Hot Docs Capsule Reviews – The Technology vs Nature Edition


 

WeDontCareAboutMusicAnyway2

 

As Hot Docs 2010 winds down, here’s another sampling of a few of the films I’ve caught over the last week:

 
 

Soundtracker

Soundtracker (2010 – Nicholas Sherman) – Tracking down sounds is indeed exactly what Gordon Hempton does. He’s finding it harder and harder to do, though, with the proliferation of technology spreading into National Parks and supposedly untouched areas. Nearby highways, construction areas and jet planes contaminate the voices of nature and leave places of complete quiet or simple natural sounds to become fewer and farther between. So Hempton searches for them. His obsessive nature shows its light towards the back half of this slow-paced, but overall lovely contemplative look at how we’re slowly but surely drowning out Mother Nature.

 

talhotblond

talhotblond (2010 – Barbara Schroeder) – It’s all in the telling. A good story can be turned into a great one if you tell it with all the proper beats, hold back little bits of information and then drop in some surprises. That’s the strategy in this telling of a bizarre internet love triangle of two co-workers becoming rivals for the affections of a girl with the screen name “talhotblond”. One of the two men isn’t exactly what he describes himself to be online and as the truth comes out, tragedy ensues. There’s some interesting questions raised by the film regarding the veracity of the internet, the culpability of those who hide behind false identities and how we look at privacy. Some of those questions could even be raised about the film itself in how it handles the story. Perhaps, but it sure doesn’t stop this from being a gripping, surprising and ultimately very sad story.

 

GeneralOrdersNo9

General Orders No. 9 (2010 – Robert Persons) – A quite beautiful pictorial essay on what director Bob Persons sees as a lost portion of his culture and his own history. Though occasionally bogged down by a dry and unhumourous narrator, the beauty of Georgia’s rivers and natural settings makes up for much of it. As do the stark, grey images of the city. There’s no attempt to remain unbiased by the film in assessing the worth of our urban centres – it’s clear that the big city is not favoured here. It sometimes works against the message of the film, but if taken simply as the instantiation of the random thoughts of someone who sees their idyllic world disappearing, it is sometimes very effective. It’s also terribly unique in its approach by using little bits of black and white animation along with droning background music to complement the gorgeous photography. The message is muddled, but I greatly appreciated the effort at bringing a different spin on the personal documentary essay film.

 

KingsOfPastry

Kings Of Pastry (2010 – Chris Hegedus, D.A. Pennebaker) – How does a film about 16 of the world’s best pastry chefs competing in their version of the Olympics as filmed by famed doc directors Pennebaker and Hegedus end up being a disappointment? Not bad mind you, just not as good as it really should have been. Like many of these types of documentaries, we follow a few of the participants before and during the event to get a better idea of who they are and to build some tension for us and create some stakes. At least that’s the idea in theory. Here it only half works…The three chefs we follow all seem like talented nice guys who deserve to win, but we never got a chance to really understand who they are, why they are doing this or even to see how they make their creations. We get to see some of the end results – some of the sugar sculptures and statues are truly works of art – and maybe even salivate a bit, but I never felt a strong connection to any of the participants (except perhaps for one “Oh no!” moment). Nor did I ever really get an idea of what distinguishes one chef from another. Given the subject, I should probably finish by saying something like “a nice snack, but not a very filling one…”.

 

Candyman

Candyman: The David Klein Story (2010 – Costa Botes) – Jelly Belly jelly beans are one of the most popular candies in the world. Their wide variety of flavours, bright colours and intense taste are wrapped up in tiny little sizes perfect for munching. Because of this popularity, the owners of the rights to the candy are quite wealthy. It’s just a shame that the inventor isn’t as well. David Klein is that inventor and due to circumstances and an overly generous nature, he gave up the rights many years ago – for a decent amount of money, true, but nothing close to what it was really worth. The best parts of the film show the inner workings of a candy factory, some of Klein’s other candy inventions and a wealth of really awkward 70s talk show footage (the Mike Douglas footage alone is cringeworthy), but the character piece focusing on Klein is somewhat lacking. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why though. Klein seems an affable person, goes out of his way to help others, loves to put smiles on kids’ faces and is still a very creative person, but his ambivalence to really trying to do anything further with his life is aggravating. So I can’t blame the film itself, just the person at the centre of it.

 

WeDontCareAboutMusicAnyway

We Don’t Care About Music Anyway (2009 – Cedric Dupire, Gaspard Kuentz) – It is readily apparent early on in Cedric Dupire and Gaspard Kuentz’s “We Don’t Care About Music Anyway” that none of its subjects really care about music. At least not from the point of view of creating something for your iPod or stereo system. The subjects are all artists who have a desire to create sound. There’s no melody in their creations, not a great deal of structure and only occasionally could you say there was rhythm. It’s frankly not even enjoyable to hear. That doesn’t mean it isn’t interesting though. The film is essentially a series of performance clips (either with a live audience or staged for the camera) interspersed with Tokyo city scenes and black and white sections of the entire group discussing their methods and approaches to this type of art. They bandy about sentences such as “Conformity is defined by a social consensus” and “Japanese have a poor notion of happiness”, so these are not people that are content to settle into the “norm”. They want to break apart the standard conception of what you can do with an instrument, what an instrument really is and how sound affects most people. Does a cello have to be played by pulling a bow across its strings? Does the tone arm of a record player have to have a needle connected to it to generate a signal to be amplified? Do you really need to know how to play an instrument at all in order to create something with it? Not according to this group. It’s the approach each member takes that I find the most interesting. The results are the kind of experimental work that I have found that I don’t enjoy as standalone pieces, but that I’m glad exists. Within context, it can provide either an interesting message or a completely new way of looking at something that will reap benefits further down the road.

 

Bob Turnbull
Critical Thinker At Large

9 Comments

  1. Candyman here. Thanks for the review. By the way one of our products will be shown on Unwrapped on May 10th….Not the case that I did not want to do anything with the rest of my life…Sandy Candy is a product from our factory and it is not only sold all over the world but it provides funds for many non profit institutions such as schools. It is very very hard to come up with a product that will sell…If you have a winner it will be copied within six months. You can not obtain patent protection on a candy….One of our recent hits was a giant gummy heart that bleeds in 11 different spots when you bite into it. Thank you soooooooooooooooooo much david klein "the candyman"

    Reply
  2. Hi Candyman…Thank you so much for commenting! Those gummy hearts sound awesome – I told my son and he immediately said "Where can we get them? Can we get some today?"

    I wish you the best of luck with your new inventions and continued success with any of the current ones.

    Reply
  3. Ok Hot Docs is done, so what are the favorites?

    for me:

    1. Secrets of the Tribe -José Padilha, director of Bus 174, and equally layered and thought-provoking. Also gets into a favorite bitch of mine, academia, and their self-flattering presumptions of knowledge and truth.

    2. And Everything is Going Fine – Soderbergh/Spalding Gray awesomeness, see my review elsewhere.

    3. David Wants to Fly – read a few bad reviews so I had low expectations but I really enjoyed this doc on transcendental meditation and David Lynch, if you get past the purist requirements for documentaries and go with the narrative, this is a solid and enjoyable film

    4. Into Eternity – Jay Cheelesque visuals, inquiry into the largest nuclear waste containment repository in the world and how mankind can or cannot keep it safe for a 100,000 years.

    5. Gasland – Not as taken with the doc as Kurt and Jay but it is an important issue, and I am all about its message.

    Also Babies is perfectly fine.

    Reply
  4. I didn't see a single one of those Mike…Too bad as some were on my short list. can't see 'em all though.

    I still have some full reviews I want to post, but my top 5 would be (no order at the moment):

    Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage

    A Small Act

    Waste Land

    The Kids Grow Up

    Space Touritsts

    Marwencol

    Ok, that's 6…Too bad. Can't choose. Those 6 are terrific films.

    Reply
  5. So disappointed that I missed Secrets of the Tribe, it was my most anticipated doc at the festival, but wasn't possible (and no screeners…boo!) I adore both Bus 174 and Tropa Elite, and the subject was very intriguing! Glad to hear it was good though.

    Glad to hear you liked the batty and goofy DAVID WANTS TO FLY. I thought it was pretty solid if not quite knock-it-out-of-the-park.

    Reply
  6. Was very disappointed with Candyman though. It seemed about 30 minutes too long for the material. Lots of stuff that the filmmakers were not brave enough to cut out, like exploring old haunts of Klein, and other stuff that was really flat and didn't add anything the main "Nice but failed businesswise, Willa Wonka" narrative.

    Reply
  7. the thing about David Wants to Fly is he has ALL the footage you would want for a documentary of this kind… I know they are talking litigation, or the producer was at the Q&A, but its some pretty incendiary stuff they got on TM and certainly Lynch is not looking in a good light with this.

    I rushed Secrets of the Tribe. I will see anything Padilha does now, his documentaries are so damn captivating. He has some sensational stuff with this, but for me its the fine details of the research and how he threads it out that had me. I felt my alliances shift between parties as the story is being told, you don't quite get who is in the wrong and then, kind of like Bus 174, the context is slowly revealed and you see what's been happening.

    Reply

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