hot docs

Gary’s Hot Docs 2010 Primer

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


Toronto – The 17th annual Hot Docs (much more enticing a title than “Canadian International Documentary Festival”) is just around the bend. Since Toronto is our main base of operation, panicmanual would be very ignorant if we spend the next week dillydallying in the sun at Harbourfront while other people engage their brains with current, worthwhile and beautiful imagery and sounds. Which is why we’re NOT. Watch out for previews and reviews from us that will give you a helping hand in choosing from the 171 flavours that Hot Docs has to offer. Here’s a list of films that I think will be interesting (see links to the respective sites or visit Hot Docs for showtimes. Like TIFF’s during its peak, the loading can tax patience):

Bhutto – A biographical sketch of the recently assassinated, former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto. From the hippie movement of peace and love to counter-terrorism in modern Pakistan, witness how the politics reared Bhutto, and how it all relates to the rest of the world.

Made in India – Unable to foot the US$100,000 bill for a surrogate mother, a Texas couple move to the reproductive economy of India for a cheaper option. Ethics and political issues abound, this film might also shine light into the psychology and natural selection of our species… hopefully.

Wasteland – Artist Vik Muniz travels to the outskirts of Rio de janeiro. His project: building social conscious pieces of art with nothing but another man’s garbage and the help of “pluckers” – men and women whose living depends on picking out recyclables. This might make you think the next time you throw out that Starbucks paper cup.

Grace Milly Lucy… child soldiers – The story of three Ugandan women on being transformed into killing machines and wives for rebel commanders. Their role as activists in the community promises to be an interesting psychological portrait. (Actually, see Ricky’s preview just below!)

House of Suh – A loyal and promising young man murders his sister’s boyfriend and shocks a whole community.

The Rainbow Warriors of Waiheke island – By telling the story of how Green peace’s famous ship and its crew came to rest on the New Zealand island in their old age, we take a closer look at what was a social movement and what is now a multinational entity. How should protests and environmental “injustices” be dealt with in the face of other, more broad-reaching forces?

Casino Jack and the United States of Money – How does a Republican lobbyist rise to and fall from power? This film goes through the paces and tries to convince you that even playwright can’t do better than real life, American politics.

Human Terrain – This film exposes the counter-insurgency program of its namesake. Is it an academic study of social interactions and how best to approach other cultures, or a intelligence program geared towards the exploitation of these “best practices” for military ends?

Kings of Pastry – A documentary on the mouth-watering creations from chefs at the pastry olympics Meilleur Ouvrier, also held every 4 years. It’s no iron chef, but the concentration and devotion is arguably more intense.

The Corporation – Corporations are legal entities. What are they like, as a “person”? Do they visit their grannies with pies or let the dogs poo all over the neighbour’s lawn? This is an old documentary, but I haven’t seen it and its message may be ever more poignant in the face of the recent economic crisis.

Well. That’s my shortlist – add and subtract as necessary. See you around the cinema!

Hot Docs Review: Leave Them Laughing [2010, John Zaritsky]

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

After the disappointment of the very cardboard documentary about the Magnetic Fields, I switched gears entirely to Leave Them Laughing, a documentary featuring one-woman entertainment machine (and Canadian) Carla Zilbersmith. A lead singer, comedienne, actress, teacher, and mother, her rapid deterioration to Lou Gehrig’s Disease sucks you in. In the first few minutes of the film I had written her off as a saucier, iller Rita Rudner but there are truly funny and genuine moments in this doc, regardless of how cliched they are.

Again, I reiterate that the reason this film (somewhat) works is because of Zilbersmith’s willingness to bear it all on camera. Her greatest fears seem real, her relationship with her son is unique, and even her most gaggingly “Bucket List” moments engage us. She has a wicked sense of humor throughout, peppered inbetween a horribly long-running routine about her world condom collection.

35% of the film features  nauseating triteness. There’s the bitter divorce routine (her husband left her for a 20-something before she was diagnosed) where she tosses her wedding ring into the ocean with a bunch of girlfriends, the “I need to have sex too” routine (which I admit sounded a little too close to home),  the tender moments with the teenage son who’s taking care of her (“life isn’t fair but don’t let this disappointing moment define you”), and her last bow routine (during her final live musical performance).

There are a couple of moments that surprised me.  Most notably her tongue-in-cheek trek to the Holy Land Experience, where she jokingly wants to present the Jesus performer with a heart shaped box of chocolates and a seasonal teddy bear, only to break down in tears when the Sheppard Girl is so touched by her story she fails to pick up on the joke. There is also her hilarious blog, which her son now updates. It seems Carla is on her last leg, and her ability to laugh at herself while calling herself a dried out cripple is pretty admirable.

Leave Them Laughing is co-presented with ALS Society of Ontario and is showing on:

Thu, May 06 9:15 pm, Isabel Bader Theatre
Sat, May 08 3:15 pm, Bloor Cinema

Hot Docs Review: Strange Powers: Stephin Merrit and the Magnetic Fields [2010, Kerthy Fix and Gail O’Hara]

Posted on by Allison in Hot Docs, Reviews | 2 Comments

While watching Strange Powers: Stephin Merrit and the Magnetic Fields, I was reminded of the following Seinfeld moment:

RUSSELL: No stories? So, what is it?

GEORGE: What’d you do today?

RUSSELL: I got up and came to work.

GEORGE: There’s a show. That’s a show.

RUSSELL: (Confused) How is that a show?

JERRY: Well, uh, maybe something happens on the way to work.

GEORGE: No, no, no. Nothing happens.

JERRY: Well, something happens.

RUSSELL: Well, why am I watching it?

GEORGE: Because it’s on TV.

http://www.wiretotheear.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/10/the_magnetic_fields.jpg

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Magnetic Fields. I credit them, and specifically Stephin Merrit, as a legitimate grandfather of this phenomenon sweepingly known as “indie rock”. They were college radio before indie rock was even suckling at its teet. All of the coolest kids I knew in high school were listening to 69 Love Songs back in the mid-late 90’s and the one uberhip friend I had (and am still friends with today) was telling me about them before they were on any music journalist’s radar.

Here is the problem I have with Strange Powers: it is a band documentary for the sake of being a band documentary, and just when you think it starts digging deeper into the more interesting personalities (Merrit himself comes across as dually witty and incredibly boring) and relationships (band manager and co-collaborator Claudia Gonson is Merrit’s surrogate mother slash non-sexual life partner), there is pullback into a stage performance, or a sudden pan to cable-access type staging around collections of the band’s CD’s. I continuously got this overwhelming sense that there were interesting stories to tell that the filmmakers hadn’t fully uncovered.

Best stories that they barely scratched the surface on:

  • Sam Davol (cellist) and John Woo (banjo, guitar) are revealed to be something of the equivalent to session musicians in the band; Sam talks about this honestly for a bit, but ultimately holds back–I felt they didn’t do these gentlemen justice with their interviews.
  • Stephin’s non-existent relationship with his folk singer father, Scott Fagan (whom to this day, he has never even met)

Too much:

  • Claudia and Stephin’s relationship is interesting in that they have been close friends since high school, but unfortunately even their bickering is dull
  • Extraordinarily ordinary concert footage
  • Incorporation of the fact that Merrit is gay – when the only “significant other” featured can only add that “when you’re in a relationship with Stephin you’re in a relationship with Claudia” (cue the Will & Grace theme song), why even feature it?
  • Literal cataloging of the creative musical process — as fun as it sounds to watch brilliant musicians jot down notes and lyrics, I’d rate it as being about as engaging as watching Chia seeds sprout (with the seeds marginally winning)

Overall, I’d say that without a keen eye for creative research, a documentary about someone as private as Merrit is pointless. This is not to say that there weren’t intriguing stories that the filmmakers told, most notably about the accusations against Stephin being a “pretentious racist cracker” and some priceless footage captured on AM Atlanta in which the cheery male host attempts to engage him only to elicit mildly funny one-word answers.

Stephin Merrit may be many things: Brilliant wordsmith, college radio hero, NYC icon, well-read and educated, charmingly depressing, but at the end of the day, a documentary subject who is unwilling to open the doors to a director is better left unprodded.

Hot Docs Review: Dish: Women, Waitressing & The Art of Service [2010, Maya Gallus]

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

Toronto – Whereas March is a time of music festivals and bbqs, April is a time for one thing – documentaries. Once again, for the 17th year in a row, April brings us Hot Docs, a Canadian International Documentary festival that features around 150 documenataries from around the world. It starts on April 29th and runs until May 9th. Tickets are probably on sale now, so get off yo ass and book it. I love documentaries. They often tell me stories about people I either don’t think about or know or care about. I like additional knowledge, you never know when you need it. Maybe in a time of war. I don’t know. I’m rambling.

My first documentary is one called Dish, a Canadian documentary by Maya Gallus that examines waitresses in the service industry. Featuring a variety of waitresses young and old from restaurants all around the world (including Tokyo, Toronto, Montreal and Paris), the documentary examines what it’s like to be a waitress, why some of the women there chose the profession and some challenges they face.

I found this documentary to be fascinating. As someone who often eats out, it was interesting to see what it’s like from the waitresses point of view. It’s amazing to see how many different types of waitresses there are, from the comfortable homey types at truck stops, to the big tittied flirty types at Hooters to the crazy weird maid/servant types in Japan. Every waitress reveals some insight into their work – how you deal with aggressive males, how to deal with couples, how to deal with colleagues.. all the things you never think about when going to a restaurant. I’d list some, but I don’t really want to give anything away – I’ll just say some of the information revealed makes you go ‘hmm, never thought about that…’. It’s interesting.

As a documentary focusing solely on women in the service industry, I found this documentary to be excellent. The interest level never drops, the stories are well balanced and never drags and you get many different point of views. Also, if you are in Toronto, then you’ll be wondering where the hell the George Street Diner is. Go watch it.

* It’s probably best to not see this film on an empty stomach, you will get hungry.

World Premiere at Hot Docs
April 30 – The Bloor – 9:15pm – 506 Bloor St. W.
May 8 – The Royal – 1:30pm – 608 College St.

Running Time: 70 Minutes

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