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(David Chris­tensen, Canada/Italy). 85 min­utes. Subti­tled. Rat­ing: The tiny vil­lage of Vi­ganella sits in a val­ley in the Ital­ian Alps, leav­ing it with­out sun­light 83 days of each win­ter. The sun­starved towns­folk at­tempt to in­stall a gi­ant mir­ror to re­flect light into the town square, but run into un­ex­pected set­backs. David Chris­tensen, direc­tor of un­der­rated Canadian thriller Six Fig­ures, cap­tures all that and sticks around to take a lovely snap­shot of the rhythms of small-town life – with he­li­copters and gi­ant mir­rors. (Ge­orge Tsiout­sioulas, Canada). 85 min­utes. Fri­day (April 30), 7:30 pm, Royal; May 9, 1:30 pm, Cum­ber­land 3. Rat­ing: Pete Czerwinski spends a lot of time stuffing his face. Hot dogs, ham­burg­ers, chicken wings, very large steaks – that’s his thing, as his web­site and YouTube posts will at­test. He’s a cham­pion com­pet­i­tive eater – and a for­mer anorexic.

The con­tra­dic­tions in Czerwinski’s story at­tracted Toronto TV host and pro­ducer Ge­orge Tsiout­sioulas, who was look­ing for a fea­ture-length doc­u­men­tary project to tackle with his pro­duc­ing part­ner, Igal Hecht. The re­sult is The Story Of Fu­ri­ous Pete, mak­ing its world pre­miere at this year’s Hot Docs and bring­ing the world of com­pet­i­tive eat­ing to the big screen.

“Have you ever seen a con­test?” Tsious­tioulas asks when he and Czerwinski meet me for lunch on the pa­tio at Ca­plan­sky’s Del­i­catessen.

“It’s crazy, bizarre, funny and sur­real. I knew I wanted to make a doc­u­men­tary on com­pet­i­tive eat­ing – I just didn’t know ex­actly what it would be about. I was look­ing for a Canadian com­pet­i­tive eater, and then I came across Pete and his ex­ploits and re­al­ized he’s def­i­nitely one of the best out there. Then, when I found out a lit­tle more about his story, I re­al­ized that there’s more to him than com­pet­i­tive eat­ing.”

For­tu­nately, Czerwinski was re­cep­tive to the idea.

“There were some psychos out there,” he ex­plains, mak­ing short work of a smoked turkey sand­wich. “They kept ask­ing to do some film­ing or what­ever, but they never had a plan – I don’t know, I guess they just wanted to make a buck or two here and there and not tell the story like it’s sup­posed to be told. Ge­orge had a plan.”

The next step was fig­ur­ing out how much of Pete’s story to tell.

“Pete was pretty good,” Tsiout­sioulas says. “I don’t think any­thing was off lim­its. Prob­a­bly some peo­ple wouldn’t be open to shar­ing their story, but I think Pete wants to.”

The trick was dig­ging deep, and that’s where things get a lit­tle prob­lem­atic. Cz­er­win- ski’s not re­luc­tant to tell his story, but he’s not big on go­ing be­yond gen­er­al­iza­tions. He’ll talk about be­ing forced into Sick Kids’ anorexia ward at 17, but only in the most gen­eral way.

“I just kept los­ing more and more weight,” he says, “and I hadn’t been to the doc­tor in quite some time. My mom booked me an ap­point­ment and I said, ‘Okay, fine, I’ll go.’ The sec­ond I walked in, the doc­tor told my mom I needed to go to Sick Kids Hos­pi­tal right away.”

“Pete’s very non­cha­lant,” Tsiout­sioulas ex­plains. “It was hard to un­der­stand from him how se­ri­ous things were. I knew he’d gone through some­thing heavy, but I never re­al­ized how heavy it was just from talk­ing to him. It be­came more real once I sat down with his par­ents. One of the first ques­tions I asked his mother was ‘ What do you re­mem­ber most about 2002?’ And she broke down. It was very real for them.” (Ge­orge Tsiout­sioulas) Rat­ing: Tsiout­sioulas’s por­trait of Pete Czerwinski – an anorexic turned com­pet­i­tive eater and fit­ness en­thu­si­ast – walks a fine line be­tween en­cour­ag­ing view­ers to gog­gle at the sheer spec­ta­cle of what Czerwinski does and try­ing to fig­ure out why he does it.

The doc never comes up with an an­swer be­cause Czerwinski doesn’t seem to have one him­self. He’s not big on in­tro­spec­tion and seems re­luc­tant to dis­cuss ei­ther his psy­chol­ogy or his phys­i­ol­ogy, pre­fer­ring to just go ahead and do what he does – and put the videos up on YouTube – with­out think­ing too much about it. He’s much more will­ing to talk about his mother’s battle with mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis and his ded­i­ca­tion to rais­ing money for MS re­search.

Maybe Czerwinski’s at­ti­tude is es­sen­tial to bounc­ing back from some­thing as de­bil­i­tat­ing as anorexia, but you come away wish­ing Tsiout­sioulas had pressed him a lit­tle harder.

Pete’s re­la­tion­ship with his mother be­came the back­bone of the film. She has mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, and he en­ters con­tests to raise money for MS re­search.

“That’s def­i­nitely one of my drives,” he says, “just to raise aware­ness for it. And ob­vi­ously, eat­ing dis­or­ders were a big drive as well, to show peo­ple that there is hope.”

It could be ar­gued that Pete’s just shifted his con­trol is­sues in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion – and pos­si­bly a health­ier one. He’s be­come fa­nat­i­cal about work­ing out, which off­sets po­ten­tial dam­age from his gorg­ing sprees.

“We went to a gas­troen­terol­o­gist in the film,” Tsiout­sioulas says, “to­tally ex­pect­ing him to run though all the risks and the dan­gers of do­ing this. But more than any­thing, he was in awe. He didn’t think there was any­thing to worry about if [Pete] doesn’t do it ev­ery day, aside from chok­ing. Chok­ing was the main thing he talked about. Or bit­ing your fin­ger off, which you’ve done a cou­ple of times.”

“I did,” Czerwinski says, laugh­ing. “I just get re­ally ag­gres­sive; I just keep shov­el­ling food in, and I guess my jaw’s mov­ing fast enough that I don’t re­al­ize my fin­ger’s in there.”

Au­di­ences may not want to spend any more time on Pete’s in­ner work­ings than he does him­self. They’ll come for the eat­ing and stay straight through the end cred­its, where Czerwinski eats a 72-ounce steak in a sin­gle seven-minute take. Tsiout­sioulas calls it the movie’s money shot.

“Through­out the doc­u­men­tary there are lit­tle snapshots here and there,” he says, “but I wanted to let that roll from be­gin­ning to end to show there are no spe­cial ef­fects.”

But does Czerwinski ac­tu­ally en­joy it? Is there any plea­sure in gob­bling down a steam tray’s worth of hot dogs?

“I treat it like a sport,” he says. “Taste is not an is­sue; you turn that switch off. It’s not fun dunk­ing food in wa­ter and then eat­ing it.”

Can he turn the switch back on and ac­tu­ally en­joy food?

“Of course. I mean, I en­joyed this sand­wich,” he says, ges­tur­ing to his empty plate. “But dur­ing a con­test you don’t want to taste it. You just want it to go down quickly. If you’re tast­ing it, you’re eat­ing too slow.”

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