Hot Docs

Hot Docs Review: The Sparks Brothers (Edgar Wright, 2021)

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The duo of Russell and Ron Mael, better known as Sparks, have certainly made their mark on music history. Always creative, always challenging themselves to go off in new, different, and often unusual directions (or does new, different, and unusual just come naturally to them?), Sparks have delighted fans over the course of their lengthy career. Among those fans is Edgar Wright, and in The Sparks Brothers, Wright has managed to capture the essence of the duo’s quirky style in a thorough (and thoroughly entertaining) portrait.

The film features extensive interviews with the Mael brothers as well as commentary from a wide range of musicians, actors, writers, and comedians on the band’s significance. And I do mean a wide range – where else will you find the likes of Erasure, Jack Antonoff, Mike Myers, Patton Oswalt, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Flea, and “Weird Al” all espousing on the same topic in one film? The director himself even appears on screen for a bit, billing himself as simply “Edgar Wright, Superfan.”

Whether you’re a superfan or a Sparks neophyte, The Sparks Brothers is a delightful look at the career of a truly unique and wholly original band.

The Sparks Brothers is currently streaming as part of the Hot Docs festival.

Hot Docs Review: FANNY: The Right to Rock (Bobbi Jo Hart, 2021)

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“Just about every single interview we did, the opening question was, ‘Well, how does it feel to be a girl playing an instrument?’ And, you know, Jesus, did you do any research?”

So says Fanny bassist and singer Jean Millington at one point during Fanny: The Right to Rock and while women in rock music have definitely come a long way since Fanny’s heyday, what’s striking is that that women in bands are most certainly still being asked that question to this day. Sigh.

Fanny: The Right to Rock is a compelling and heartwarming portrait of a band that broke a lot of ground in the 1960s and ’70s, made a bit of an impact and won over a lot of people at the time, and who to this day still have a lot of big names championing them. But for various reasons (sexism, racism, homophobia), the band never quite did have the impact that they probably should have.

Featuring interviews with the likes of Kate Pierson (The B-52’s), Kathy Valentine (The Go-Go’s) and Joe Elliott (Def Leppard) singing the band’s praises, the film takes a deep dive into the band’s progression throughout their career, from their origins as the first all woman band to sign to a major label to their attempt to relaunch their career with reunion album Fanny Walked The Earth.

Director Bobbi Jo Hart makes a good case for the band’s legacy as trailblazers and while the band never did quite reach the heights that they could have, this film just might help to open up their music to a wider audience. And rightfully so, since Fanny absolutely rocks.

Fanny: The Right to Rock is currently available to stream through

Hot Docs Review: American Factory (Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert, 2019)

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A failing automobile factory is on the verge of going under, only to be saved by an Asian investor, after which culture clashes, of course, ensue. If this sounds like the plot of the 1987 Ron Howard directed film Gung Ho, you’re not wrong, but it’s also the story of American Factory. Except in this case, there’s no plucky, wisecracking lead character played by Michael Keaton coming in to ultimately save the day. No, real life is more complicated than that.

American Factory tells the story of a Dayton, Ohio based GM plant that is converted into a factory for Chinese owned company Fuyao Glass, thus saving many jobs. Of course the story doesn’t end there. Aside from the obvious cultural clashes, the real issues begin once it becomes clear that the differences run a little deeper, with problems specifically arising once the workers decide that they need to unionize, something to which management is completely opposed.

Featuring in depth, honest interviews with those from both sides of this conflict, the film presents a fascinating look at the issue. A clash between labour and management is not a new story by any means, but as told by directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert in American Factory, it’s a very compelling one.

Sat, May 4, 6:00 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre
Sun, May 5, 4:15 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Hot Docs Preview: Gaza (Garry Keane, Andrew McConnell, 2018)

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Gaza has long been the site of much conflict and unrest, but while it’s one thing to see reports in the news of what’s happening there, it’s hard for many to imagine what it would be like to actually live through it all. In Gaza, directors Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell focus on the people of Gaza and their daily lives from their own perspectives.

While the film certainly doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality of daily life in Gaza, it’s not the sole focus either. That reality is unavoidable and always hanging like a spectre over everything, but the directors choose instead to focus for much of the film on the lives of its various residents, ranging from young children to aspiring musicians to a taxi driver and many more. Despite the hardships they may face, the vast majority of those profiled in the film try to focus on the positive aspects of their lives rather than dwell on the negative.

Though the filmmakers don’t really spend much time on the political aspects of life in Gaza, that likely wasn’t one of their main goals while making the film anyways. Rather, the focus on the human element shows us a unique look at a side of life in the region that is not often seen.

Tue, Apr 30, 6:00 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Wed, May 1, 3:45 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre
Fri, May 3, 3:45 PM @ Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema