Pop Montreal has never been a festival to settle in it’s laurels and coast on it’s popularity. Having long fostered an identity as a boundary pushing musical festival focusing on young and emerging talents, over the past decade the festival has challenged it’s identity by expanding its scope. Added in 2004, Film Pop was a sub-section of the festival devoted to films with a focus on music. The section really came to life in the three years it was programmed by the incomparable Kier-La Janisse, author of House of Psychotic Women, who curated the section from 2011-2013. Always a risk taker with unique and boundary pushing tastes, Janisse helped the section thrive through her unique programming choices. One of her most notable adventures was to screen British cult classic, Deep End, at a Montreal swimming pool. Whether working at Film Pop or at her own psychotronic film institute (the now defunct Blue Sunshine), Janisse always embraced the creative end of film programming.
Following in Janisse’s footsteps, Ariel Esteban Cayer has embraced the spirit of adventure in programming this year’s film pop. Cayer stresses how integral it was working alongside Janisse as a volunteer at previous Film Pops, but emphasizes that he is working to make his own mark. The intimacy of the section, among the smallest within Pop Montreal, has allowed Cayer to work with overreaching themes and he has specifically chosen films that echo each other. Playfully daring the audience to see the entire line-up, he hopes that audiences will understand the thematic evolution presented in his selection. One of the ways that Cayer has really set out to establish his own voice is in programming a number of fiction films. A film studies major at Concordia, he has selected some essential contemporary independent works that explore music more tangentially, something he admits is a risk. Movies like Buzzard (Joel Potrykus), don’t necessarily tackle a musical subject but embody a punk rock attitude that fits the mood of the rest of the line-up. For Cayer, it is important to program great films above all else. While some documentaries have interesting or engaging subjects, he prefered to choose ones that stood up from the point of view of film studies as much as musical appreciation.
With the opening film, Listen Up Philip and the closer, Whiplash, the lineup broaches more mainstream fare than the festival has tackled in the past. That isn’t to say that either film is easy or conventional. Listen Philip is from emerging filmmaker, Alex Ross Perry, whose previous film was The Color Wheel, a project that remains relatively obscure in spite of being described as “one of the most important American films of the 21st Century”. Whiplash may feature a star like, S.K. Simmons but it is just the second feature length film for the young director Damien Chazelle.
Both films had world premieres at Sundance and Whiplash even garnered the coveted audience award. For Cayer, there was no question once he got Whiplash that it was going to be the closer, “It’s incredible tense and I think one of the reasons that it’s sustained that kind of success is that it’s one of the best endings this year, it’s one of the film’s that really pay off. The reason I’m really stoked to have it is that is that it’s kinda meant to be a closer. It ends on such a high note.”
Cayer hopes though that people look beyond the bigger name films and check out the smaller films as well. In particular he highlights The Possibilities are Endless, which he pitches as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets Leviathan”. The film is about Edwyn Collins, a scottish musician best known as a member of the band Orange Juice. In 2005 he suffered a stroke, and the film attempts to reconstruct the experience of piecing together your memories. The film is challenging but engrossing, it will be screening before Whiplash in what Cayer promises will be an amazing double feature experience.
All films will be screenings at Concordia venues, which have been newly renovated. While Montreal often seems over saturated with film festivals, Film Pop’s line-up is perhaps its strongest ever and is suitable for film and music lovers alike. Be sure to check out the website for full details. Tickets are available at the door or can be purchased online.