Hot Docs

Film Review: The Winding Stream (2014, Beth Harrington)

Posted on by Paul in Hot Docs, Movies | Leave a comment

The Winding Stream is a charming and informative look into the lives and careers of The Carter Family, from their humble origins to the great influence that they continue to have in the world of folk and country music. Their influence is made clear from the number of musicians interviewed for this doc, with the likes of Joe Ely, Jim Lauderdale, Murray Hammond, Mike Seeger, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Jeff Hanna of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band all offering up some words on the band’s history and significance. As Ely puts it, “People should know who they are just like they should know who the first president of the United States is.”

While the full title of the film is The Winding Stream: The Carters, The Cashes and the Course of Country Music, the film focuses mostly on the Carters. Not that the Cash family doesn’t play an important part – Roseanne and John Carter Cash as well as Johnny himself are featured in interviews throughout and one of the more memorable moments was watching Johnny speak sweetly about the first time he met and fell for June Carter – but this is largely the Carter Family’s story. And it is quite the story. Through interviews and some archival footage, their story unfolds – their first recording sessions, their rise to fame, and the effect it had on their lives (A.P. and Sara Carter eventually divorced). The film also touches on A.P. Carter’s savvy and somewhat opportunistic idea to travel around collecting old songs, which he would then pass off as his own for the sake of collecting royalties. Looking back at it now, it seems a little shady, though as Roseanne Cash points out, these songs would have faded into obscurity had he not done so.

The Winding Stream is a compelling look at one of the most important, influential groups in the history of country music and well worth watching for both the novice and the hardcore Carter Family fans.

The Winding Stream will be showing at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema until April 14.

Hot Docs Review: City of Gold (2016, Laura Gabbert)

Posted on by Ricky in Hot Docs | Leave a comment

cityofgold

City of Gold is a charming love letter to both the city of Los Angeles as well as Jonathan Gold, one of the most accomplished writers in the world of culinary writing. Known for weaving cultural stories around his food reviews, the documentary shows how Jonathan Gold’s writing has not only transformed food writing but also in many ways, the city of Los Angeles and it’s citizens. Watching the documentary, you realize that the democratic sense that Gold has in reviewing restaurants (treating food trucks with the same respect as high price restaurants) opened up the large and complicated city of Los Angeles to experience foods of all sorts. It’s hard to imagine a time when people didn’t go out of their way to eat some random taco at a dive bar, but that was pretty much the norm before this past decade. It would seem that Gold’s reviews had a huge influence on this movement.

As with any biographical documentary, the doc is only as interesting or charming as it’s protagonist and Jonathan Gold seems like a completely nice guy with an interesting and varied past (he also wrote about music for Rolling Stone before). In fact, the absence of any real conflict in his life actually provides a stark contrast to most documentaries. I’m not saying the film is lacking in drama, but with most doc’s, I kind of expect some sort of “AND THAT’S WHEN THE DRUG ADDICTION KICKED IN” part that never came.

The film features glorious shots of not only Los Angeles, but also, a lot of very tasty food being cooked. Be forewarned, that butter drenched popcorn you are holding while watching this will feel vastly inferior to what’s on the screen.

Overall, an enjoyable documentary that will make you rather hungry at the end.

Hot Docs Review: Magic Island [2015, Marco Amenta]

Posted on by Ricky in Hot Docs | Leave a comment

magicisland

In the world of reality tv, it’s easy to paint the children of celebrities as spoiled rich malcontents whose easy lives are the envy of all. Magic Island choses the show the opposite. Andrea Schiavelli is the son of Vincent Schiavelli, a great character actor who has played a part in many movies you saw in your youth. It is clear from the outset of the film that son and father did not have the best of relationships and this is a theme that is explored throughout the film. Vincent has since passed away and leaves something for his son…. in Sicily. The resulting documentary follows Andreas as he journeys back to his family origins, visiting all his fathers friends and family and facing the grim reality that he’ll never be well liked as his father as well as dealing with people who seemed to have a better relationship with his pop then he had. It’s a lot to take in and it’s what’s at the heart of this film.

The film features some lovely shots of life in Sicily and it was nice to see shots of a place I don’t know a lot about aside from mob movies. The story struggles at times because as the principle character, Andrea doesn’t come across as a very willing participant in the film at times and was not entirely engaging. It might be because of his reserved nature or the personal nature of the story. In a way it is refreshing because the film shows that movie stars can also have normal children with semi normal lives, a thought that rarely crosses our mind.

Hot Docs Review: On the Bride’s Side [Khaled Soliman Al Nassiry, Gabriele Del Grande, Antonio Augugliaro, 2015]

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

onthebridesside

If we have friends and countrymen who are down on their luck, we would certainly help however we can. But would you break the letters of the law to help?

That’s what several Italians did late November in 2013. Having been in war-torn Syria, they cultivated an affinity for the country, its people, and their plight. While 17 EU member states have apparently promised to help shelter Syrians fleeing the conflict, most take less than a passive role in accepting refugees, leaving them vulnerable to human traffickers, smugglers, and other illegal trades. The Italian journalists/activists decided that to do their part, they would host a sham wedding party and smuggle their Syrian friends across multiple borders, from Milan through France, Luxembourg, Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, and finally to Sweden, where the refugees apparently have the best chance. The documentarians follow the bridal party,
using stories of the Syrians’ escape, humiliating treatments at the hands of many officials, and their hopes and dreams to weave together a powerful statement, in the hopes of igniting a positive response from their governments and their people.

On the Bride’s side is a very poignant, but conflicting film to watch. It is so because it asks the audience to choose between two dark sides. The calculus here really isn’t about civil disobedience to advance justice (trust me it ain’t; I’m sitting in the middle of one right now with military choppers overhead). This is a much more intricate conflict between dreams and pragmatism. As the film progresses, one realizes that on the shoulders of the Syrians in the film, sit the hopes and burdens of their family and comrades deceased and living. Many carry survivor’s guilt, and are determined to make it for the memory of those they’ve lost. While the circumstances of their acceptance into some countries were debasing, it was far more crushing to realize that the promises they followed were hollow. Yet what the filmmakers are not able to show in their one-sided quest, is that everything has a cost. Would everything be better if others heed the call and repeat this bridal party trick in other guises 50,000 times? You don’t need high school algebra to understand that no country in the world, to say very little about the world itself, has an unlimited capacity to provide economic opportunities, cultural plasticity, and substantive compassion on the books, let alone off the books. While we celebrate the bridal party’s arrival in Sweden and their chance to realize their dreams, we should also realize that xenophobia isn’t reserved for bigots. People sympathetic to refugees can still develop a sense of injustice when their society become unbalanced by those who circumvented democratically vetted (we hope) immigration process. Obviously, many are willing (and have the luxury) to wait. At the beginning of the film, one of the refugees became an Italian citizen after 5 years, and the joy of finally having a solid support behind him was quite beautiful. Other aren’t, and some times can’t afford to be so patient. Obviously one hopes that films just like this will galvanize the public to demand higher quota and more humane treatments – and the filmmakers were prescient in that this indeed came to a head recently), but I think the socio-economics of immigration should not be lightly cast aside so that we can summit the nearest moral high-ground.