Words & Photography: Franca G. Mignacca

History buffs and film lovers in Montreal will soon have another festival to look forward to. The first edition of the Montreal International History Film Festival is set to kick off from May 3 to 5, and the founders hope to showcase films from across the globe.

The festival has four founding members–filmmakers Richard D. Lavoie and Annabel Loyola, and historians Mathieu Trépanier and Éliane Bélec.

The idea behind the festival stemmed from a conversation between Lavoie and Loyola about two years ago.
“It’s a very niche cinema and it’s very difficult to enter in normal festivals. So, we just thought that we would need a history film festival in Montreal and it started from there,” said Lavoie.

Richard D. Lavoie got the idea for the Montreal International History Film Festival after a conversation with filmmaker Annabel Loyola.

Their definition of a history film is a broad one, not limited to documentaries or period pieces. They selected films of all genres that either depicted a specific historic event or person, or that were reminiscent of a time period.

The festival will screen movies in both English and French that have virtually never been shown in Quebec, though some of those movies may be decades old. Lavoie wanted to pay homage to movies that were made in the past, but that hadn’t had the opportunity to be viewed in this city.

Trépanier hopes the festival will ignite a curiosity for history in viewers. He said film should be taken more seriously in academic circles and feels movies like this make history more digestible for the general public. He thinks it makes sense to have a history film festival in Montreal, because it is a university city.

“I think the past is a reference for future action. And nobody wants to repeat mistakes, and we had a lot of mistakes in our history, human history. And I think knowing the past is a way to know where we’re going,” Lavoie added.

“There’s also the discussion aspect of it,” said Trépanier. “When you gather to see a very specific documentary about a very specific historical subject, you assemble people that have a common interest, and it’s going to be followed by discussion.”

Mathieu Trépanier hopes people will bond over history within the walls of the Cinémathèque Quebécoise, where the festival will take place.

Montreal hosts several independent film festivals throughout the year, and some might wonder why it would be worth having another. Concordia film history professor Rosanna Maule believes independent film festivals help people discover films they wouldn’t see in mainstream theatres. She says you can never have too many.

Maule explained that Montreal may not have a major film festival, but the fact there are so many smaller festivals helps to diversify the film scene and reflects the city’s many communities.

Maule hopes to see films that depict history from different perspectives, and that tell the stories of people not normally heard from. She hopes to see some movies take an intersectional feminist approach.

“When you talk about history or representation of history, it really comprehends all histories. I wouldn’t want a history festival to be the dominant history, the mainstream history,” she explained.

The festival’s program will be released in early April 2019.