RIDM Festival under Women’s Rule

Interview with RIDM’s executive director Roxanne Sayegh. How to tell Canadian films from global documentaries? How does the support of young North American filmmakers work? Why is it good for a festival to be governed by a woman?

The first comprehensive collection of the best in contemporary Canadian documentary at DAFilms.com has found a strong partner in local RIDM festival (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal). How to tell Canadian films from global documentaries? How does the support of young North American filmmakers work? Why is it good for a festival to be governed by a woman? Read all about it in our interview with the festival’s executive director Roxanne Sayegh!

It is for the first time that DAFilms.com has an opportunity to present a special programme devoted to Canadian documentaries. How would you characterise Canadian documentary film?

Tough question! Canadian documentary today is just as diverse as the documentary scene worldwide. However, since for decades one of the main sources of funding for Canadian documentary has been TV broadcasters, a majority of the documentaries produced in the country still feel very formatted for broadcast standards, and are pretty similar in terms of structure, having a strong character-driven focus, the tendency to be around specific thematic or social issues and using voice-over. This being said, the desire to take some distance from this genre of documentary exists amongst many filmmakers in the country, and many great films have been made in the last two decades by talented filmmakers who developed their own narrative, and their own personal approach to cinema, such as Sarah Polley, Peter Mettler, Richard Brouillette, Dominic Gagnon, etc. Those talents usually have to make their film outside of the broadcasting system, and either make them with a very small budget, or find funds abroad. Another strong tendency has been the use of transmedia platforms to expand the scope and narrative for documentaries in the country. The National Film Board has been pushing in that direction for many years already, and the funding by the Canada Media Fund has been forcing the transition for many who were reluctant toward this new approach to documentary filmmaking. It's far from making unanimity but is certainly a new trend that has been observed.

Can you explain how and by whom the RIDM festival was founded?

The festival was founded by a Montreal-based community of filmmakers who wanted to create a space when their films could meet an audience, and where to screen the films their fellow filmmakers were making around the world. The desire to have an event where encounters between the filmmakers and the public could happen was so central to the foundation of the festival that it became part of the name of the event itself! (Rencontres = Encounters)

How would you explain the status of the festival among other documentary festivals in North America? What is specific about RIDM?

RIDM has an interesting mix of European and North American touch in its approach to cinema and in the event's atmosphere, in accordance to the city where it's set, Montreal. It's a laid-back city and has always been known for being warm and welcoming. The festival also has that feel to it. It's also the only bilingual festival in North America. RIDM doesn't follow so much the Anglo-Saxon tradition of documentary filmmaking (the more formatted form I referred to earlier) that most North-American festivals are more focused on. It definitely adopts an artistic vision that's closer to European or South American festivals, turned toward a more auteur kind of filmmaking. It's a festival that exists first for its audience, but it has also developed over the past 9 years an industry side with its market, Doc Circuit Montreal. The festival has been growing considerably in the past years (more projects throughout the year, more films, more events, more guests, etc.), but we want to make sure it doesn't become too big. For us, it's not in the size that the quality of an event is necessarily felt. It's in its programming and its guests, its ability to make everybody feel comfortable and welcomed, and its capacity of reinventing itself, and surprising its crowds. It's also a festival that doesn't focus so much on world or North American premieres.

The RIDM festival is a co-founder of the important international project Doc Circuit Montréal targeted on film professionals. Can you tell us more about the main idea behind the project and its existence?

Like most of the film festivals in the world, the desire to develop its industry side came naturally for RIDM 9 years ago since the Quebec documentary community wanted to have an event where to meet, to discuss and to present new projects, in a bilingual setting. The idea was discussed with Doc Quebec, and the first market was put together in 2005.

This year‘s festival edition ended three weeks ago. How would you evaluate it and what are the main plans for the next year?

The 2013 edition was overall fantastic. We've received amazing feedbacks from our guests and festival goers on the programming, we had a great press coverage, and successful professional activities at Doc Circuit Montreal. We are still waiting for the final numbers from the past edition, but the attendance of the festival this year did make a huge step forward going from 39 000 to 56 000. The box office had an increase of 33%. The festival' success ran beyond all our expectations. The Marcel Ophuls and Sensory Lab Retrospective were both very popular. We had a new space for our headquarters in the old School of Fine Arts that allowed us to expand the festival scope drastically and have a central box-office, cafe, bar, conference rooms, and different spaces for a photo exhibit, and an interactive installation, only a few blocks away from our two main cinema venues. We also partnered with various music festivals to organize concerts every night which allowed us to attract a new crowd, to put forward Montreal emerging bands, and to have the festival nights turn into fun parties. It was over all a memorable 16th edition!

Thank you for the interview. We wish the RIDM festival many surprising and successful editions!

The interview was made as part of a special event introducing 11 documentary films from the past five years of RIDM’s festival programme. You can watch the films in the week from December 9 to 15, 2013 at DAFilms.com for free.




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Doc Alliance is a creative partnership of 7 key European documentary film festivals. Our aim is to advance the documentary genre, support its diversity and promote quality creative documentary films.