As Hot Docs 2010 kicks into full gear, here’s a sampling of a few of the films I managed to see in the lead up to the fest:
Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage (2010 – Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen) – The two images above are apropos for a discussion of the latest musical documentary by the team that brought us Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey and Iron Maiden: Flight 666. Rush is a band that has always had a sense of humour about themselves and it shines through in this almost 2 hour journey through their 35 year recording career. Whether it’s appearing in the film “I Love You Man” (top photo), making a rare TV appearance on “The Colbert Report” or looking back at their old publicity shots and admitting they didn’t know much about fashion, the trio enjoy not taking themselves too seriously. I had a great big smile on my face the entire length of this film – from the early live footage with drummer John Rutsey to the closing credits dinner between the three bandmates. Granted, my bias is showing – I love this band. It’s actually a good thing that there is currently an embargo on full reviews (until the theatrical premiere on June 10th) because I’m not sure I can quite express my genuine feelings about the film yet…So if you are a fan of the band, you will adore this film – there is a veritable plethora of old film and photos that I would expect even the most hardcore fan has not seen (including a scene from an old Allan King documentary entitled Come On Children with a very young Alex Lifeson telling his parents he doesn’t want to finish school). For those who aren’t big fans, there is still a great deal to like since the band’s story arc is always engaging, the incorporation of the many photos and graphics is extremely well done and the various testimonials of other musicians are very entertaining. And the music is, if I may be allowed a small fanboy moment, awesome.
The “Socalled” Movie (2010 – Garry Beitel) – Funk, Rap and Klezmer. An obvious combination of musical styles right? No? Well, Josh Dolgin thought they were and so he began to experiment and create songs using these styles as touch points. In his younger days, he called himself “Heavy J” in order to fit in with the scene. It never really took hold, though, and people started to call him “The So-called Heavy J”. After awhile, that last part dropped off and he became “Socalled”. Through 18 or so short sections (some a few minutes, some closer to 10-15), we watch Josh create, perform and talk about his art. My favourite portion has to be his meeting and NY concert with Fred Wesley – former trombonist and leader of James Brown’s band – where they bust out some serious funk. I get the feeling Dolgin is a spiritual kin to Glen Hansard (from the film “Once”) who proclaimed “Make art! Make art!” at the Oscars a few years ago. That’s just what Dolgin does on a daily basis.
Leave Them Laughing (2010 – John Zaritsky) – Carla Zilbersmith has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) and is slowly, but ever so surely, breaking down. The motor neurons that control her muscle movement are shutting down and gradually her ability to walk and talk is being constricted. It’s a horrible disease. So why does she laugh so much? It’s part of the determination that she and her teenage son have to make the most of the life she has left and its a contagious feeling that spreads to those around her (the title of the film is a pretty accurate statement). The film bounces us between footage of Carla before she was diagnosed (as a performer, singer, comedian and story teller, there’s plenty available) and through different stages of the progression of the disease. There’s ups and downs – her final singing performance and her son’s moments of depression late in the film are particularly heartbreaking – but her spirit shines through.
The Mirror (2010 – David Christensen) – In a valley in the Italian Alps lies the small village of Viganella. It’s scenic, attracts a certain amount of tourists in the summer and has people who appreciate a quiet life. It’s otherwise unremarkable – except that for about 2 months of the year it receives no direct sunlight because it sits in the shadow of the mountains. Of further note is the grand plan its mayor has to increase tourism: install a large mirror high on the hillside to bounce sunlight into the town during those dark months. The film moves at what I expect is the same pace as that of the town itself. It saunters through the gradual process of building and placing the mirror while we casually meet some of the denizens. Though we get some semblance of a slice of the life in a quiet mountain village, it doesn’t amount to much more than simply being quite lovely at times.
Disco And Atomic War (2010 – Jaak Kilmi) – J.R. Ewing was a busy guy. Along with his oil business, womanizing and constant scheming, he apparently had a big hand in toppling the former Soviet Union. At least that’s the angle that Jaak Kilmi takes in his free-ranging and slightly scattershot look at growing up in Estonia – a region esconced within the USSR, but within reach of the television signals coming from Finland. These were signals that contained more and more American style content as time went on. Through old home movies, recreations, current-day interviews, stock footage and lots of episodes of “Dallas”, we see how the eager denizens in Estonia soaked up these shows, spread the word (and videos) to other parts of the country and went to great lengths to acquire the TV signals (pharmacies would sellout of thermometers when plans for mercury antennas were circulated). It gets a bit jumbled at times, but is still a lot of fun and paints a picture of rebellion against overbearing control.
Freetime Machos (2010 – Mika Ronkainen) – Though Finland may have had a role in breaking apart the mighty Soviet Union, they have some weak spots too. Like, for example, on the rugby field. Ronkainen’s film purports to be about the third worst rugby team in the world (as they are fourth in their six team league), but it’s much more about what roles men take on in their lives as seen through the eyes of two friends on the team. One is single with a girlfriend away for months at a stretch while the other has 5 kids and another on the way. Their ups, downs, disagreements and filthy jokes are documented while we see them limp through their 8 game season with a British coach just trying to keep it all together. They are mentor/student, drinking buddies, confidants and combatants. They really do love each other man.
Sunday May 2nd at 9:15PM – Bloor Cinema
Tuesday May 4th at 11:30AM – ROM Theatre
Hot Doc screenings of “Leave Them Laughing”:
Thursday May 6th at 9:15PM – Isabel Bader Theatre
Saturday May 8th at 3:15PM – Bloor Cinema
Hot Doc screenings of “The Mirror”:
Monday May 3rd at 7:30PM – Royal Cinema
Wednesday May 5th at 11:00AM – ROM Theatre
Hot Doc screenings of “Disco And Atomic War”:
Friday April 30th at 9:15PM – ROM Theatre
Saturday May 1st at 2:00PM – Cumberland 2
Hot Doc screenings of “Freetime Machos”:
Wednesday May 5th at 6:30PM – Cumberland 3
Saturday May 8th at 6:45PM – Royal Cinema
Critical Thinker At Large