Out with the old... in with the new?

When the filmmaker Aristofanis Soulikias came across the news that an entire row of 19th century buildings was going to be demolished in the heart of Montreal, an image came to his mind:

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"The image of burlesque dancers triumphing over the bulldozers.... This was going to be a film about the value of historic buildings as carriers of identity and organically grown communities."

Winner of the 2015 Best Animation in the Cannes Short Film Festival and the Best Documentary in the 2015 Greenwich Village Film Festival, Last Dance on the Main is an homage to place, identity, history and culture; it's a case study of development gone awry on "the Main"--Montreal's main artery, St. Laurent boulevard--which, Soulikias explains, "is an accumulation of traces of all the waves of people who have come here and made Montreal home."

 

Screening in a block of Experimental/Art shorts on Sunday, Nov. 5 [click here for full schedule] @ The Lake Champlain International Film, Last Dance is a particularly relevant selection for a region undergoing revitalization and redevelopment, when questions of historic preservation--sometimes, but not always--are raised.

The filmmaker will be at the Festival, Sunday, Nov. 5

The filmmaker will be at the Festival, Sunday, Nov. 5

Aristonafis spoke with me and SUNY Plattsburgh student Cole Reiss about his film and Montreal history.  Fest-goers can catch him at the screening, where he'll present his film and take questions.

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Tell us more about these important buildings.

These buildings take us back to the first settlements outside Montreal’s fortifications and remind us of how the city grew in relation to its port. The ones still standing were also a popular destination for people leaving the US seeking for entertainment during Prohibition. An area of tolerance unique in Canada at the time, as gay and trans people were also accepted.

And tell us more about your background and expertise that leads you to making this film.

My background is in Architecture and in heritage buildings in particular.... and throughout my recent studies in Film Animation, ideas about the built environment permeated.

Plattsburgh is a small city asking what revitalization/updating means, what it looks like.  What lessons might your film teach?

We don’t build this way anymore, [so] it is important to make the best use out of [old buildings] by preserving them. “Updating” can always take place in sensible ways, by respecting the old buildings, and if possible, their long-time use. Montreal is appreciated by locals and visitors for its history, so we can only lose by eradicating it. Grand and aggressive modernist projects of the 60s should have no place in today’s world, where we should be looking for ways to reintroduce pedestrian-friendly, community-friendly environments, minimize rebuilding and material waste, and maximize retrofitting.

What would you have travelers to Montreal--from right across the border--know about Montreal? Any spots they should visit?

One could call Montreal the metropolis of French North America, and this linguistic distinction gives it its unique personality.  Its main artery, St Laurent boulevard, or “the Main”, which my film is about, has traditionally divided the city into the more working class, French-speaking East and the more business oriented, English-speaking West. These lines are now blurred, not to mention the presence of many other ethnic communities which cling to their traditions and even their own languages, without ever becoming ghettoized. 

I hope my film inspires you the next time you visit Montreal to walk along St. Laurent boulevard, from the old historic port, through Chinatown, the old Red Light District, the modern day night-life zone, the Portuguese neighbourhood, the gentrified Mile-End with its old Jewish establishments (and bagel shops) and its artistic community, and if the weather is good, all the way up to Little Italy; a true cross section of Montreal, its history and diversity.

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Michael Devine, Ph.D., is one of the programmers for the Lake Champlain International Film Festival, Associate Professor of English at SUNY Plattsburgh, and director of the AdironDocs Film Collective.   

Cole Reiss is an Accounting major at SUNY Plattsburgh.