Reviews

‘Blackfish’ Official Trailer and Poster

I managed to catch Blackfish at Hot Docs this year and it was one of the better films of the festival. Now an official trailer has been released and I’m totally resold. This is a truly great trailer.

Shocking, never before seen footage and riveting interviews with trainers and experts manifest the orca’s extraordinary nature, the species’ cruel treatment in captivity over the last four decades, and the growing disillusionment of workers who were misled and endangered by the highly profitable sea-park industry. This emotionally wrenching, tautly structured story challenges us to consider our relationship to nature and reveals how little we humans have learned from these highly intelligent and enormously sentient fellow mammals.

Blackfish hits limited theatres July 19th via Magnolia Films. In the meantime, check out this great poster as well:

Blackfish

The Documentary Blog Podcast: Hot Docs 2013

Hot Docs 2013

This Hot Docs specific episode of The Documentary Blog Podcast was recorded in collaboration with The Film Junk Podcast. Listen to more episodes of The Film Junk Podcast here.

0:00 - Intro
2:44 - Dragon Girls
13:17 - Shooting Bigfoot
28:48 - 12 O’Clock Boys
35:34 - The Unbelievers
43:29 - The Expedition to the End of the World
51:17 - The Great North Korean Picture Show
59:18 - We Always Lie To Strangers
1:06:17 - NCR: Not Criminally Responsible
1:13:21 - Aatsinki: The Story of Arctic Cowboys
1:16:21 - The Last Station
1:20:51 - Which Way is the Front Line From Here?
1:25:05 - Bending Steel
1:27:57 - The Crash Reel
1:31:56 - Caucus
1:33:42 - Blackfish
1:38:17 - The Circle
1:39:14 - 15 Reasons to Live
1:40:42 - Who Is Dayani Cristal?
1:42:57 - Searching For Bill
1:45:04 - Maidentrip
1:48:16 - Our Nixon
1:49:58 - Just the Right Amount of Violence
1:54:47 - Downloaded
1:58:30 - Outro

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Only the Young/Tchoupitoulas DVD Contest Winners

Only the Young/Tchoupitoulas

Congratulations to Nathan of Little Rock, AR, Hillary of Astoria, NY and Brian of Los Angeles, CA! They’re the lucky winners of a DVD copy of Oscilloscope Laboratories’ Only the Young/Tchoupitoulas double feature DVD!

Also, a big thanks goes out to all of those who entered. This was one of biggest turn outs yet! Look forward to more giveaways here at The Documentary Blog and be sure to pick up your own copy of Only the Young/Tchoupitoulas on DVD today.

Thanks to Oscilloscope Laboratories for providing the prizes!

Hot Docs 2013 Capsule Review: Shooting Bigfoot

Shooting Bigfoot

It’s probably fair to characterize director Morgan Matthews ‘Shooting Bigfoot’ as a bit of a freak show. Some of the people in this film come across as genuinely delusional. This is the dilemma I faced when I found myself laughing out loud at some of the truly hilarious moments throughout this doc that plays out like a real life Christopher Guest film.

I would lump Shooting Bigfoot in with such minor fare as My Date With Drew or Mansome, but at least this film is actually funny. Moments of genuine humour had me marvelling — sometimes suspiciously — at the comedic timing of some of these folks. The degree of self awareness amongst the subjects seemed to vary, but what began as a seemingly toxic director/subject relationship eventually transforms into a harmless, fun night out in the woods with a bunch of guys indulging in their strange hobby. It’s essentially one step away from live action role playing or fantasy football, seemingly focused more on the journey and less on the destination. It’s just an excuse to hang out with friends, crack open a few beers and scan the woods with military grade night vision goggles in search of 8 foot humanoid creatures. All in good fun!

I suppose the closest analog to ‘Shooting Bigfoot’ would be the number of A&E and History Channel shows focusing on swamp people and duck hunters. In this case, Duck Dynasty might be most comparable as I think the characters in that show share the same natural sense of humour and comedic timing that’s on display here. For example, in regards to a failed meat trap set to draw in a sasquatch, the following dialogue ensues:

“It just couldn’t be knocked off, it had to be jerked off.”
“So you think bigfoot has jerked off a piece of meat?”
“Yes I do.”

Some people are just naturally funny, regardless of how ridiculous they look or how insane their hobby may be. However, I do think an element of scripting is at play, particularly with one specific character.

This leads to the controversial ending of the film, and all I’ll say is that I think it’s perfectly in line with the spirit of the subject matter and more specifically, the history of the main character involved in the Blair Witch inspired set piece. ‘Shooting Bigfoot’ isn’t brilliant, but it’s a fun little comedy that made me wish I could spend a night hanging out with some of the folks in this film. — Jay C.

3.5/5

Hot Docs 2013 Capsule Review: The Expedition to the End of the World

The Expedition to the End of the World

Only a day into my Hot Docs experience I already knew that The Expedition to the End of the World was going to be tough to top. Director Daniel Dencik provides further evidence that the Danes seem to have a real grasp on documentary cinema.

The film follows a crew of artists and scientists as they make their way through the melted massifs of North-East Greenland. Their mode of transportation is a three-mast schooner straight out of your favourite pirate film (mine would be Cabin Boy). As the men slowly traverse the winding, half-frozen rivers of the undiscovered country, they philosophize about the meaning of life and offer some unique commentary on the issue of climate change. One of them shrugs off the threat, suggesting that humans will adapt and simply move to areas of the world that aren’t flooded. A truly Scandinavian proclivity.

Moments of comedy are scattered throughout as the explorers beat their boredom by shooting off guns — sometimes accidentally — and flying around in their unique hybrid dinghy/power paraglider. At times, their mission is truly threatened by stubborn ice formations, resulting in some harrowing seamanship that, in combination with the Mozart on the soundtrack, reminded me of Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski uncontrollably floating down river in a steamboat in Les Blank’s ‘Burden of Dreams’. In fact, much of this film could be classified as Herzogian and it would make for a great double bill with Herzog’s own ‘Encounters at the End of the World’.

One of the strongest aspects of Expedition is the inspired combination of imagery and music. The film is beautifully shot and the contrasting use of Metallica and Mozart is a lot of fun. There film is exciting, kinetic, and fresh and provides a completely unique take on the environmental doc that ignores numbers and graphs in favour of focusing on the personalities and philosophies of its unique cast of characters to illuminate and inspire. However, this is an adventure film first and foremost. The Expedition to the End of the World was undoubtedly my favourite film at Hot Docs and will remain one of the best films of the year. — Jay C.

5/5

Hot Docs 2013 Capsule Review: Bending Steel

Bending Steel

Dave Carrol’s ‘Bending Steel’ exists in the same inspirational cinematic sandbox as Rocky and Rudy. Sure, strongman feats like horseshoe twisting and telephone book tearing might fall into the fringe category of what we traditionally define as ‘sport’, but strongmen are most definitely athletes. Their success depends upon their physical prowess, a strong mental constitution, and a natural ability to entertain a crowd.

Chris Shoeck has what it takes to be a professional strongman but he still struggles to prove himself to his peers and his parents, who are seemingly indifferent to his unusual ability. He and his mentor Chris Rider work towards bringing a traditional strongman show back to Coney Island, giving Shoeck a defined goal. Throughout the film we watch him bend various metals with ease, but it’s his struggle to bend a two inch bar — a metaphorical stand-in for his self-doubt and fears — which symbolizes his journey. Shoeck also attempts to conquer his fear of crowds by workshopping his act at open mic nights, resulting in a particularly awkward first performance. I loved watching his peers evaluate the particulars of his stage act, pointing out the various details that only a professional strongman would identify as problematic (the angle at which he stands, holding the successfully bent item up to the crowd, etc.) When the film finally reaches its Coney Island climax, you can’t help but root for Shoeck in the tradition of cinemas great underdog sports dramas.

Carrol and cinematographer Ryan Scafuro handle Shoeck’s story with a respect for cinematic craft, telling a beautifully shot, emotionally rich character piece that avoids the grandiose mythologizing that other filmmakers might give in to. ‘Bending Steel’ is a sincere and poignant look at a unique sub-culture who’s success is measured in pounds per square inch. — Jay C.

4.5/5

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