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5 must-see FIFA picks as the festival celebrates 30 years of art on film

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Festival international du film sur l’art (FIFA), a festival renowned for its eclectic selection of innovative films about art, design, dance, and music. The program boasts over seventy films that screen at nine different venues over a span of ten days. The festival is certainly not lacking in the substance department, so how to pick and choose? Here are five not-to-miss FIFA selections. 

The Lost Bird Project
Deborah Dickson
| English

Both a meditation on public art and the fragility of the natural world, The Lost Bird Project follows American sculptor Todd McGrain as he attempts to memorialize that which is long gone. More specifically, McGrain is invested in commemorating five spieces of birds that are extinct thanks to human hunting, cruelty, and shortsightedness. After making five monuments, each the size of an adult person, McGrain sets out across the US and Canada in an attempt to place his avian sculptures at the sites where these animals were last seen alive in the wild. Perhaps the most memorable scene in the film occurs when the artist unveils his great auk memorial to the townspeople of Fogo Island, Newfoundland. While McGrain’s journey might sound off-kilter, The Lost Bird Project is both informative and evocative. The film offers information about the extinct birds (the great auk, the Carolina parakeet, the Labrador duck, the passenger pigeon, and the Heath hen), while debating ethical issues around public art, aesthetics, and agency. Though McGrain is often upbeat, there is something undeniably morose in his statement that “forgetting is another kind of extinction.”


Behind the Poster
Marcin Latałło
| Polish | English subtitles

Polish film poster for Midnight Cowboy

An indisputable addition to the canon of visual arts and graphic design is the Polish Poster. Of course, the legacy of Polish film and theatre posters is based on a lack of stylistic conformity — there is no shared genre. Director Marcin Latałło looks at the history of these incredible pieces. The documentary profiles artist and teacher Henryk Tomaszewski, in addition to Janina Fijałkowska, who created the Poster Museum in Wilanów. As painter/graphic designer Wojciech Fangor points out, Polish designers could make such great posters because there was no commercial need for them in the first place. The grey streets and barren walls of a Communist era became illuminated with popping colours and stark, singular designs. The subjects in this film discuss how social, political, and economic factors ignited an explosion of image-making. Now, public space for postering is no longer free. This is the new form of censorship.


Cinémas d’horreur: Apocalypse, Virus, Zombies
Luc Lagier
| French and English | English subtitles

If at any point during the festival you feel like you might need a palate cleanser after all the highbrow art fare, check out Cinémas d’horreur: Apocalypse, Virus, Zombies for a healthy dose of blood, guts, and gore. This documentary focuses on the rejuvenation of the horror genre during the 2000s, and how our political climate influences terror on-screen. Just as a wave of groundbreaking scare flicks in the '70s germinated from an outrage over the Vietnam War, contemporary celluloid bloodbaths touch on issues of paranoia, torture, and religious fervor inherent to post-9/11 America. Luc Lagier offers extensive interviews with directors such as Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes), Eli Roth (Hostel), Paco Plaza and Jaume Balagueró (Rec), and Neil Marshall (The Descent). While 28 Days Later receives a surprisingly brief treatment, England is positioned as a bleak birthplace of the macabre, with its bloodline of Jack the Ripper, and the creation of classics such as Dracula, Frankenstein, and Hammer Films. Lucky for some, this doc doesn’t show anything too graphic, especially when it comes to the torture porn genre. Then again, like any great horror film, it’s what we can’t see that instills the most visceral nightmares.


Jean Genet, le contre-exemplaire
Gilles Blanchard
| French, English, and Italian | French subtitles

TEASER Jean Genet, le contre exemplaire by tempsnoir

While popular discourse often positions matrimony and militarism as the pinnacles of gay rights, it’s important to remember and honour the work of criminal queers who defied authority from birth. Jean Genet is one of these iconic agitators, a petty thief and prolific author who spent life in and out prison, and whose contribution to the realm of literature is indelible. The director interviews a series of incarcerated men about Genet’s work, though their identities are never revealed—each interviewee sports a facemask fabricated from a mutilated Genet novel. The doc also contains footage of inmates from the prison Volterra staging a Genet production. Gilles Blanchard does not shy away from the plight of migrant workers in present-day France, as the renegade author often wrote about people who were treated as sub-humans. In addition to an interview with American poet Saul Williams, the director includes a segment starring French porn actor François Sagat wearing nothing but a Genet pocketbook.  


A Good Man
Gordon Quinn & Bob Hercules
| English

A Good Man follows the making of Fondly Do We Hope… Fervently Do We Pray, a dance piece created by dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones. After being commissioned by Chicago’s Ravinia Festival to design a show commemorating Abraham Lincoln’s bicentennial, Jones begins to mull over memory, race, and citizenship. Jones questions why he, as a black man, is asked to write something about Lincoln: was the festival expecting something sanitized that glossed over Lincoln’s early racist assumptions? Were audiences hoping for uncritical adulations of an almost mythic historic figure? The documentary spans two years, from the conception of the project to its opening night. We see dancers rehearsing, bodies rippling with poetry. It’s clear that Jones has a profound need to build something new, and to push the limits of creation. At times, the brilliant choreographer struggles to translate his vision into something tactile. Though A Good Man is obviously about dance, it's more so an engaging testament to the turmoil one man endures as his work comes to fruition. 


March 15–25