Real to Reel: TIFF docs examine Montreal, resistance and rock star philosophers

Three Canadian feature docs explore very different topics at TIFF 2008.
August 28, 2008

Three Canadian feature docs explore very different topics at TIFF 2008.

Malcolm Rogge’s Under Rich Earth chronicles the successful resistance of remote Ecuadorian farmers against foreign surveyors bent on violating their lands in search of precious minerals.

Astra Taylor’s Examined Life takes us up-close and personal on a stroll with some of the world’s greatest living philosophers.

And Luc Bourdon’s La mémoire des anges (The Memory of Angels) mines the National Film Board’s extensive archives to create a portrait of Montreal when the city was still brash and bold.

Writer/Director: Malcolm Rogge
Producer: Malcolm Rogge
Distributor: TBA

Shot on miniDV for $125,000, Rye Cinema director/producer Malcolm Rogge filmed Under Rich Earth during a three-week visit to Ecuador’s remote Intag Valley two years ago.

Aided by videos of actual incidents taken by the farmers there, Rogge captured a struggle between extremely remote people and a Canadian mining exploration firm authorized to survey their lands for copper.

‘They don’t receive television, can’t get AM/FM – and rarely does a newspaper make its way into this valley,’ says Rogge.

The battle between the farmers and the government-backed mining company was a quintessential David-and-Goliath story; and, as was the case with the original, David won.

The screening in this year’s Real to Reel showcase marks Under Rich Earth‘s world premiere. Rogge hopes to take his doc elsewhere on the festival circuit on the strength of whatever buzz it generates at TIFF.

Writer/Director: Astra Taylor
Producers: Bill Imperial (Sphinx Productions), Lea Marin (National Film Board)
Exec Producers: Ron Mann (Sphinx), Silva Basmajian (NFB)
Distributor: Filmswelike
International Sales: NFB

Life is a $600,000 HD video documentary that brings the viewer into close contact with the ‘rock star’ philosophers of today: Cornel West, Peter Singer, Slavoj Zizek, Judith Butler, Avital Ronell, Michael Hardt, Kwame Anthony Appiah and Martha Nussbaum.

To bring her subjects out of their shells, Taylor talked to them while they walked with her outdoors.

‘I didn’t want to be interviewing everyone in their offices,’ explains Taylor. ‘Walking reaches back to when Socrates walked around the city, talking to people. Philosophers loved to walk. That’s where they got their best ideas.’

Examined Life is coproduced by Sphinx Productions and the National Film Board. Taylor’s earlier profile of Slavoj Zizek, Zizek!, premiered at TIFF 2005.

Writer/Director: Luc Bourdon
Producers: Christian Medawar, Yves Bisaillon
Exec Producers: Colette Loumède, Maryse Chapdelaine
Distributor: National Film Board
International Sales: NFB

La mémoire des anges is National Film Board writer/director Luc Bourdon’s realization of a longtime goal – to create an entirely new film mined from the many documentaries existing in the NFB’s archives.

‘I screened 1,000 films,’ says Bourdon. ‘I finally took about 200 titles, and from those ‘puzzle boxes,’ I tried to figure out how I could take pieces of them to create a new puzzle box.’

The resulting film is a tour of Montreal from 1947 to 1967, when the city was on the upswing. Among its ‘stars’ are Jean Drapeau, Geneviève Bujold, Oscar Peterson, Monique Mercure and Igor Stravinsky, plus the evolving city of Montreal itself.

‘I discovered a way of living that we criticize a lot today,’ Bourdon observes. ‘Seeing it through the eyes of earlier NFB cinematographers, I have a lot more compassion for my father and mother and all those people who lived during that beautiful period.’

Reprinted from Playback

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.