lives of survivalists that takes place inside a video game, where the directors themselves have avatars. I was completely immersed in the film and its technology.”  

Mambar Pierrette (Belgium/Cameroon; directed by Rosine Mbakam) — Edoyan: “Seen from the point of view of a seamstress in Cameroon and her everyday struggle to make ends meet. Powerful without clichés.” 

Novembre (Canada/Quebec; directed by Karine van Ameringen) — Sabino-Brunette: “The perfect time to screen a film about the gloomiest time of the year here, shot in beautiful black-and-white in Montreal and involving fascinating chance encounters with people.” 

Dislocation Blues (U.S.; directed by Sky Hopinka) — Sabino-Brunette: “The compelling resistance movement of the Indigenous people on the building of the Dakota oil pipeline project through their territory in Standing Rock.” 

Crowra (Brazil/Portugal; directed by Renée Nader Messora and Joao Salaviza) — de Morais: “If I can be a nationalist here, this encompasses the memories and resistance of Indigenous tribespeople enduring such hardships for nearly a century.”  

Malqueridas (Chile/Germany; directed by Tana Gilbert) — de Morais: “Very powerful and touching videos that were shot in a clandestine way on cellphones about incarcerated mothers separated from their children in a Chilean prison.” 


The 26th Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal runs Nov. 15-26 at the Cinémathèque québécoise, Cinéma du Parc, Cinéma du Musée, Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin, Cinéma Moderne and Imperial Cinema. All  films come with English subtitles. For more information, visit

[email protected] 

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