hot docs

Hot Docs: Mistaken For Strangers [2013, Tom Berninger]

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mistaken for strangers

A rock documentary that’s not really quite one, Mistaken for Strangers is really a film about sibling dynamic/rivalries, the film making process and overcoming your very worst own enemies. We all know The National, the indie rock band from Cincinnati (now Brooklyn) that has taken the long road to success. Finally showing some mainstream success with 2010’s High Violet, the band seems to finally made its way to stadium sized crowds echelon of success. The leader of the band is Matt Berninger, the moody baritone singer of the group. He has a brother, ten years his junior and has this kinda Garden State what the hell am I doing with my life vibe to him. Through either love or pity, Matt invites him out to be a roadie for the band and in turn, Tom decides to make a documentary from it. Mistaken For Strangers is that documentary.

In the 90 minutes that follow, we will see a lot of things that would make a checklist of most rock docs, including

tour footage
backstage footage
band members goofing off
lots of shots in random cities
shots of band members sleeping

The thing that separates Mistaken For Strangers from the rest is the fact that it’s really not about the National, it’s actually about Tom Berninger. His relationship with his brother is clearly not strong (“I didn’t know you had never been to Europe” muses Matt in one scene) and as the tour progresses their relationship is pushed to the limits. Tom struggles to cope with his brother’s success and his own lack of direction/self control. There are blow ups and arguments and the documentary takes a surprising turn. In the end, what we get is an honest heartfelt film that deals with issues that most of us can identify with, only as an additional bonus, we get the benefit to peer into the lives of a beloved band as well.

Tue, Apr 30 9:15 PM @ The Royal Cinema
Thu, May 2 11:59 PM @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Sun, May 5 4:00 PM @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Hot Docs: Shooting Bigfoot [2013, Morgan Matthews]

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A documentary where you seem to have a perma smile on your face as you are watching, Shooting Bigfoot is an fun look at the chase for the elusive big foot.

Through the eyes of director Morgan Matthews, we meet three groups of people who have made it their life mission to capture Bigfoot (and profit from it). The people we meet are all blessed with colorful personalities which adds to the entertainment level of the film. Each of them have claimed to encounter the mythical creature and each of them are dedicated to being the first to find and capture bigfoot.

Part of the fun of this documentary is trying to figure out if any of the people we encounter are legit in terms of wanting to find Bigfoot or just trying to make a buck off this phenomenon (and this documentary). It is definitely a film where you have to question every word or action that the bigfoot hunters say and it is thoroughly entertaining to see the director provoke the hunters with questions.

Each of the hunts lead the director Morgan Matthews into the woods, and the latter part of the film somehow take on an almost Blair Witch feel, complete with the director’s own obvious discomfort in the woods. Having made his subject’s uncomfortable in the earlier part of the film with probing questions about each subjects legitimacy, it’s interesting to see the tables turn as the hunters take him into the woods in almost complete darkness and watch what unfolds.

The documentary also highlights some extreme cases of urban poverty as well as how easily it is to get high powered ammunition.

Overall, a lighthearted and enjoyable film that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Tue, Apr 30 8:29 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Wed, May 1 11:58 PM @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Fri, May 3 9:30 PM @ The Royal Cinema

Ricky’s Hot Docs Preview Extravaganza

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It’s the end of April.

You know what that means.

It’s Hot Docs time!

Easily my favorite film festival of the year, Hot Docs once again brings an unmatched selection of documentaries from near and far, featuring some of the best that documentaries have to offer. I get so inspired by documentaries that I actually took a documentary directing class last year. That’s no lie. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy as following someone around someone with the camera, so I kind of backed off for that…for now. My failures aside, there are a lot of talented filmmakers out there seeking to tell stories. Real stories. For real people. Like you.

Take some time these next two weeks and check out some films. Here are some of our suggestions!

Mistaken For Strangers
Tue, Apr 30 9:15 PM @ The Royal Cinema
Thu, May 2 11:59 PM @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Sun, May 5 4:00 PM @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

This documentary from Tom Berninger is known as “The National” documentary, but really, it’s about sibling rivalries, the film making process and fighting your inner demons. The fact that it features a lot of tour footage of the National, and a lot of personal interactions with Matt Berninger is an additional bonus. It’s a fascinating documentary and one that deserves your time.

Rent a Family

Sun, Apr 28 9:00 PM @ Scotiabank 4
Tue, Apr 30 1:00 PM @ The ROM Theatre
Sun, May 5 1:00 PM @ Scotiabank 3

Japan’s weird, man. I had first hand experience there last year on my month long journey in Asia. Japan is also fascinating. I’m surprised there’s not a bazillion documentaries about it. There is, however, Rent a Family, a documentary about a man whose business is to pretend to be your husband, brother, grandfather, coworker or whatever it is you need at the time. His goal is to make other people happy, meanwhile, his family is falling apart at the seams. An intriguing look at an intriguing man.

Big Men
Thu, May 2 9:00 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Fri, May 3 8:00 PM @ Hart House Theatre
Sun, May 5 11:00 AM @ Isabel Bader Theatre

Oil! Africa! Together! It’s two hot topics converged into one extremely well balanced film. Following the lives of several groups upon the discovery of oil in Ghana, Big Men gives us a taste of what’s at stake and who are the “big men” that are after this valuable resource. We will meet slick Texas business men, Nigerian militants, back room New York money lenders and honest men just looking out for their country. An intriguing look at one of the most controversial industries out there.

Tales From the Organ Trade
Sun, Apr 28 7:00 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre
Mon, Apr 29 1:00 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Thu, May 2 4:00 PM @ Scotiabank 4

Speaking of hot topics. Organ Trade! Who’s selling? Who’s buying? Who’s operating? This film lays it all out for us. Narrated by David Cronenberg, this high budget documentary introduces us to all players of this nefarious black market trade and almost makes a case that it benefits everyone. Watch it and decide.

Shooting Bigfoot
Tue, Apr 30 8:29 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Wed, May 1 11:58 PM @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Fri, May 3 9:30 PM @ The Royal Cinema

Sometimes you need to take a step back from all the documentaries about poverty, abuse, famine and all things depressing. Shooting Bigfoot is that documentary. The film follows three different groups of bigfoot trackers as they try to track down and capture this elusive beast. Hilarity ensues. Also, you will have your mind blown at how easily these people are able to acquire high power rifles.

In reality, any documentary you watch at Hot Doc will be good. So go out and check it out.

Hot Docs Review: The Invisible War [Kirby Dick, 99 Minutes, USA, 2012]

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There are many types of documentaries at a film festival.

There are documentaries about interesting stories, interesting people, a particular place in time and even particular places.

There are also documentaries about stories that need to be told.

The Invisible War is one of these stories.

Directed by famed documentary maker Kirby Dick, The Invisible War is a grim look at what should be considered an epidemic in the United States – the absurdly high rates of sexual assault in the military. The numbers are startling (1 in 5 female veterans reported sexual assault) and as the film painstakingly points out through a series of talking heads, it’s an issue that reaches across all branches of military and has been an issue for decades.The impact these assaults have on their victims is devastating. It is one of those documentaries that you watch and are constantly thinking WTF.

The Invisible War is a focused documentary that does a great job pointing out a problem and identifying a potential solution. I thought that Kirby Dick did a great job of resisting the temptation to pull it back a little and covering a lot more angles (and perhaps lessening the impact of the subject at hand). The result is a shocking look at one of the most powerful organizations in the world.