The Documentary Blog’s Hot Docs 2010 Recap

Hot Docs 2010 is officially over! Okay, so it’s been over for two weeks now. Better late than never though! We did manage to get a few reviews up while attending the festival, but as some of you may know, it’s tough to manage your time between seeing films and writing up reviews. How do the pros do it? Oh, right…money. Well we here at The Documentary Blog do it for the love of film! Having said that, there’s lots of love below the jump where you’ll find a shit load of capsule reviews from myself, Sean and Charlotte. But first, we’ll start things off with a collection of links to full reviews we’ve already written:

Teenage Paparazzo
The People vs. George Lucas
Gasland
Arsy-Versy
Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage
American: The Bill Hicks Story
The Invention of Dr Nakamats
12th & Delaware
The Oath
Secrets of the Tribe

And now for the rest of our reviews after the jump!

AND EVERYTHING IS GOING FINE

Directed by Steven Soderbergh
USA

Hot Docs Synopsis:

Spalding Gray is best remembered as a theatrical monologist who gained notoriety through his public displays of introspection. Director Steven Soderbergh, having collaborated with Gray in the documented monologue Gray’s Anatomy, once again shows a symbiotic understanding of Gray’s fragile genius. There are no new interviews or narration; this collage of archive materials is simply a chance for Gray to give one final monologue on the events of his life. The twist this time is the totality. The film is riveting as the artist’s posthumous autobiography, but as a contemplation on the value of a life analyzed to death, it is an invaluable and unprecedented experience. – Sarafina DiFelice

In And Everything is Going Fine Steven Soderbergh unsurprisingly has decided to break traditional conventions when it comes to creating a posthumous portrait. Devoid of interviews with friends and family or narration, he allows Spalding Gray to dictate the content himself through the candid monologues he was loved for. The film is entirely built from footage of his shows, interviews and home videos and the real progression in terms of story comes through his changing view points over time in his own words. Having enjoyed Soderbergh’s last documentary-of-sorts on the same man, Gray’s Anatomy I was intrigued as to the direction this film would take, especially considering Gray’s death in 2004. Despite my love of Soderbergh’s consideration when it comes to cinematography and colour within the majority of his films I wasn’t at all disappointed that this film is possibly most devoid of his presence as a director. Given the dominance of Gray’s personality and sheer volume of footage I didn’t feel that a lack of style created anything but a fitting, and respectful, eulogy to his two-time collaborator. I enjoyed that this wasn’t an exploration into Gray’s life, other than the anecdotes he chose to share with the world through his work, which seemed entirely appropriate considering memory was a recurring theme in his monologues. With no distinct timeline, the viewer is left to decide what was real and what was a distorted recollection and the context of this in his life and work. Death and suicide have always been a huge part of Gray’s work and I was expecting this to have been used as an exploration as to why he took his own life in 2004, but this is completely left out of the story entirely to the point that on leaving I wondered whether I was wrong about his death. I think the ommittance of this was the right choice as the film distinctly avoids making any assertions about Gray as a person in context with his life which was refreshing. At times I felt that I really just wanted to see his monologues in their entirety rather than the collage of footage presented but then perhaps that was the ultimate goal so that the film serves as a tool to create an appetite for Gray’s work for years to come, and if so it succeeds. — Charlotte

ANNE PERRY – INTERIORS

Directed by Dana Linkiewicz
Germany

Hot Docs Synopsis:

To all the world, Anne Perry is a bestselling crime writer of over 50 books with a legion of fans and worldwide sales of more than 25 million copies. But in 1994, the hit film Heavenly Creatures revealed a dark secret: her true identity as Juliet Hume, the teenager who helped brutally murder her best friend’s mother. For the first time, Perry allows cameras past the gates of her Scottish Highland home and into her equally guarded private thoughts. Filmmaker Dana Linkiewicz captures the routines of the writer and her fiercely loyal staff of three as they craft her murderous thrillers. But as tense conversations move ever closer to “the thing that happened,” a remarkable confession of the burdens of guilt unfolds. Anne Perry – Interiors is a thoroughly fascinating portrait of an artist haunted by an inescapable past. – Myrocia Watamaniuk

With an incredibly slow and evasive pace, Anne Perry – Interiors is a masterclass in creating a story around the elephant in the room. Set largely around Perry’s Scottish home we are introduced to her tight-knit team of friends and family who go to great lengths to support her professionally and emotionally. Now a successful crime writer this glimpse into her life shows how her past is ever present despite huge attempts on her part to ignore it. If you were hoping for a look into the psyche of a murderer you will be hugely disappointed, and I was extremely glad to find out this wasn’t the case. It’s a film that looks at the repercussions of childhood mistakes and how you try and mend something which can’t be fixed. The kindness and extreme patience of her friends, most notably her closest friend who lives opposite her, is incredibly touching. Everyone in her life rallies around and supports her while desperately wanting to talk to her about the murder. Anne is a charismatic and formidable character who easily holds your attention and as you see the pain and desperation for her to finally talk about her experience you begin to urge her to do so, which creates incredible tension and suspense. I found this film fascinating on many levels, and the different relationships she has are as telling as her own testimony. Through one on one interviews Anne lets snippets of her previous life come through but it’s always apparent what she is not saying. Using the film as a platform to finally confront Anne we join the desperate need of to find out what actually happened. — Charlotte

A MAN CAME AND TOOK HER

Directed by Jedrzej Niestroj and Rafal Przybyl
Poland

Hot Docs Synopsis:

When eight-year-old Ola goes missing from her quiet village in rural Poland, the community is instantly abuzz with gossip and rumours. A cacophony of hearsay provides the soundtrack. Cutaway shots of insects and clouds stand as silent witnesses. Grief-stricken, mom Dorota remains convinced her daughter is alive despite growing evidence to the contrary. She places her faith in fortune tellers, divination and swinging pendulums, indomitable in her hope. Once the police identify a suspect and a confession is made, Dorota must face the likelihood that her little girl is gone for good. A Man Came and Took Her is an accomplished study in doubt. The unthinkable and unknowable details of Ola’s abduction are set against the innocence of an idyllic country setting, a place where these kinds of things just don’t happen. A grisly look at small town insularity, senseless crime, and the shady divide between probability and possibility. – Angie Driscoll

I went into A Man Came and Took Her thinking this would be about a mother’s unconventional methods to try and find her kidnapped daughter. Finding out I was completely wrong was a welcome relief, but moreso was watching one of the most compelling and shocking crime documentaries I have seen in a long time. The film is an unbelievable whodunnit and has a level of disbelief and suspense reminiscent of Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s The Staircase. Ola seemingly vanished into thin air and the disappearance has shaken her tiny rural village. Gossip is rife and everyone seems to have a theory as to what happened. The film largely follows Ola’s mother Dorota as she turns detective and tries desperately to figure out what happened to her daughter. From psychics, to tarot cards and crystal healers, Dorota searches to find any clues as to whether Ola is alive, even if that means looking for answers in the supernatural. Finding some solace in her friends and neighbours there is an ever present seed of doubt as to their possible involvement and out of sheer fear she blames her husband, Ola’s father. When it appears that there are no answers to be found the story takes a shocking twist and a huge revelation throws everyone’s sense of trust and belief into doubt. Filmmakers Jedrzej Niestroj and Rafal Przybyl have crafted this story expertly and with each new revelation it is left completely open to interpretation leaving you to try and piece together the mystery yourself. Devoid of an sensationalism the entirely observational style allows you to see all angles of this complicated and disturbing story which grips you from beginning to end — Charlotte

CANDYMAN: THE DAVID KLEIN STORY

Directed by Costa Botes
New Zealand, USA

Candyman

Hot Docs Synopsis:

David Klein still believes you only need to be a genius for 15 minutes in order to be successful. This eccentric candy inventor’s once-in-a-lifetime epiphany came in 1976 with the idea for Jelly Belly jellybeans. The gourmet candy with realistic flavours revolutionized the industry and became a pop culture phenomenon. Jelly Belly has grown into a billion-dollar enterprise, but David’s unusual business decisions and shocking displays of altruism have left him deliberately erased from the company’s history with just a fraction of his potential earnings. Sweet and surprising, Candyman is a cautionary tale about a man who had to choose between a big idea and a bigger heart. – Sarafina DiFelice

The story is not an unfamiliar one: brilliant inventor gets taken for a ride by greedy businessmen and ends up losing out on a fortune. David Klein’s life may be one filled with regret and sadness, but his accomplishments still speak for themselves. After all, he introduced the world to Jelly Belly jellybeans… what’s not to appreciate? New Zealand filmmaker Costa Botes (Forgotten Silver) attempts to recognize the man’s brilliance and creativity after he was erased from the Jelly Belly history books with Candyman: The David Klein Story. Together they revisit his past, and in doing so explore the nature of the candy business in the late ’70s. Although the story is fairly straightforward and not as quirky or offbeat as one might hope, there is an unexpected emotional pull from Klein’s strained relationship with his son Bert, who must also come to terms with his dad’s victories and disappointments. — Sean

DAVID WANTS TO FLY

Directed by David Sieveking
Germany, Australia, Switzerland

David Wants to Fly

Hot Docs Synopsis:

In this riveting doc, Sieveking, looking for artistic inspiration, decides to take the advice of his filmmaking idol David Lynch and enter the world of transcendental meditation (TM). TM’s founder, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, came to Hollywood in the late 1950s, securing a great many prominent followers that included the Beatles and Mia Farrow. Sieveking participates in an expensive meditation training course, is given a personal mantra, and tries his best to fly like a yogi. But before long, an increasing number of inconsistencies emerge. The Indian guru’s organization is now an empire worth billions. When the Maharishi dies, a quarrel breaks out over his successor, and Lynch becomes one of the organization’s international ambassadors. Sieveking becomes determined to uncover the truth about TM, travelling to India and across the U.S., even when he claims he’s threatened with a lawsuit. Will his quest lead to enlightenment or to a bottomless pit of mystery? – Shannon Abel

The idea of meeting one’s hero is a dangerous one that could result in complete disillusionment and disappointment. With sites like TMZ simultaneously elevating and tearing down the concept of celebrity, the veil mystery and intrigue that once surrounded Hollywood has now been lifted, revealing a not-so-magical interior. I wonder how many 14 year old girls have approached a wasted Lindsay Lohan for an autograph? This is why idol worship via organized public relations events and fan conventions is the most sustainable and profitable form of celebrity. This idea of disillusionment is explored on multiple levels in director David Sieveking’s David Wants to Fly; be it on a fan level (meeting David Lynch), a spiritual level (transcendental meditation), or a personal level (his relationship with his girlfriend). I will say the first half hour of the film had me rolling my eyes a bit. It seemed as though Sieveking’s motivation to seek out David Lynch was a bit forced and purely plot driven, but the result was actually quite interesting. As a casual Lynch fan, it was interesting seeing such a respected and subversive artist acting as a mindless puppet for transcendental meditation. Sieveking initially takes everything Lynch says to heart, but after some investigating of his own, it’s fairly clear that the entire movement has lost its way. Words like ‘cult’ and ‘corporation’ are thrown around in multiple interviews and once Lynch’s publicist catches wind of Sieveking’s change of heart, his access is denied. All of this adds up to a very entertaining film that was much funnier than I’d expected.

In honour of David Lynch’s participation in this film, I suggest you go out of your way to watch David Wants to Fly on your iPhone.Jay

INTO ETERNITY

Directed by Michael Madsen
Denmark, Sweden, Finland

Into Eternity

Hot Docs Synopsis:

Captivating and extremely frightening, Into Eternity takes us on a journey 100,000 years into the future to anticipate the effects of today’s nuclear waste. Currently, radioactive waste created by nuclear plants all over the world is placed in interim storage facilities. These facilities are vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters that could render them unsafe. But Finland has a solution: Onkalo is a series of permanent underground storage units hewn out of solid rock. Here nuclear waste must remain sealed and untouched for 100,000 years in order to neutralize its radioactivity. The science is sound, but how does one anticipate the human folly of future civilizations? How is it possible to warn our descendants of the deadly waste when we might not speak their language? These questions and more are put to the fascinating scientific minds behind Onkalo as they attempt to solve the crucially important nuclear waste issue. – Shannon Abel

Nuclear waste disposal is a bitch. With a 100,000 year radioactive lifespan, the problem of dealing with these toxic left-overs raises some interesting questions about the sustainability of nuclear energy and the future of our civilization. Into Eternity explores some mind-bending ideas that I hadn’t even considered. If we’ve decided to solve the problem of toxic nuclear waste by burying it deep within the Earth, how do we warn future generations of its danger? It’s unrealistic to assume mankind will survive the next 100,000 years unchanged (or at all), so how do we communicate with whatever future society might take our place? Will they understand our languages or basic symbols? Will the massive underground tunnels in which we bury our waste be mistaken for religious tombs or hidden treasure? We only have to look at our own fascination with the pyramids to understand the natural curiosity to explore unknown corners of the Earth, especially those that might lead towards answers about past civilizations. All of these questions are handled with a joyfully ominous touch. If The Cove and Man on Wire are the non-fiction nods to the espionage thriller, director Michael Madsen has tipped his hat to dystopian science fiction, taking full advantage of the cold, futuristic imagery of the nuclear waste plants. The film also has an interesting narrative device with images of present day tunnel workers almost doubling for a future society digging for treasure as Madsen provides narration that warns this future society “You should stay away from this place, and then you will be safe.” The film is a cautionary tale that’s beautifully shot and embraces a science fiction angle (watch for the Kubrickian intertitles) that left me thinking about one of my favourite Ed Wood quotes: “And remember, my friends, future events such as these will affect you in the future!” — Jay

THE KIDS GROW UP

Directed by Doug Block
USA

Hot Docs Synopsis:

In 51 Birch Street, director Doug Block documented his troubled and distant relationship with his father, searching for understanding and a mutual connection. Now a father himself, Block continues his personal journey in The Kids Grow Up, focusing his lens on his only child Lucy, 17, as she’s about to leave home for college. As the countdown begins, Block reflects on their close relationship, her coming of age, and deep conversations mostly captured on film. As Lucy grows older, she becomes weary of the camera, while Block stays behind the lens hoping to stay tuned. His wife Marjorie copes with Lucy’s departure in her own way. Together, the couple ponders the next chapter after Lucy leaves. This tender, funny, and endearing collage explores the complexities of modern-day parenting, marriage, the adoring relationship between fathers and daughters, and the hardship of letting go. – Karina Rotenstein

The Kids Grow Up takes us on Doug Block’s highly personal experience of coping with his only daughter leaving home for college. Finding the sheer thought of it incredibly difficult we follow Doug’s experience over the preceding year as he tries to come to terms with an empty nest. Having a filmmaker as a father appears to have been a unique experience for Lucy as an enormous amount of her life has been documented and, although very happy on camera as a child, this project seems to be the final straw. The camera itself is as much a character as those of his family as it serves as a coping mechanism as well as an excuse for exploration. It’s an incredibly brave thing to bring a camera into your home, let alone having your own family as subject matter, but Doug avoids taking this too far, creating a story entirely born out of love. The archive of Lucy is beautifully woven throughout and you essentially see her grow up before your eyes, but the most touching scenes are her and Doug’s one on one chats over time. As you see her opinions and thoughts evolve you understand her feelings towards leaving even if she’s progressively reluctant to appear on camera as the film unfolds. There is wonderful comic relief in the form of Lucy’s french boyfriend, and the excruciatingly awkward interviews with the two of them will make any daughter squirm in reminiscence. — Charlotte

KINGS OF PASTRY

Directed by Christ Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker
France, Netherlands, USA, UK

Kings of Pastry

Hot Docs Synopsis:

Eclairs, croquenbouches, and chocolate mousse might taste like heavenly French desserts, but for 16 top pastry chefs they are instruments of near torture. France’s highest chef honour, the Meilleur Ouvrier, is awarded once every four years and is every pâtissier’s dream. Hopefuls face three days of back-breaking competition, creating round after round of fanciful, often gravity-defying confections while a team of meticulous judges times, inspects, and samples every morsel. In signature vérité style, renowned documentarians D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus (The War Room) transcend the pretense of so many reality cooking series to focus on the skill of masters at their best. Irresistibly engaging, Kings of Pastry captures not only the competitors’ stunning artistry, but their equally impressive dedication to a time-honoured craft. Bon appétit! – Myrocia Watamaniuk

If you’re a fan of Ace of Cakes or any similar TLC shows, you might have an inkling of the kinds of beautiful art that can be created with sugar and icing in the hands of a master. Kings of Pastry goes after the best of the best, the Meilleur Ouvrier de France, a 3-day competition held every four years where pastry chefs compete to earn the ultimate title of recognition in their profession. Acclaimed documentarians Chris Hegedus (The War Room) and D.A. Pennebaker (Dont Look Back) follow a number of hopefuls as they prepare in the months leading up to the competition. It may not sound like particularly thrilling subject matter, but as we slowly come to understand the painstaking amount of sacrifice and hard work that goes into their craft, the stakes become quite high. It all culminates with the competition itself, which is incredibly tense and emotional. Four years of work are riding on delicate sculptures that can shatter at a moment’s notice. The cinematography is a little bland, but the artistic creations and the human drama contained in this film are anything but. — Sean

LIFE WITH MURDER

Directed by John Kastner
Canada

Life With Murder

Hot Docs Synopsis:

Twelve ago in Chatham, Ontario, Mason Jenkins murdered his 20-year-old sister with repeated rifle shots to the head. Overwhelming evidence led to his conviction, but Mason insisted he was innocent. His parents endured community shunning when they steadfastly stood by him. Extraordinary access to original crime scene videotapes and recorded telephone calls, forensic evidence, and interviews with Mason, his parents, and the police detective in charge of the case deliver an airtight case against Mason. At the same time, the compassionate portrayal of his parents’ grief and their overwhelming need to believe in their son constructs a powerful psychological portrait of the family—and results in an astonishing confession. Award-winning director John Kastner admits to being obsessed with the lives of criminals. In Life with Murder, he extends this interest and asks us to empathize with the tragic effects of murder on the families of criminals. – Lynne Fernie

The murder mystery/courtroom drama is one sub-genre that truly shines in the documentary format. Director John Kastner’s Life With Murder is a bold, cinematic example of a totally riveting real-life drama that might otherwise have fallen victim to a bland, news magazine segment or a sensational movie-of-the-week. The story is heart breaking; a man, Mason Jenkins, is accused of murder when his 20 year old sister is found shot in the family rec room. He maintains his innocence, but a number of unanswered questions have police thinking otherwise. With his parents support, his case goes to trial but the evidence against him leads to a conviction. Even still, his Mother and Father believe that their son has been wrongly convicted. The opening scene of the film is a great red herring, showing us what looks to be a typical family barbecue, but a wide shot reveals 12 foot fences and barbed wire. Jenkins is allowed weekend visitations by his parents at an unsupervised on-site prison-house; something I’ve never seen before. The filmmakers are granted access to these get togethers as we watch some fairly uncomfortable conversations unfold as Mason’s parents try and figure out the truth behind the death of their daughter. A number of on-camera revelations add up to a fairly tense and dramatic piece of filmmaking. Kastner approaches the material with a stylish but sensitive eye, walking a cinematic and journalistic line that results in one of the best films at this years Hot Docs film festival. — Jay

MARWENCOL

Directed by Jeff Malmberg
USA

Marwencol

Hot Docs Synopsis:

Mark Hogancamp miraculously survives a senseless beating outside a bar only to emerge from a coma with memory loss and brain damage. Unable to afford therapy, he creates his own, right in his backyard. He begins to build Marwencol, a remarkable WWII-era town at 1/16 scale. He populates the sets with dolls representing his friends and family, and even his attackers, in an attempt to heal the psychic wounds from his beating. In dramatic scenes, his alter ego fighter pilot triumphs over evil. But when photographs of his stunning, meticulous work are published in an art magazine, the reclusive victim becomes an instant “artist.” With a deft camera that confuses inner and outer life, filmmaker Jeff Malmberg creates a moody, hauntingly original film that captures the crux of Hogancamp’s crisis: will he choose between his fantasy life or the real world he’s carefully avoided? – Myrocia Watamaniuk

There are two stories at work in director Jeff Malmberg’s Marwencol. The first involves Mark Hogancamp, a man working through some serious psychological trauma after narrowly surviving a sever beating by a group of thugs. The second is the story of Marwencol; a 1/6th scale replica WWII town Mark has built in his backyard. It’s a complex, living and breathing (so to speak) miniature society that’s populated by plastic representations of Mark and many of his best friends. Within this world, Mark acts out tales of intrigue, espionage and romance, living out his life as a 1/6th scale action hero. It might seem a little crazy, but is this really that far off from online role playing games? At least Mark’s hobby involves a bit of creativity and craftsmanship. That’s not to say Marwencol isn’t a direct result of Mark’s real-life assault. He actually goes out of his way to re-enact the traumatic even within his town, replacing redneck thugs with SS officers. Only in his version he’s saved by a gorgeous heroine. In reality, Mark spent a great deal of time recovering from his injuries and going through rehab. The attack left him with a form of amnesia, unable to remember some major events in his life. A videotape is the only reminder that he was in fact married at some point, and happy. This is the sort of story that could easily be twisted into a freak show, but Malmberg retains a sincere and human element to it all, focusing instead on the ‘outsider art’ perspective of the photographs Mark takes of his miniature diorama’s. They are truly stunning. One interesting note; this isn’t the first time Marwencol has been given the documentary treatment. Mark was actually featured on an episode of This American Life’s television program — season two — and if there were one thing hanging over Malmberg’s film, it’s the fact that the five minute segment on that show was quite stunning. This feature certainly doesn’t contain that level of filmmaking or succinct storytelling, but it’s certainly a great expanded look at a character that definitely deserves the attention he’s received. — Jay

THE PARKING LOT MOVIE

Directed by Meghan Eckman
USA

The Parking Lot Movie

Hot Docs Synopsis:

Landing a job at the Corner Parking Lot is no easy feat. Bossman Chris Farina empowers employees as de facto owners, creating a work environment that privileges workers over customers. The ragtag crew of misfits he’s assembled contemplate existentialist and misanthropic deep thoughts while setting parking brakes. The car jockeys give equal time to brain-teasers, time-wasters, and the finer points of morality. Park and you will be judged! Your good or evil based on the make, model, and licence plate of your ride. A hilarious indictment of capitalism, class politics, and car culture. – Angie Driscoll

At one time or another, we’ve all had to work a terrible job for very little pay, but how many of us have pondered the meaning of life while doing it? The Corner Parking Lot in Charlottesville, Virginia, is an odd workplace for aspiring artists and academics, but somehow it attracts a lot of them — partially because it’s close to the University of Virginia, and partially because owner Chris Farina hires idealistic young people who remind him a bit of himself. Some days the lot is quiet and peaceful and provides ample opportunity for self-reflection, while other days it becomes a battleground where attendants endure abuse and a class struggle bubbles to the surface. Stories about starving artists and intellectuals who are stalled in reaching their potential can often be inspiring, but here it’s difficult to empathize with many of the film’s subjects because they just come across as smug and condescending. There are some funny and poignant moments, but the philosophical ramblings get to be a bit much, and the movie ends up running on a bit too long. — Sean

THE PEDDLER

Directed by Eduardo de la Serna, Lucas Marcheggiano and Adriana Yurcovich
Argentina

Hot Docs Synopsis:

Riding into town in his beat-up car, Daniel Burmeister, armed only with a camera, a few movie scripts, and a trunk load of ingenuity, brings a unique proposal to each Argentine village he visits: he barters with the authorities to exchange one month’s lodging and food for the creation of one feature film starring the locals. The Peddler follows Burmeister on his latest project, Let’s Kill the Uncle, as he single-handedly and meticulously oversees every aspect of production. With his nuggets of wisdom and unwavering patience and problem-solving, Burmeister’s hand-crafted filmmaking style and DIY mentality are both inspiring and hilarious. For the villagers, his productions become a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work together, discover a hidden talent, and have their very own 15 minutes of fame. – Lynne Crocker

Daniel Burmeister is a master of DIY filmmaking, his bizarre lifestyle involves travelling from village to village filming the same script over and over with the locals as actors, his banged up car slowly dying with each adventure. As far as community projects go this takes the cake, creating an entire production team from locals and leaving new-found friendships and communal bonding in his wake. Throughout the film you are puzzled as to not only why Daniel chooses to do this, but also as to what the final outcome will be. It’s wonderful to see the progression of his film and his ever growing aspirations for the overly ambitious action scenes and you truly root for him and his rogue band of completely unskilled crew. With occasional glimpses into his background and family life you get a real sense that Daniel just loves being able to create something, not only for himself, but with the multitude of people he meets on his travels. When the film is finally finished and screened for the village you no longer care about the quality of his work and are just in admiration of what he has achieved for the people involved and the legacy he leaves behind. — Charlotte

SHADOWPLAY: THE MAKING OF ANTON CORBIJN

Directed by Josh Whiteman
Australia

Shadowplay

Hot Docs Synopsis:

Anton Corbijn’s photography career began with dark photos of bands in Dutch clubs. Twenty years on and the internationally renowned artist and music video director’s high contrast style now defines the look of überbands such as Joy Division, U2, Depeche Mode, REM, and Nirvana. Bono, Chris Martin, Kurt Cobain and others share how Corbijn captures his shots, illustrating the shifting dynamics of photographers, paparazzi, and celebrity. The film cuts between these iconic subjects and behind-the-scenes footage of Corbijn directing his latest, and perhaps most personal work, a feature biopic of Joy Division’s front man Ian Curtis. Shadow Play is a fascinating glimpse inside the mind of a master. – Myrocia Watamaniuk

Shadowplay is one of those films that succeeds within its little niche territory but may not translate to anyone who hasn’t heard of or isn’t interested in the work of photographer/filmmaker Anton Corbijn. Director Josh Whiteman assembles and impressive cast of interview subjects including Bono (who also provides some narration), Kurt Cobain (post-humous of course), Chris Martin, Michael Stipe and Tony Wilson (before he died I believe) amongst others. I thought it was interesting hearing these folks talk about Corbijn’s work informing a group’s art direction and single handedly shaping the identity of a band based on his photos. It’s completely true; when I think of bands like Joy Division and U2, it’s Corbijn’s work that comes to mind. Outside of the discussion of Corbijn’s work, Whiteman does attempt to graft a loose narrative structure on to what is otherwise a fairly loose talking heads retrospective. We get a look at the production of the Ian Curtis biopic Control, Corbijn’s first feature film. There’s some interesting behind the scenes footage — including the actors rehearsing the details of Joy Divisions on stage personalities — but this story thread is pretty sparsely weaved in and out of the film. Either way, Corbijn’s work is worthy of this sort of retrospective and in that regard, Shadowplay succeeds. — Jay

SMALL WONDERS

Directed by Tally Abecassis
Canada

Hot Docs Synopsis:

You know those dusty old shops that sell odd goods and services from another era? The stores that are there forever—until suddenly they’re not? Step inside the lives of the singular souls who run them. Beautifully photographed on Super 16mm over 10 years, this warm and thoughtful portrait pulls their precarious lives and relentless optimism into gentle focus. Peter is an ex-Casanova watch repairman operating from the corner of a barbershop. He’s slowly losing his sight and fears growing old. Norman is a dapper photographer with old world values and free advice who has never touched a digital camera. Jae-Gil is a former motorcycle-riding tomboy, now a small hardware store owner surrounded by 12 big box stores. Each defines themselves through their individual enclaves, defiantly resisting the onslaught of chain-store homogenization and preserving our unique urban cultures for just a little longer. – Gisèle Gordon

Beautifully shot on 16mm over an incredible 10 year period, Small Wonders is a thorough look at three shopkeepers’ lives. It plays like an extended This American Life segment and that does work in its favour. Peter’s small watch repair business is slowly getting quieter due to people throwing their watches away in favour of spending the money to repair them and his ever diminishing eyesight and impending divorce are signaling his retirement. It was a delight to see his basement which appeared to be where old watches went to die. A serious hoarder, his endless drawer after drawer of random watch parts showed his innocent love for his craft. Jae-Gil had dreamt of owning a hardware store as a child and has realised that dream with her incredibly stock-dense tool haven. Her progression throughout the film was particularly sad, as numerous superstores spring up in the local area one by one and her constant jovial spirit was heartbreaking. Of the three characters Norman was by far my favourite, possibly because he was the quirkiest which was my main draw to this film. In fact I would love to see a film dedicated entirely to him. Running an old-fashioned photographers studio you can’t help but be amazed that he’s managing to maintain the business considering he seems to make most of his clients wonderfully awkward by spending an inordinate amount of time tweaking their appearance and backlighting every photograph so the final product appears to be from a different era. It was also particularly wonderful to see him pop up again in The “Socalled’ Movie when I saw it a few days later. I was expecting Small Wonders to be a portrait of extremes and it’s definitely not that. The strength of the film is the length of time it covers as the progression through these characters’ experiences is skillfully fast without ever appearing so.Charlotte

SPACE TOURISTS

Directed by Christian Frei
Switzerland

Space Tourists

Hot Docs Synopsis:

From the Oscar-nominated director of War Photographer comes a brilliant film about the new space race—space tourism—and all its startling ramifications for those left on the ground. The film follows American businesswoman Anousheh Ansari’s $20-million trip into space aboard a Russian rocket. While Ansari prepares to embark on her childhood dream, Christian Frei examines Russia’s once thriving space program through its now decrepit centre in Kazakhstan. The breathtaking images of Ansari’s flight and visit on the International Space Station are contrasted with salvage expeditions by rural Kazakh men, who collect the valuable but dangerous rocket debris that falls out of the sky after each flight. Winner of the World Cinema Directing Award for documentary at Sundance 2010, Space Tourists asks, Is this the future of space travel? – Shannon Abel.

On the surface, a documentary about commercial space travel seems like a fascinating proposition, and having it set in Russia only adds another layer of mystique, but somehow Christian Frei’s film Space Tourists ends up being a bit of a bore. The film follows Anousheh Ansari, the first woman to pay her way into space, who catches a ride up to the International Space Station with a Russian crew for the dirt cheap price of $20 million. The movie also looks at groups of people in Kazakhstan who collect pieces of space shuttles that fall to Earth and sell them for scrap metal, before taking another detour to examine Google’s Lunar X competition where teams compete to find a way to send robots to the moon. There’s no shortage of opportunity for epic and awe-inspiring imagery here, but much of the footage that we are presented with feels like throwaway outtakes instead of the main event. Some interesting ideas are explored, including the broken dreams of the Soviet Union and the commoditization of space travel, but the way in which it is all pieced together is not particularly engaging or memorable.Sean

THIEVES BY LAW

Directed by Alexander Gentelev
Israel, Germany

Thieves By Law

Hot Docs Synopsis:

Raw, audacious, and daring, Thieves by Law follows three former kingpins of the Russian mafia inside the world’s most notorious criminal organization. With unprecedented access to these protagonists and incredible archival footage, Alexander Gentelev reveals the underworld’s formation in Stalin’s Gulag in the 1930s, establishing its codes of honour and hierarchical tattoos, and continues through the Soviet collapse to its coldly calculated ascension to legitimate control of Russian society in the 1990s and eventual global expansion. The ‘retired’ leading men are Leonid “Mackintosh” Bilunov from Ukraine, a strategist, businessman, and master of hand-to-hand combat; Alimzhan “Taivanchik” Tokhtahltounov, an Uzbekistani playboy famously accused of bribing a figure skating judge at the 2002 Olympics; and Vitaly “Bondar” Dyemochka, a cold-blooded thief now turned filmmaker. With their tattoos displayed, the men’s blunt, sobering, and at times humourous, reflections convey a chilling record of contemporary Russia and its turbulent dark history. – Karina Rotenstein

Over the last few years we’ve seen the Russian mafia start to steal the spotlight away from The Corleones and The Sopranos in popular culture, with appearances in movies like Eastern Promises, We Own the Night, and yes, even Iron Man 2. In Thieves By Law, director Alexander Gentelev takes a look at the stories behind three supposedly retired real-life mobsters, and the history of the Russian underworld in general, which grew out of Stalin’s labor camps in the 1930s. Although the film is comprised almost entirely of interviews with the three subjects, their stories are compelling and the personalities are varied yet unsettling in their own way. They reveal that the influence of the mob has found its way into almost every facet of Russian society today, and former NHL star Pavel Bure even pops by for a surprise cameo. The one big problem with the movie is that the subjects are never really proven to be fully reliable, and they seem to be using the film as a P.R. move to prove that all of their business dealings are now 100% legit.Sean

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