Remember when you were a kid and your parents threw you a birthday party at some perky burger franchise and it was the biggest deal? Well, next year I’m getting all my friends passes to RESFEST for my birthday. Why? Because it is the festival equivalent—it’s once a year, it’s shorter than you realize and it’s full of things that will make your eyes bulge and your mind whirl. Hells yeah!
Between Friday, November 25 and Sunday, November 27 of this year, RESFEST’s programme of shorts, documentaries, music videos, commercials and guest speakers played out in Montreal for the first time and the organizers did a bang-up job. Cinema Ex-Centris was an inspired choice of venue as the theatre offers luscious slouchy seats (although the slouching does hurt after a while) and an all-enveloping sound system. The clean, über-current architecture of the building also lent itself well to the stylish schedule of films.
The two programmes of shorts were like stuffed-to-the-brim goodie bags. Jared Hess’s Winner Take Steveappeared on the “Shorts One” bill—in it, two gangly teens who share the same name are forced by their high school gym coach to compete for it in a foot race. It’s the kind of story that Hess—a champion of the hopelessly dorky teenage underdog loser—develops exactly the way you imagine he should, in classic Hollywood form.
The “Shorts One” bill was filled with odd and gorgeous head-turners. City Paradise stood out as the quaint story of a Japanese woman in London to learn English, who smacks her head at the community pool and gains entrance into a twinkling, magical underground city. The quirky narrative was perfectly expressed in stylish animation, blending life-like faces and puppet-like bodies in a dreamy tale tinged with loneliness. In What Goes Up Must Come Down, a taxi driver and his patrons banter in rhyme. Stylish and slick, its saturated colours and sharp storytelling made it an inspired film.
“Shorts Two” wasn’t as strong a collection as its predecessor, although it included only one film that qualified as capital-“L”-Lame. Eiffeltornet is about a man who wakes up in a world where the cultural markers have all been shuffled—for example, the Eiffel Tower is now in London and called the Kieffel Tower. “Boo” for the boring execution. Turning the tide were Right Place, the tale of a shop clerk suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder who finally finds his place in the world as a bone cracker; Heavy Pockets, a gorgeous animated story of a girl who gets bullied for being able to float; and Fallen Art, an absurd 3-D animated film about a dictator who forces his soldiers to do high-dives onto concrete for his own amusement. The most appropriately scheduled production was the one-minute-and-forty-five-second programme-closer, Christopher Ford Sees a Film: a man goes to see a movie, goes home afterwards, builds a time machine and returns to the moment before he buys the ticket to tell his pre-movie self that the film isn’t worth it. How many times have you wished you could do that! Luckily, save for Eiffeltornet, there wasn’t a single flick that made me regret the time spent in the theatre’s slouchy seats.
But my birthday cake was yet to come, and it took the form of two longer features: one called Ginga: The Soul of Brazilian Football and the other, Just For Kicks. Ginga, by directors Hank Levine, Marcelo Machado and Tocha Alves, follows seven Brazilian footballers at all levels of the game. The fancy footwork these guys pull off is unreal—it’s like watching professional tap dancers. The flow of the film could have been tightened by not having followed a few of the lesser players, and there wasn’t much of a sense of finality as they returned to each footballer for the onscreen textual “updates,” but still—these guys can deke.
Just for Kicks was flawless. Longer than Ginga (but seemingly shorter) directors Thibaut de Longeville and Lisa Leone presented a host of charming and eccentric characters to tease out the sneaker-freak in all of us. The inclusion of the Cold Crush Brothers, Run DMC, Bobbito Garcia, and the “official street cat,” warmed the documentary with humour and made it quite memorable. My take can be summed up in four words: I. Want. A. Copy.
It isn’t a birthday party without the presents, and the event’s two main speakers, video directors Stéphane Sednaoui and Michel Gondry, were two big-box goodies. Sednaoui is known for his work with the Black Crowes, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and on Bjork’s Big Time Sensuality—which everybody in the universe loves. Sadly, he was a bit of a let-down. While Sednaoui’s wit occasionally shone through, he generalized quite a bit, even when talking about specific videos. Luckily the videos spoke for themselves. I never noticed how boring the concept behind the memorable Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away Now” was—four speedy guys in the desert wriggling around and lip-synching. Yeah. But the talented Sednaoui did it right and recognizing the weaknesses didn’t make it any less fun to watch. His later works sufficiently established his super-creator status, particularly his mini-movie for Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” But at the presentation, Sednaoui never got comfortable and set up roadblocks in front of any real revelations he might have had to share with us.
As for the Michel Gondry presentation, well… I never got in. Even after flaunting my press credentials and sassy media attitude and throwing my meagre weight into all the right people, I couldn’t get in. The two-hundred-seat theatre was sold out and there were, I was told, fifty people already on the waiting list. Gondry is responsible for multiple Bjork videos (in fact he was supposed to arrive a day earlier, but the Icelandic goddess had changed the date of her Thanksgiving dinner), White Stripes vids and the feature film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Yet, for all the buzz before his arrival, I didn’t hear a word about his speech afterwards except that it was “good,” according to organizer Adrian Gonzales. Go figure.
Also worth noting was the party at Salon Daome on Friday night. Decked out to match the soccer theme of Ginga, I arrived around 1:30 to a line-up outside the door, even though the club wasn’t packed. The music was good, taking off considerably once Moonstarr got on the decks for a batucada blow out.
On the whole, RESFEST’s programme was well-chosen, balancing innovation with digital excellence and inspired creativity. The only black mark on RESFEST’s first visit to Montreal was their lax adherence to the schedule. Screenings often started ten, fifteen and even thirty minutes late. However, this is a small glitch in an otherwise stellar event. Party favours, anyone?
Melissa Wheeler is getting to know Montreal's culture creators. Her column appears every two weeks. Read more columns by Melissa Wheeler.