On Halloween weekend crowds filled the Royal Theatre on College Street in Toronto for a three-day feast of cinematic eye candy. There were dogs in matching sweats on a work-out show; grown men with an Imelda Marcos-style madness for sneakers, Dick Cheney’s inner gangsta (chanelled by way of Tony Montana); Queen Elizabeth, caught on tape on a hedonistic Saturday night rampage; and a fleet of planes, each glistening with lurid projections of softcore porn, crashing into every building in New York City. And now RESFEST is coming Montreal’s way too.
In a city already awash in film festivals, news of yet another may warrant some weariness, even scepticism. In recent months we’ve witnessed the annual display of desperate flailing from Serge Losique’s Montreal World Film Festival as well as the inaugural failure of L'Équipe Spectra’s New Montreal FilmFest. In fact, of the three major film festivals in town, only Canada’s longest-running cinematic event, the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma, fared well.
RESFEST, on the other hand—not unlike Montreal’s smaller annual summer success, Fantasia—bypasses the standard prestige pictures, Hollywood premieres and murky foreign fare in favour of youthful edge and vigour. More specifically, RESFEST showcases the short films, music videos and commercials of up-and-coming filmmakers from around the world, highlighting innovations in style and content.
“There is definitely a slant towards [films displaying a] creative usage of technology, pushing the boundaries of the tools that filmmakers have at their disposal today,” says Montreal’s RESFEST producer Victor Shiffman. “We really want to see boundaries being broken.”
A spin-off of RES Magazine, founded in 1996, RESFEST has evolved from an underground New York City event to an international festival, hitting thirty-five cities this year. Its Montreal debut will occupy Cinema Ex-Centris from November 25-27, following Vancouver’s short inaugural run and Toronto’s third annual edition.
Heavy on bite-sized entertainment, the festival’s shorts are presented in ninety-minute blocks, broken up into programs titled simply, “Shorts One,” “Shorts Two,” and “Shorts Three.” There are also two technique-based collections (“By Design” and “Cut and Paste”), a Beck retrospective, a homegrown program (“CanCon”), a three-filmmaker showcase (“Triple Threat”), compiled ads and music videos by Sweden’s Traktor collective and two music video reels (“Cinema Electronica” and “Videos That Rock”).
Montreal’s scheduled keynote speaker is French filmmaker Stéphane Sednaoui, whose bold videos for Björk, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and others are compiled on Volume Seven of the Director’s Label DVDs. However, Sednaoui risks being overshadowed by the last-minute addition to the guest list of Michel Gondry, another celebrated video director (Volume 3 of the series) who went on to make Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Also in Montreal, the Canadian panel will award their pick for best “CanCon” entry.
In the feature-length category are two award-worthy documentaries, namely Just for Kicks by Thibaut de Longeville and Lisa Leone, a funny and fascinating look at the rise of the sneaker from athletic wear to urban-warrior apparel to hip hop staple to collector’s fetish, and Ginga: The Soul of Brasilian Football, written and directed by Hank Levine, Marcelo Machado and Tocha Alves, and produced by Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener) who was also the film’s co-cameraman. Ginga profiles aspiring futebol players in several of Brazil’s socially and economically diverse regions, all blessed with the physical gift of rhythm and movement—“ginga.”
The nagging footnote is that Nike, a RESFEST sponsor and easily the most prominent brand featured in Just for Kicks, not only financed Ginga but launched its production by approaching Meirelles with the basic Brazilian-football idea. Convenient, yes, but the film appears free of Nike product placement and the company, says Shiffman, was completely hands-off with respect to the project.
“It wasn’t a commissioned work as such,” he says, “but it was backed by Nike, and that in itself is an interesting evolution in how creative films are getting made these days.”
Few of RESFEST’s other entries have corporate backing (with the obvious exception of some of its commercials) but according to Shiffman, high-profile production credits don’t grease any wheels in the selection process anyway. A team of five, including Toronto RESFEST producer and RES Magazine writer Sandy Hunter, selects the international programme—with thousands of entries coming directly from filmmakers (there were over 200 for the “CanCon” program alone), it’s hard to pick and choose, but easy to find good work.
“[Films are] simply selected on the merit of their universal quality,” Shiffman says, “but obviously the programming committee are of a certain ilk so we have preferences—what makes us tick, what turns us on, what makes us laugh, what gets in.”
What does turn on the hipster programming panel is largely colourful, flashy and fast-paced fare, like the gleeful animated monsters of Los Angeles Lets Be Friends, balanced by leisurely, melancholy and black-and-white entries like Muppets: Over Time, an almost funereal tribute to Jim Henson and Kermit.
Despite the occasional mediocre short, RESFEST 2005 is a successful celebration of the fresh and new; of cutting-edge technology, storytelling, acting and music (the latter being the strongest indicator of the festival’s target audience). Videos by the likes of Dizzee Rascal, Basement Jaxx, the Arcade Fire and the Shins appeal to a younger crowd than those who attend your average film festival, and RESFEST’s after-parties (even in Toronto) are a little more happening and hopping than the red-carpet corporate yawners that are often tacked on to the major festivals.
In the three Canadian cities on its agenda, RESFEST has booked performers and DJs whose sounds mesh with the fresh vibe of the films. The parties in Toronto featured DJ sets by Daedelus and Blockhead, electronic and hip hop artists respectively, while Montreal’s local edition promises like-minded DJs Stephane Cocke, The Goods and Moonstarr, as well as the Heavyweight artist collective, whose live mural-painting has proudly graced top-notch grafart and hip hop shows in recent years.
Considering the strength of their program and the efforts to cultivate a younger audience with cool parties, RESFEST looks poised to stake its claim in our festival scene. When Montreal finally realizes that it can’t—and shouldn’t—compete with the Toronto International Film Festival, when Losique gives up the ghost and Spectra’s government grants get yanked, RESFEST should remain standing.
Lorraine Carpenter is a Montreal writer. She braved Toronto's mean streets to attend RESFEST last month.