Hot Docs Capsule Reviews – The Technology vs Nature Edition
As Hot Docs 2010 winds down, here’s another sampling of a few of the films I’ve caught over the last week:
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 (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.
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.
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: 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.
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.