The Antidote to Netflix

NDG Off the Wall Brings Community Together for a Good Cause

Photos John McKay
Photos John McKay
Minor technical difficulties couldn’t slow the momentum of the second annual NDG Off the Wall film festival, which took place on Friday, Aug. 26th in Girouard Park at the corner of Sherbrooke and Marcil.

Curator John McKay designed the event “to shine a light on NDG and the media talent that lives here.”

The 20 short films presented at the screening were diverse in form and content, from professional film trailers, including Bon Cop, Bad Cop producer Kevin Tierney’s latest picture, to a charmingly viral recreation of A Hard Day’s Night starring four young schoolgirls as The Beatles.

Hundreds of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce residents gathered in Girouard Park to witness the media talent the borough had to offer.

The crowd was a picture of the diversity NDG is known for: residents young and old, families with their children seated comfortably alongside groups of young friends bearing cases of beer and boxed wine.

McKay’s aim with the NDG Off the Wall screening was twofold: first, to reveal the breadth of media and musical talent that exists within the borough and second, to remind the community of the enormous cultural resource that sits abandoned just across from the park on Sherbrooke St.—the Empress Cinema.

Built in 1927 in Art Deco style with Egyptian architectural flourishes, the Empress was a majestic Montreal landmark for many years. NDG residents will best remember it as the Cinema V repertory theatre, which shut down when the interior was destroyed by a fire in 1992.

“It’s sat there ever since, locked,” says McKay. “It’s a tremendous resource, it’s a cultural centre, and it sits at the centre of our community.”

Although NDG Off the Wall uses a white truck bed as its primary screen, a second projector bounces the images “off the wall” of the Empress Cinema’s still-impressive facade.

“I wasn’t trying to be strident about [saving the Empress],” McKay said. “I just thought that if I bounce these images off the outside wall, some people will make the connection that this place used to show films, and perhaps it still could, or could have some other cultural purpose in the community.”

The opening film, a music video entitled Empress Blue, part of Concordia alumnus and Communications Department professor Tim Schwab’s “Imagining NDG” project, provided many residents with their first heartbreaking glimpse inside the ruins of the once-lavish Empress Theatre.

But not every piece in the festival had an agenda. Hillbilly Night at the Wheel Club documented one of the quirkiest entertainment venues NDG has to offer, while two hip-hop music videos produced by NDG-based film collective Labnoise featured a number of familiar locations, including the Decarie Autoroute and the Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport.

“The Pipe,” a clip from the full-length documentary Concrete Angels, combined archival and contemporary footage to record the history of Montreal’s skateboarding community, specifically through its efforts to save the “Pipe,” a whistle-shaped tunnel on the Olympic Stadium’s grounds that was named one of the ten best skateboarding destinations in the world.

By far the most touching offering was the 13-minute documentary piece Youth Development Through the Arts. Five members of international hip-hop collective Nomadic Massive travelled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake and held a week’s worth of musical workshops to heal the youth of a devastated community.
The footage was as beautiful as it was heartrending, illustrating the necessity of creative self-expression through the healing process. The film touched a nerve with the audience, who sat spellbound through the credits and exploded into applause as it ended.

McKay also hopes to use the festival to promote awareness within the community as well, and made a point of publicizing the NDG Food Depot, which provides food to 700 needy NDG residents every week.

“[This event] goes beyond just a public screening,” he explains. “It really does spread out into the community.”
The festival was an enormous success, and went a long way towards what McKay calls “the antidote for Netflix,” emphasizing the solitary nature of streaming video on a home computer. “Here, it’s an entire community gathering together to watch videos that reflect themselves, and they’re watching it together as a group.”

This combination of lofty ideals and humble execution is just what the Netflix generation is missing—an authentic connection in an increasingly impersonal digital age. It will be a pleasure to see what McKay has to offer at next year’s screening.