Hot Docs

Hot Docs Review: Seth’s Dominion (2015, Luc Chamberland)

Posted on by jessica in Hot Docs | Leave a comment


Seth has become a prolific face of Canadian comic art; a face that connects a glasses and top hat-donned head to a trench coat-covered body with a tie. The Drawn & Quarterly darling is known for his comics, graphic novels, cardboard city Dominion and recent illustration work with Lemony Snicket.

Seth’s Dominion captures the man’s nostalgic personality from the shots of him discussing himself under a warm golden spotlight, his pretend old-timey video footage of walking along train tracks and through the woods, him acting out handmade puppet-like plays and animated shorts of his stories. Each part is cinematically beautiful, and brings fresh life to his work, but combined it does leave a slight sense that he directed the documentary on himself, not someone else. “There’s something really valuable about doing art for yourself,” he says. Fair enough.

Seth draws lines between his work processes and his inspirations. He’s been fixated on telling his parents’ stories besides his own. His childhood has made a big visual and emotional impact on him. “Memory is a blueprint of sensation,” he says. It’s clear he’s a very sensitive person, which is good for a skilled storyteller. As he’s grown, he’s made his environment his art project – he’s made everything around him into something special, including his wife’s barber shop.

If you haven’t checked out any of Seth’s work yet, you will want to by the end of this documentary.

Seth’s Dominion screens again on Thursday, Apr 30 @ 9:45 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 8

Hot Docs Review: How to Change the World (Jerry Rothwell, 2015)

Posted on by Gary in Everything, Hot Docs | Leave a comment

I’m not an activist of any kind. I’ve never known Greenpeace to be anything other than Greenpeace International. In my defence, it was literally before my time. But given that man-made environmental and ecological issues are the defining dilemma of this generation just like the A- and H-bombs were in the 50s for the baby bombers (sorry, boomers), it really can’t be brushed aside easily. Compounding that, my lack of any inkling as to the origins of Greenpeace implies a multiversal divide in my intellectual curiosity that I still debate whether to accept. Along came this documentary to the rescue: and it’s perfect. Who better to introduce Our Home and Native species of “flora” and “fauna” than a British filmmaker, now at the “point-of-no-return” as we head toward the global meltdown that few heeded 40 years ago?

Greenpeace started with hippies. And substances. And transcendence. But the origin was far closer to home than I had imagined. In the 1970s, draft-dodgers from the US coalesced with a rampant social movement, rediscovered nature awareness, drugs, rock music and mysticism in Vancouver to form a maelstrom of… laid-back Canadian hippies. From this swirling solution of perfectly random, normal people, a nucleation event began to occur around the Vancouver Sun journalist Bob Hunter. At first it was a reactionary act toward the nuclear bomb test at Amchitka which grew the nucleus, calling itself Greenpeace. Then came the active effort to save the whales aboard and seals at home, which established a self-sustaining growth along different crystal planes. And when the rest of the world saw and realized: “wait a minute, we’re all in the same solution!” So other nucleation events occurred and dozens of equally galling Greenpeace hippie groups spawned abiotically. And then they all had the same thought: “Wait another minute, we’re not some mindless molecules, we’re people! We can’t be the same!” And so the activism turned inward, cresting into a power struggle. Meanwhile, Bob Hunter was encased suffocatingly in an organization that he believed was no longer primarily focused on their real, ecological/environmental mission, and disappointed that people with the same lofty goals can’t/won’t play together. But eventually, the film halts the negativity and screeches toward a warm (pun-intended) ending.

After Greenpeace, Bob Hunter (NOT his namesake who’s an executive for Toronto Raptors/FC/Maple Leaf) went on to CityTV in Toronto, and reported on ecological issues for the remainder of his life. His voice (well, words from his writings) bonded the film together seamlessly. Whether by design or by necessity of the content, Rothwell’s use of that narration receded as this legacy film progressed, working beautifully in parallel with Hunter’s bowing out and retreat from the eco-movement’s power-center. The film carries the spirit of Greenpeace’s late co-founder with clasping hand in gentle march toward the shining seas of greater tomorrow. I say that without the mockery that I generally hold for mystics and hippies. Not only is the film well edited as a historic review of the origins of the Greenpeace organization, it was careful to also impart lessons that all past events have the potential to illuminate and provoke. Chief among them, how will we shepherd this even more fragile environment that we now have, as “sovereign” nations of people with wholly different needs, traditions, and aspirations? The lesser instructives include: should you change your name and appearance to match Tolkien characters? (Answer: Yes. “Walrus Oakenbough” sounds badass and tree-hugging at the same time). Or, must you become silver-haired to look like you gave life your best shot? (Answer: Not really, but it certainly adds gravitas). Speaking of “silver-haired hippie Canadian environmentalist,” at one point in the film a thought came to mind: “where is David Suzuki?” If you want more proof that the visceral hate between climate-change deniers like Patrick Moore (another Greenpeace co-founder) and other environmentalists plays out like a bad family feud, rest assured it is still alive. I’ll leave the left-right-center political conundrum and the position of the Edmonton Sun/News within that totem pole to your imagination.

How to Change the World will be screened again Monday April 27, at 9:30PM in Bloor Cinema. Go and see if you can put together how saving whales and damaging the Nazca lines are related.

HotDocs Review: Sacro GRA [Gianfranco Rosi, 2014]

Posted on by Gary in Everything, Hot Docs, Reviews | Leave a comment


Can you imagine a film about Rome without views of the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Square, The Trevi fountain, and all those other iconic splendors? Now you won’t have to imagine. Sacro GRA gives you a window into the abandoned and run-down outskirts of the Eternal City.

The Grande Raccordo Anulare, or GRA, is one of the most important transport arteries in Rome. But given its purpose, it is situated equidistant from everything, which simultaneously means that it is close to nothing. This is probably why neighborhoods near the GRA are filled with the marginalized, the downtrodden, and the esoteric. Normal people need not apply. Sacro GRA aerates the nuanced and interesting snapshots of GRA residents like Radiolab strings together stories around a central idea or word. There is something I’m wondering, though. I can make puns around circles and straight lines all day, but it wouldn’t help resolve why this film left a bigger resonance with me than Pipeline did. The setup is very similar. The lengths weren’t very different either. The one thing that does come to mind is… BECAUSE IT MAKES ME… HAPPY.
There is something about finding defining moments of beauty in all things presumed ugly, versus confirming ugliness. Maybe I’m just an optimist. No matter where you are on the happiness spectrum, find this and give it a try.

Hot Docs: The Sheik [Igal Hecht, 2014]

Posted on by Gary in Hot Docs | Leave a comment


No. I have never been AAU champion, nor world champion. I also don’t have the pecs to label people “jabroni”. This is partially because wrestling (the TV flavor) has never been interesting to me. Even if it wasn’t entirely fake and true physical skill and endurance is needed to perform in the ring, the loud, jock attitude has always been such a turn off that I never cared what the Rock was cooking. Because, unlike trash-talking, the physicality can’t be sustained for long. A day will come when the strength fails, and then the wrestler will have nothing. The Sheik showed that your strength may fail, but the mind can still propel you forward. Or was the propulsion coming from the mouth full of filth? I can’t tell the difference.

The Sheik tells the story of Khosrow Vaziri, an Iranian immigrant who became known as The Iron Sheik in the professional wrestling arena during the 80s. One of the best known “heels”, or bad-guys, the Iron Sheik character helped propel the WWF forward and is responsible for facilitating the “Hulkamania” frenzy that followed in the 90s. But since his heyday, his health and family relations has been declining sharply. Faced with many crippling problems, it’s up to the Sheik himself and those who love him to repair the damage and get back up before the final count.

Let’s be honest – this is an entertaining but conspicuously promotional documentary. Whether by the conscious decision of the producers/managers to patronize wrestling fans or mock the antics of the wrestling world, the film is over-the-top and self-aggrandizing. Also, as the title correctly suggests, it’s not exactly a wrestling doc. In fact, they couldn’t obtain WWF footage to showcase The Iron Sheik during his glory days. One thing that is authentic to pro wrestling is the ring-speak, or as The Rock puts it, “shit-talkery”, that spills over into the film and real-life. This even happened during the Q/A session, where the Sheik ended every answer with “I’m number one give me hands” as if the boomer grannies, Gen-X dads and their progeny were stand-in for boozed fans with folding chairs. None of this, however, stopped the filmmakers from conveying a beautiful and noteworthy struggle. Is the Sheik now a good, babyface role model? I can’t say for certain. Please let me know when someone quits the pain-soothing crack cold-turkey at 75 after a lifetime of toil. Should you watch it? As a Torontonian, just hearing The Iron Sheik threaten Rob Ford with the f**king Camel Clutch should be worth the entry fee. The happy ending is just icing on the cake.

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