Seldom does an audience leap to its feet and erupt in cheers at the end of a movie. Yet that’s exactly what happened at Circus Without Borders: Artcirq and Kalabante (Northern Light Productions, 2015) on July 29, when about 300 applauding, whistling, and yes, teary-eyed viewers rose simultaneously in a cacophony of whoops and hollers as the closing credits rolled.
It was an auspicious opening to the Montreal First Peoples Festival, whose 25th year saw more people then ever pouring into the auditorium at the Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec. Some even had to be turned away.
The Montreal First Peoples Festival runs from July 29 through August 4.
The touching documentary tells the story of the friendship between performers Guillaume Saladin and Yamoussa Bangoura, and the partnership they forged between the circuses they had each founded, Artcirq and Kalabante. Acrobats with complementary skills and techniques, they hailed from opposite sides of the world: Saladin from Montreal, with youthful summers spent in the Arctic, and Bangoura, from Guinea-Conakry in West Africa.
Members of both troupes face issues stemming from unremitting poverty and marginalization, the continuing effects of colonialism. Though their challenges differ markedly—the Inuit are plagued with an epidemic of suicide, the Guineans with extreme poverty—both groups connected in a celebration of what the human body is capable of, once airborne.
Saladin, Bangoura and others integral to the production were on hand to introduce the documentary. Once the opening speeches were over, Bangoura, an accomplished musician as well as an artist and performer, captivated attendees with a ballad that he sang as he strummed the kora, an acoustic, guitar-sized instrument that is shaped like a lute and played like a harp.
It took seven years to make and fund the film. But the years-long production process turned out to be a boon, affording director Susan Gray and producer Linda Matchan, the latter a reporter for the Boston Globe, a chance to witness the unfolding of a unique narrative.
“Over the course of the seven years we had the opportunity to follow their story, including to Africa,” Matchan told Indian Country Today Media Network after the screening. “We could never have envisioned this in the beginning.”
See the trailer below.