Families, Destinies, Lies and Other Experiments is part of a free VUCAVU screening program that has been generously curated for us by Fabrice Montal, Programmer-Curator of québécois, canadian and international cinema for The Cinémathèque Québécoise since 2009. We asked Montal to examine narrative-based works from our catalogue and to develop a program based on a theme of his choosing. The essay below explains Montal's five film and video choices which explore the complicated ways our families influence our lives. 

** PLEASE NOTE : This program is free for a private single-user use only. Groups and institutions wanting to screen this program to the public can inquire about group rental rates at admin@vucavu.com.
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Throughout the year, VUCAVU offers FREE curated programs as part of an ongoing series of screening programs chosen by a diverse group of guest curators coming from a variety of disciplines and from across Canada. Curators are asked to take special attention to select films and videos from VUCAVU's catalogue that are based on a particular theme of their choosing. Each of their programs is accompanied by a text that explains the curator's theme and their selections. 

The film and video titles included in each program are available for FREE viewing for ONE MONTH from the date of their release. Once the FREE viewing period has expired, each title can be rented individually with a Rental Account.

Enjoy!

 
Fabrice Montal_photo par Alexis Gagnon

Fabrice Montal 

Programmer-Curator
The Cinémathèque Québécoise


"Families, Destinies, Lies and Other Experiments"
Essay by Fabrice Montal 

 

Fabrice Montal has academic background in history and cinema. He worked as a Programmer for fourteen years with Antitube, as well as for the Festival des 3 Amériques, two filmmaking organizations in Quebec City which Montal also helped to found. Musician and improviser, he was closely associated with the artist-run centres Obscure and Avatar. As the author of numerous texts about visual and media arts, Montal directed the editing of the first book about Quebecois film director Robert Morin, which was published by Vidéographe in 2002. In February 2009, Montal was appointed as the Programmer-Curator of cinema, television, video and of Quebec and Canadian new media with the Cinémathèque Québécoise.

Families, Destinies, Lies and Other Experiments 

by Fabrice Montal

The request was simple: curate a film program based on the catalogues of the Quebec independent distributors on VUCAVU’s platform. The mandate called for “narratives,” a term too loosely interpreted in French as fiction. In fact, the gig was fairly non-restrictive, allowing for the inclusion of just about any work short of abstract experimentation. All in all, a request too intriguing to turn down. Given the general content of the catalogue, fiction was quickly ruled out. This left documentary features by the dozen, plus a handful of shorts. The initial idea—that of ​​drawing lines between the collections of québécois distributors—proved unworkable; a unifying theme was called for. As I browsed VUCAVU’s listings and content, viewing titles that had slipped through the cracks, an idea began to take shape. One that would let us connect a series of compelling works, united by their seeming ordinariness; a creature at once banal and experimental (if indeed such a thing exists), but oh! how rich in narratives: the family.

united by their seeming ordinariness; a creature at once banal and experimental (if indeed such a thing exists), but oh! how rich in narratives: the family.

If we felt we had to include Josephine Mackay’s Irene, The Lionhearted, it was above all due to the mercurial, rebellious and opinionated personality at the film’s core: that of the filmmaker’s grandmother. Irene Kon, a woman of remarkable destiny whose life spanned the change and turbulence of the last century. As the daughter of Bolsheviks fleeing totalitarian Russia, Kon experienced a childhood marked by poverty but proved to be a brilliant student. She worked her way up the 1940s Montreal corporate ladder to become the first woman to head an advertising agency. A career woman by day (working for the local branch of a major New York-based marketing firm), she was an anti-war protestor and civil rights activist by night. Her comrades-in-arms included Madeleine Parent and Léa Roback, two of the most illustrious women in Quebec’s trade union movement. This unvarnished tribute to a trenchant, outspoken woman is presented by her granddaughter MacKay, herself the daughter of filmmaker Tanya Ballantyne Tree, a pioneer in the NFB’s 1960s Challenge for Change program. Irene, The Lionhearted, Mackay’s sole feature to date, was born of the urgent need to preserve something, be it only the memory of an exceptional character. Unknown and unsung, Kon lived her life freely, answering only to herself, with an undying love for liberty and the odd cigarette. Cinema is sometimes at its best when doing just this: bringing us into contact with a great human being we might have otherwise missed.

Unknown and unsung, Kon lived her life freely, answering only to herself, with an undying love for liberty...
"Bà Nôi (Grandma)", Khoa Lê, 2013, Les Films du 3 mars, 27 minutes

Still image from Bà Nôi (Grandma)Khoa Lê, 2013, (Les Films du 3 mars)

Montreal-based documentarist Khoa Lê also pays tribute to a family matriarch in Bà Nôi (grandma). Lê's debut feature, seemingly a simple portrait at the outset, is far more complex than it would first appear. Directly or indirectly, the film probes the various contrasts encountered by Lê as he journeys back to his native land: collective versus individual identity; traditional versus modern-day complexity; and nostalgia for the old, superstitious Vietnam where personal destiny is governed by horoscopes and lucky numbers, versus the cyber-communications of today’s virtual world. The portrait of his bà nôi, the family dowager who stayed in Vietnam, also fuels the filmmaker’s existential musings as he struggles to reconcile his identity—that of a young North American—with the culture of his country of birth, an ancient place that is still anchored in ancestor worship. Vietnamese society, as personified by Lê’s cousins and grandmother, will never accept his sexual preference, which evidently runs counter to the imposed order and, unlike in Canada, cannot ever be openly expressed. What plays out onscreen is a game of pretense, where respect, cultural distance and genuine, deep-seated family love combine to impose the imperative of concealment.

 

The portrait of his "bà nôi", the family dowager who stayed in Vietnam, also fuels the filmmaker’s existential musings as he struggles to reconcile his identity...

Secrets, shared and otherwise, are also the focal point of Claudie Lévesque’s short film My Family in 17 Takes, drawn entirely from a collection of family Super 8 films. The title refers to the 17 reels from which Lévesque stitches together as many tableaus. This highly personal narrative oscillates between the Lévesque family history—seen through time and peppered with more recent shots depicting life in rural, mid- to late-20th-century Quebec—and a mystery that is only revealed bit by bit. The apparent congeniality and bonhomie captured in the footage of family gatherings is gradually peeled back, giving way to a parallel, darker reality that has long been kept under wraps.

The apparent congeniality and bonhomie captured in the footage of family gatherings is gradually peeled back, giving way to a parallel, darker reality...

Family as a symbol of the world’s troubles is likewise a central theme of Pinocchio, the latest feature-length documentary from André-Line Beauparlant. It’s the third in a series of films that has dominated the filmmaker’s concerns since her film Trois princesses pour Roland from 2001. Beauparlant likens it to a quest for her own identity through the family in which she was born and raised. In some ways, it seems almost therapeutic—or at least, so it would seem, given her obsessive need to revisit the theme.

In Pinocchio, her quest zeroes in on her brother Éric, who is leading a somewhat murky existence in Brazil and Peru. As Beauparlant sets off to unravel the mystery, her emotionally charged investigation gives way to a confrontation revealing the multiple identities (real or fictional?) of a singular character: Éric, a small-time conman who has his own way of reacting to a given family context. As the filmmaker remarks in a 2015 Huffington Post interview:

[translation] “It’s a conversation with Éric on the run, with a guy who does everything to keep you at arm’s length. But Éric has no trouble owning up to his lifestyle, to his flair for lying or his small wheeling and dealing. Sometimes I felt like it was me who didn’t get it: that he’s actually doing fine, that he’s as happy as he claims to be in the film—that he’s fulfilling his destiny to live life as a “bum”. The film was my way of accepting him for who he is without trying to judge him.” 1

Here, to return to our theme, the narrative twists and becomes fragmented in such a way that to say anything more about it would destroy the element of surprise around which the film is structured.
 


1 "«Pinocchio» d'André-Line Beauparlant: les mensonges de mon frère (ENTREVUE/VIDÉO)", Ismaël Houdassine, Le Huffington Post Québec, http://quebec.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/12/10/pinocchio-documentaire-video_n_8773934.html

her emotionally charged investigation gives way to a confrontation revealing the multiple identities (real or fictional?) of a singular character...

Lastly, the family in Pinocchio contrasts sharply with the shrillness of the high-strung Sayeds in At Night, They Dance, a documentary by Isabelle Lavigne and Stéphane Thibault. Shot in Cairo, just before the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, the film follows a line of Egyptian bellydancers whose art continues to be passed down from mother to daughter in the face of heavy censure from the Muslim Brotherhood. The film unfolds along these lines, veering endlessly between love and anger, mirroring the contradictory lives of the women themselves, caught between the power they wield in the domestic sphere—a true matriarchy where women clearly dominate—and the all-powerful male authority of the public sphere, where the dancers are at once an object of contempt and erotic fascination. Reda, the outspoken mother, guards her daughters’ interests like a lioness against a backdrop of growing danger to the women who practice this night-time profession. An unsentimental portrait, the film quivers with palpable tension as the family fights for its survival in a society increasingly disinclined to justify its existence.

caught between the power they wield in the domestic sphere—a true matriarchy where women clearly dominate—and the all-powerful male authority of the public sphere...