Hot Docs

Hot Docs Review: Miss Sharon Jones! [2016, Barbara Kopple]

Posted on by Ricky in Hot Docs | Leave a comment

Miss Sharon Jones!

Not so much a music doc as it is a triumphant look at the human spirit, Miss Sharon Jones! is a heartwarming tale of the incomparable Sharon Jone’s fight with cancer, which occurred a few years ago.

Directed by Barbara Kopple, the documentary follows Sharon Jones from the onset of her illness to her recovery stage, mixing in live music footage, talking heads and an observational style. The documentary mostly assumes that you are aware of who Sharon Jones is (even if most of the regular day people she encounters does not) and doesn’t really delve into her musical journey from wedding singer to Daptones MVP. Still, those who are fans of her will delight in the fact that Sharon Jones is as much a fighting spirit off the stage as she is on the stage.

As you watch the Sharon Jones battle cancer, you can’t help but feel a sense of joy when she overcomes the illness and goes back to what she loves doing most – performing. The film, as you would expect, is soundtracked by the music of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and the songs are carefully chosen, lending extra weight to some of the lyrics of the songs that accompany the journey.

A splendid film.

Miss Sharon Jones! plays this upcoming week at Hot Docs Cinema, click here for more details.

Hot Docs review: After Circus (2015, Viveka Melki)

Posted on by Paul in Hot Docs | Leave a comment


The circus is generally seen by many as a world of wonder, a place where we can be entertained by performers engaging in acrobatics, feats of strength, and various acts of derring-do. But what becomes of those performers when they get too old to keep performing? Where do they go when it’s time to call it quits?

After Circus takes a look at the community of retired (or semi-retired) circus performers based in Sarasota, Florida, the circus capital of the world.  Going in, I wasn’t certain what to expect, and thought that this might be a doc along the lines of Beyond The Mat, Barry Blaustein’s 1999 look at the lives of pro wrestlers. Thankfully, this film isn’t too much of a downer and generally takes a more lighthearted, sentimental look at it’s subjects’ lives, though it does touch on some of the realities of life after the circus and the struggle with issues such as health concerns, where to live, and how they’ll take care of themselves as they reach old age.

Even though most of the performers we see onscreen are no longer able to perform as they once could, each of them look back fondly on their experiences and seem to hold no regrets over their time in the circus. After Circus presents a heartwarming and slightly bittersweet look at people who are still loving that circus life.

After Circus screens again on Saturday, May 7 at 1:00pm at Scotiabank Theatre 13.

Hot Docs/CMW Review: Aim For The Roses (2016, John Bolton)

Posted on by Paul in Canadian Music Week, Hot Docs | Leave a comment


Aim For The Roses is a story about obsession. It’s a common theme for filmmakers, though director John Bolton takes an uncommon approach in his film, which is fitting since the subjects of Aim For The Roses each have rather uncommon passions and uncommon approaches to life. In a way, it’s the story of one man’s obsession with another man’s obsession.

Aim For The Roses tells the story of Mark Haney, a Vancouver musician described by friends and associates in the film as “kind of a renaissance man” who “wears interesting suits” as well as “a monomaniacal, obsessive character.” Amongst Haney’s many obsessions (which also include a passion for Archie Comics) is his fascination with Canadian daredevil Ken Carter, who made a bit of a name for himself in the 1970s and ’80s through various stunts and who apparently considered himself to be greater than Evel Knievel. We see Carter’s story unfold through some archival footage as well as dramatized segments playing out in conjunction with the story of Haney’s decision to create his own double bass concept album (also entitled Aim For The Roses) based around Carter’s life story.

It’s an intriguing and entertaining look at Haney’s creative process and inspirations, which include the creation of various characters to represent different elements of Carter’s story as well as composing a musical representation of the first 499 digits of Pi to run throughout the score. He definitely seems like an interesting character, though his quirks are perhaps topped by those of Ken Carter. After all, it takes a certain type of person to willingly risk his life multiple times for the sake of making, in Carter’s own words, “the ultimate statement.” Ultimately, Aim For The Roses is about the quest to make something more of yourself and the journey one must go through to make that ultimate statement.

Hot Docs Review: The Pearl of Africa [2016, Jonny von Wallström]

Posted on by Ricky in Hot Docs | Leave a comment


A gorgeously shot film that is more style over substance, The Pearl of Africa follows the journey of Cleopatra Kambugu, a transgender woman living in Uganda, a country with heavily punitive anti-LGBT laws. Cleopatra is outed publicly and has to leave her country. We follow her and her boyfriend to Thailand as she seeks and undergoes gender confirmation surgery. The director of the film was a former cinematographer and the quality of the film really highlights that. The lighting on each shot was thrilling and at times you could convince yourself that you were watching a music video. As stylish as this was, the film fails to provide some basic information that viewer would wish to know, including:

- How did Cleopatra get outed by a tabloid?
– What did she do for a living? How did they afford to go to Thailand?
– How did they make it back to Africa?

Apparently this documentary was put together from a series of web-documentaries, so perhaps something was missed in the editing stage. The topic is fascinating; I just wish there was more information for this story, which deserves to be told.

For screening times, go here

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