GET READY TO DOC YOUR WORLD.
OVER THE NEXT 11 DAYS, ONE OF THE WORLD’S BIGGEST DOCUMENTARY FESTS ROLLS OUT DOZENS OF PREMIERES. NOW WRITERS WEIGH IN ON THE BIG-BUZZ FILMS AND THE TINY GEMS YOU WON’T WANT TO MISS.
Thursday, April 28 POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD
(Morgan Spurlock, U. S.). 90 minutes. Rating: NN Investigating the scourge of product placement in Tinseltown, stunt documentarian Morgan Spurlock ( Super Size Me) decides to make a movie entirely financed by sponsorship, recording and explaining the negotiations for posterity. The result is POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, a testament to the power of the Iron Man Slurpee and the willingness of a filmmaker to whore himself out for a huge cheque.
Spurlock tries to insulate himself by admitting he’s prostituting his movie up front, but he keeps backing away from the deeper implications of what he’s doing. Anybody can get Rush Hour 3’s Brett Ratner to scoff at the notion of artistic integrity in Hollywood, so why not interview an actual artist instead? And it’s disingenuous of Spurlock to solicit advice on developing his personal brand when he’s been doing that fulltime for seven years.
It’s just the same meta- gag over and over again: Spurlock sets the terms of a sponsor’s ad buy, delivers on those terms within the movie and waits for the audience’s knowing laughter. But that audience is still watching an ad. Thursday ( April 28), 6: 30 pm, Winter Garden; Friday ( April 29), 4:15 pm, Isabel Bader.
(Petra Epperlein, Michael Tucker, USA). 85 minutes. Rating: NNNN Weaving moments of psychological insight into a crowd- pleasing underdog narrative, Fightville offers fans of mixed martial arts an energetic look behind the scenes of their beloved sport, while still functioning as an incisive documentary. Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker, directors of Gunner Palace and The Prisoner, Or: How I Planned To Kill Tony Blair, examine the MMA circuit in Louisville through the eyes of upand- coming fighters Dustin Poirier and Albert Stainback.
Using tiny digital cameras, the directors capture intense footage of the matches, but they’re equally good at getting close to the fighters and their coaches outside the ring, as we see when Stainback shares a harrowing memory of domestic abuse without seeming to understand how his past has led him to adopt a stage persona borrowed from the droogs in A Clockwork Orange.
It’s not for the squeamish – the cage matches get pretty messy – but just about everyone else should find something to appreciate. Thursday ( April 28), 9: 30 pm, Winter Garden; Friday ( April 29), 1: 45 pm, Isabel Bader; Tuesday (May 3), 3: 45 pm, Cumberland 2.
Friday, April 29 HOW TO MAKE A BOOK WITH STEIDL
(Jörg Adolph, Gereon Wetzel, Germany). 90 min. Some German (no subtitles). Rating: NNNN Bibliophiles, art lovers and those who own the DVD of Helvetica will adore this film about Gerhard Steidl, the brilliant publisher whose lovingly crafted art books have made his tiny independent publishing house in a small German town world-renowned.
Directors Jörg Adolph and Gereon Wetzel follow the fastidious, dryly humorous Steidl as he visits his clients, who range from Robert Frank and Ed Ruscha to Karl Lagerfeld and Günter Grass. We learn little about the man himself; a rare moment of comedy comes when one of his pens leaks in his shirt pocket. But watching him go from the beginning of a project to the end with photographer Joel
Sternfeld teaches you everything about his aesthetic and philosophy, which is refreshing in the digital age. GS Friday ( April 29), 6 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2; Saturday ( April 30), 4 pm, Cumberland 2.
THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE 1967-1975
(Göran Hugo Olsson, Sweden). 93 minutes. Some subtitles. Rating: NNNN This excellent pic puts the “document” in documentary, uncovering spectacular footage of black activists shot by Swedish journalists in the late 60s and early 70s. In these archives, Stokely Carmi
chael interviews his mother, Malcolm X works the crowd, and Angela Davis speaks her mind about how the racists, not the activists, are the violent ones. Scenes show the Black Panthers mobilizing communities, launching free breakfast programs and teaching kids. Then, what some call a conspiracy to dump drugs into black communities sapped all that political energy.
To give the film some shape, contemporary artists including Erykah Badu and a super-articulate Talib Kweli express their debt to the period. But it’s the archival footage that matters here.
Warning: subtitles for the Swedish voice- over, thanks to light backgrounds, are hard to read. SGC Friday ( April 29), 6: 30 pm, Bloor; Monday (May 2), 1 pm, Cumberland 2; May 7, 9 pm, Bloor.
(Jay Cheel, Canada). 90 minutes. Rating: NNNN Years before YouTube or the Jackass phenomenon, Ralph Zavadil began videotaping his shaggy- haired alter ego, Cap’n Video’s, silly and stupid antics – snorting raw eggs, tobogganing off a roof – for a Niagara region cable access show. He soon became a local cult figure and, after he broke his neck jumping from a ladder into a pool, a momentary international celebrity.
Jay Cheel checks in with him nearly two decades later, trying to find out what motivated him and how his shot at fame in the U. S. fell through.
Zavadil, still athletic and charismatic, isn’t the most introspective person, but his philosophy of having fun while you can is infectious. Cheel expertly interweaves archival footage, finding surprising emotional beats that add texture and complexity to the man. GS Friday ( April 29), 6: 45 pm, Isabel Bader; Wednesday (May 4), 7: 30 pm, Rooftop; May 7, 4:15 pm,
EL BULLI – COOKING IN PROGRESS
(Gereon Wetzel, Germany). 108 minutes. Subtitled. Rating: NNN Star chef Ferran Adrià and his team invent new dishes for his famous El Bulli restaurant near Roses, Catalonia, watched by Gereon Wetzel and crew’s completely neutral camera.
No bellowing ego-trippers here. Adrià’s chefs work almost as silently as scientists in a lab, dreaming up concoctions like ice vinai-
grette or cocktails made with oil, then giving them to a patient Adrià to test out.
The tasting menu – 40 dishes in all – flashes by at the end in a series of spectacular images. Sad note to foodies: the resto has since closed, though not many of us could have afforded the luxury of checking it out. SGC Friday ( April 29), 8: 45 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2; Saturday, April 30, 1 pm, Cumberland 2; May 8, 3 pm, Cumberland 3.
(James Newton, UK). 59 minutes. Rating: NN This could have been a great portrait of a South Leeds troupe of cheerleaders – almost all of them the sons of single mothers – rehearsing for competition. But the film gives too little time to the obvious gender issues, too little information about the cheerleading program – like who’s funding it – and too little background into freewheeling coach Ian Rodley.
Disappointing. SGC Friday ( April 29), 9 pm, Cumberland 2; Sunday (May 1), 4: 30 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3; May 8, 6: 45 pm, Isabel Bader.
(Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato, U. S.). 85 minutes. Rating: NNNN This story about the offspring of Sonny
and Cher Bono as he transitioned from Chastity to Chaz works for three main reasons.
First, though it can’t help but pay attention to Chaz’s pedigree, it isn’t obsessed with it. Second, a last- reel sequence in which families assist young transgendered children with their eventual transitioning process feels very new.
And most important, the film takes an intimate look at the major steps in Chaz’s transition – the hormone treatments, the breast surgeries – and their impact on his relationship with his very candid live-in girlfriend, Jennifer Elia, who’s not comfortable with all the changes. Impressive. SGC Friday ( April 29), 9:15 pm, Bloor; Sunday (May 1), 4 pm; May 8 6: 45 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2.
(Matt Gallagher, Canada). 75 minutes. Rating: NNN Here’s a doc about Toronto poker players that doesn’t win the jackpot. Gambling is just one of Daniel’s addictions; he thinks he plays better when he’s drunk. Mr. Personality,
Andre, gets himself a spot on the Victory Tour by winning an online contest. Lawrence runs his own poker club, only to encounter problems with his landlord.
Director Matt Gallagher applies some smart strategies. He uses Elvis as a metaphor to good effect, and the idea of interviewing Canadian poker star Daniel Negreanu, who’s living every player’s fantasy, while he’s putting on his private golf course is inspired.
But Toronto’s scene is just not that interesting, and the film misses being gripping. SGC Friday ( April 29), 9: 45 pm, Isabel Bader; May 7, 9: 30 pm TIFF Bell Lightbox 1; May 8, 6: 30 pm, Fox.
Saturday, April 30
(Bill Ross IV, Turner Ross, U. S.). 90 minutes. Rating: NNNN 45365 refers to the zip code of the small town of Sidney, Ohio, and by the end of this richly poetic film, you’ll feel like you know the place intimately.
The directors’ unobtrusive cameras capture seemingly ordinary moments at county fairs, weddings, hair salons and radio stations.
There’s not much of a narrative, but we return to a few subjects – a young woman who wants to break up with her boyfriend, a family involved in petty crime. And the film gains some tension in tracking both a big high school football game (well attended) and some sort of municipal election (less so).
Various versions of the song Beautiful Ohio provide a nostalgic backdrop to the lyrical onscreen images. GS Saturday ( April 30), 11 am, ROM.
NO ENTRY NO EXIT
(Mareille Klein, Julie Kreuzer, Germany). 82 minutes. Subtitled. Rating:
NNN A middle-aged two-time convicted child sex offender named Karl D. moves in with his brother’s family in a small German town, resulting in nonstop harassment of the family by neighbours and even the police.
Directors Mareille Klein and Julie Kreuzer give lots of time to a group of bloodthirsty demonstrators, Karl’s hotheaded brother, Helmut, and several angry female neighbours who gradually reveal why they’re so passionate about the issue.
The aloof Karl remains a more mysterious figure, especially after the film takes a surprising midpoint turn. The lack of a pat ending makes the film’s disturbing message linger. GS Saturday ( April 30), 3: 45 pm, ROM; Sunday (May 1), 7:15 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 4.
THE REDEMPTION OF GENERAL BUTT NAKED
(Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasion, U. S.). 83 minutes. Rating: NNNN Compelling and disturbing in equal measure, The Redemption Of General Butt Naked raises a lot of questions where no easy answers are possible.
Its titular subject, a former Liberian warlord who used to march in just sneakers and an AK- 47, is responsible for the horrific murder of thousands, women and children included. Now he is Evangelist Joshua Milton Blahyi, who swears by Jesus and preaches forgiveness, possibly for selfish reasons.
Directors Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasion trust the audience to form their own opinions about the largerthan-life figure whose cartoonish energy and persuasive charisma motivate a religious congregation in the same way that they once rallied child soldiers. RS Saturday ( April 30), 9: 45 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2; Monday (May 2), 3: 45 pm, Cumberland 2; May 7, 9: 45 pm, Cumberland 2.
BEATS, RHYMES AND LIFE: THE TRAVELS OF A TRIBE CALLED QUEST
(Michael Rapaport, U. S.). 98 minutes. Rating: NNN Michael Rapaport’s A Tribe Called Quest bio often feels like any other E! celebrity profile about a successful band that just can’t keep it together. There’s nothing new about the bickering between lead rappers Q-Tip and Phife, or their redundant breakup-and-reunion cycle. It helps that these lyricists are our key narrators, so at least they add wit and humour to their brief history.
What was and still is groundbreaking is Tribe’s music: conscious rhymes spit over remixed jazz samples. In the film’s first half, Rapaport delivers a sweet, nostalgic trip back to the days when hiphop heads rocked boom boxes instead of iPhones and blasted Tribe and De La Soul’s backpack raps instead of the Auto-Tuned tracks dominating airwaves today. As soon as the music stops and the personal conflicts get in the way, this doc becomes the same old song. RS Saturday ( April 30), 6: 30 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1.
BATTLE FOR BROOKLYN
( Michael Galinsky/Suki Hawley, U. S.). 94 minutes. Rating: NNNN Development company Forest City Ratner is determined to raze a full 18 hectares of Brooklyn to make way for a new
arena for the New Jersey Nets, new condos and shops, but tenant Daniel Gold
stein has no intention of leaving his apartment. He organizes the community to protest.
Not that everyone supports him. Many Brooklynites like the prospect of an influx of money and new jobs.
Superb storytelling and great characters, especially charismatic city councillor Laetitia James, make this a mustsee. SGC Saturday ( April 30), 7 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2; Sunday (May 1), 1: 30 pm, Cumberland 2.
(David York, Canada). 94 minutes. Rating: NNNNN See cover story and review, page 6. Saturday ( April 30), 7 pm, Isabel Bader; Tuesday (May 3), 7:15 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 4; May 7, 7 pm, Regent.
THE BATTLE FOR BARKING
(Laura Fairrie, UK). 85 minutes. Rating:
NNN Laura Fairrie looks at the 2008 election, during which the anti-immigration National Party, whose slogan is “Give Britain back to the British,” went all out to make major gains, targeting the Barking riding where long-time Labour MP Margaret Hodge was trying to hold onto her seat
Politically, the film’s a bit of a cheat. It renders completely invisible the Liberal and Tory candidates who were running as well, and the race was never really as tense as Fairrie makes out.
But her portrait of charismatic BNP party leader Nick Griffin is terrifying, and the white constituents whose anger and ignorance he taps are truly sad. SGC Saturday ( April 30), 9: 30 pm, Cumberland 2; Monday (May 2), 4: 30 pm, ROM. (Jaret Belliveau, Canada). 97 minutes. Rating: NNN In Highway Gospel, Jaret Belliveau looks at both a rowdy group of worldclass BC longboarders who race down mountain highways and a middle-aged Ottawa slalom skateboarder who attempts a comeback before his second heart surgery.
The doc suffers from a disorienting beginning but gets back on track when it finds the story it wants to tell, climaxing in two separate races. A couple of subjects aren’t the most compelling – and where are the women? – but Belliveau makes great use of Seth Rogen-look-a-like Bricin Lyons, whose exuberance and play-by-play announcer talents are documentary gold.
The film’s soul, though, lies in former champ Claude Regnier, who risks his health, his relationships and his dwindling bank account for the sport he loves. GS Saturday ( April 30), 9: 30 pm, Royal; Monday (May 2), 9: 30 pm, ROM; May 7, 11: 45 pm, Bloor.
THE NATIONAL PARKS PROJECT
(multiple directors, Canada). 127 minutes. Rating: NNN To celebrate the centenary of Parks Can
ada, Joel McConvey, Geoff Morrison and Ryan Noth assembled 13 filmmakers and 39 musicians to interpret the country’s national parks in a series of beautifully photographed shorts. (Imagine North Of Superior without the uncomfortable patriotism.)
As with any omnibus project, tone and content vary wildly from one segment to the next, and at just over two hours, The National Parks Project does drag on a bit; the experience might fare better as a series of individual HD shorts than a continuous feature film. (Discovery World HD is a co-producer.)
Fortunately, the best parts are waiting at the end. Daniel Cockburn offers a playfully creepy take on Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula (“the place you don’t remember”), scored by John Samson, Christine Fellows and Sandro Perri;
Hubert Davis brings Kathleen Ed
wards, Sam Roberts and Matt Mays to Manitoba’s Wapusk National Park; and
Kevin McMahon takes an impressionistic trip along the Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories, scored by Olga
Goreas, Jace Lasek and Shad. NW Saturday ( April 30), 9: 30 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1; Monday (May 2), 9:15 pm, Royal.
MAIDS & BOSSES
(Abner Benaim, Panama). 64 min. Subtitled. Rating: NNN A doc in which Panamanian domestic workers and their bosses gripe about each other seems almost too easy, but director Abner Benaim finds a wide range of passionate characters and themes. The maids and nannies complain about money, sexual abuse and being far from home (many are immigrants), while the employers bitch about their workers’ laziness, lack of social graces and (in one instance) a possible case of black magic.
Raised in Panama City, Benaim never injects himself into the film; it’s up to the viewer to see who’s being honest in some cases. But he unearths lots of truths about class, dignity, loneliness and mutual respect. Look for the proud maid and her señora, who’ve been together for decades yet barely talk to each other. GS Saturday ( April 30), 9 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 4; Monday (May 2), 1: 45 pm, ROM.
(Alex Gibney, Alison Ellwood, U. S.). 90 minutes. Rating: NNN Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney ( Taxi To The Dark Side) returns with a documentary retracing the cross- country drive of Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters in an old yellow school bus in the summer of 1964, whacked out on various combinations of LSD, speed and promiscuity. Kesey and his friends filmed the entire journey, and their recently rediscovered footage constitutes the bulk of this doc, with Stanley Tucci and voice actors “discussing” the trip on the soundtrack.
It’s harmless enough, as boomer nos- talgia goes, but Gibney and co- director
Alison Ellwood run out of gas once the gang gets to New York City. And it does seem odd that Tom Wolfe, who literally wrote the book on Kesey and the Pranksters with The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, is neither seen nor heard. NW Saturday ( April 30), 9: 45 pm, Isabel Bader; Monday (May 2), 3: 30 pm, Isabel Bader.
Sunday, May 1 BOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD
(Liz Garbus, U. S.). 93 minutes. Rating: NN Genius, champion, madman – whatever you call Bobby Fischer, it only captures one facet of his curious personality. The American-born chess master eludes classification once again in Bobby Fischer Against The World, which examines his rise and fall through the prism of his legendary 1972 face- off in Iceland with Soviet champion Boris Spassky.
Director Liz Garbus ( The Farm) hangs her analysis on the pop thesis that Fischer was somehow driven mad by chess, avoiding the flip side of that theory, which suggests that the rigidity of the game appeals to people seeking stability. ( The famously obsessive Fischer certainly displays Asperger’s- like symptoms in the archival footage Garbus relies upon.)
But there are few things duller than watching people watch other people playing chess, and Garbus never finds a way to bring the sport to cinematic life.
NW Sunday (May 1), 1: 30 pm, Isabel Bader; Tuesday (May 3), 7 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3.
(Igal Hecht, Canada). 45 minutes. Some subtitles. Rating: NN Igal Hecht, producer of last year’s The Story Of Furious Pete, takes his camera to the hilltops of the West Bank and the Golan Heights, where fundamentalist Jews are building illegal settlements in Palestinian territory. The settlers argue that the land was given to them by God, and no peace agreement can negate that compact; the Israeli government would really like them to stop, since it’s offensive to Palestinians and generally fucking up the peace process.
It’s a great topic, but Hecht bobbles the execution, spending half an hour letting the settlers state their case over and over again. The doc’s last third picks up with a fascinating conversation between two settlers and a very patient Palestinian gentleman, plus footage of a settlement being torn down by the Israeli military, but that just left me wondering why Hecht didn’t tell those stories from the start. NW Sunday (May 1), 4: 30 pm, ROM; Tuesday (May 3), 9: 45 pm, Cumberland 2.
BURY THE HATCHET
(Aaron Walker, U. S.). 86 minutes. Rating: NNNN In New Orleans, an enclave of Afro-Americans have a Mardi Gras tradition of dressing up as Indians to honour the
Native American communities that harboured blacks escaping from slavery in Louisiana’s bayous.
Bury The Hatchet spotlights the rival “chiefs,” who lovingly construct and sew their spectacular Mardi Gras suits, attempting to sustain their over100-year- old tradition.
It begins as a film about how the construction of Louisiana’s Interstate 10 almost destroyed the community. But then the narrative shifts when Hurricane Katrina hits, causing much more devastation and compelling the tribes to finally bury their differences – hence the title.
Terrific characters make this a powerful doc, and the jazz and Creole music will knock you out. SGC Sunday (May 1), 7 pm, Cumberland 3; Tuesday (May 3), 4: 30 pm, Cumberland 3.
HOW ARE YOU
(Jannik Splidsboel, Denmark). 70 minutes. Subtitled. Rating: NNN Berlin queer art duo Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, famous for their outrageous art installations (e.g., siting a Prada boutique in the Texan desert), conceive and execute their piece for the 2009 Venice Biennale in this fascinating retrospective and study of artists at work.
Their 2008 memorial to gays persecuted in Nazi Germany, a video loop inside a permanent concrete structure in a Berlin park, shows two men kissing. Their biennale installation feigns the sale of two meticulously designed living spaces. In one, shown by faux real estate agents, a man appears to be drowned in the swimming pool.
Though the art is terrific, How Are You could use a little more drama and diva behaviour. Sometimes these guys are just too easy- going to be true. SGC Sunday (May 1), 7 pm, ROM; Wednesday (May 4), 4 pm, ROM.
THE PIRATE TAPES
(Matvei Zhivov, Roger Singh, Andrew Moniz, Rock Baijnauth, Canada). 72 minutes. Some subtitles. Rating: NNN Somali- Canadian Mohamed Ashareh heads back to his home country – with camera crew in tow and, eventually, his own hidden camera – to find out what he can about pirates operating off Somalia’s coast.
It’s a thrilling idea, and the film delivers a whack of useful information, but the politics are confusing. At first the pirates seem to be revolutionaries protesting overfishing and the dumping of toxic waste into their seas by venal corporations. But then they just take the money and run, never giving back to the community.
And we’re never clear on what’s driving Ashareh besides his determination to put himself in danger. When things do go wrong for him, though, The Pirate Tapes is riveting. SGC Sunday (May 1), 9:15 pm, Bloor; May 7 4:15 pm, Cumberland 2; May 8, 9 pm, Fox.
Monday, May 2
BETTER THIS WORLD
(Katie Galloway, Kelly Duane de la Vega, U. S./UK). 95 minutes. Rating: NNNN Better This World tells the disquieting story of David McKay and Bradley Crowder, friends from Midland, Texas, arrested during the Republican National Convention of 2008 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Charged with manufacturing Molotov cocktails with the intent of using them against policemen and security forces, they’re painted as terrorists and face serious prison time – but the case against them isn’t nearly as simple as it looks.
With remarkable access to the accused and their families, directors Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega present the friends’ legal odyssey as a snapshot of America’s steady suspension of essential liberties in the wake of 9/ 11, as the Bush administration slowly eviscerated the Constitution and Bill Of Rights. That damage will take decades to repair, but this documentary offers reformers an excellent starting point.
NW Monday (May 2), 6 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1; Wednesday (May 4), 4:15 pm, Cumberland 3.
FAMILY PORTRAIT IN BLACK AND WHITE
(Julia Ivanova, Canada). 92 minutes. Subtitled. Rating: NNNNN Here’s an emotionally absorbing subject filled with layers of complexity. In a modest house in a small Ukrainian town, Olga Nenya raises 27 kids, among them 16 black children who were abandoned by their mothers and orphaned because of their race.
There’s tension with the outside community – ignorant neighbours, tsk-tsking health inspectors – but there’s also bickering within the mixed family, as the loving, hardworking yet hardline Nenya gushes over one no- good son while standing in the way of another’s talent for soccer or a daughter’s desire to move to Italy. ( After the Chernobyl disaster, a summer exchange between Ukrainian kids and European families began.)
The next-to- last scene, in which one of Nenya’s children describes his treatment in a psych institution, is so full of horrific details it couldn’t be made up.
GS Monday (May 2), 6: 45 pm, Cumberland 2; Wednesday (May 4), 4: 30 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3; May 8, 3: 30 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3. (Jet Homoet, Sharog Heshmat Manesh, Netherlands). 85 minutes. Subtitled. Rating: NNN This canny study of Maryam, an independent Irani woman preparing for marriage, starts slowly, but it steadily builds steam to reveal some startling contradictions.
For instance, although the ayatollahs still have political power and women cover up in public, Maryam and her sister Ghazal control the household and bring in the bread. Husband-to- be Aqbar appreciates Maryam’s strength but won’t let her set terms for the marriage agreement.
A sequence in which Ghazal and her English student reference Jane Austen while discussing women’s place in Iranian society is very smart. And if you need a dose of positivity, the last scene delivers. SGC Monday (May 2), 7:15 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3; Wednesday (May 4), 1: 30 pm, ROM.
Tuesday, May 3
(Susan Saladoff, U. S.). 92 minutes. Rating: NNNN Susan Saladoff’s documentary explores the insidious ways in which American corporations work to limit their legal liability in negligence suits, using the infamous McDonald’s case as a jumping- off point. ( Senior citizen Stella Liebeck received third- degree burns when she accidentally spilled her superheated beverage on her thighs; McDonald’s spun her subsequent legal action as a meritless joke suit. The corporate version caught on with late- night comics and pundits.)
Advocacy documentaries are supposed to be rousing and energizing, but with its tales of deliberate misinformation, astroturfing, influence peddling and assorted other dirty tricks, Hot Coffee is more likely to send you out of the theatre with an urgent need to check the fine print on your cellphone contract. NW Tuesday (May 3), 7 pm, Royal; May 5, 1: 30 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3.
HELL AND BACK AGAIN
(Danfung Dennis, UK/U. S.). 88 minutes. Rating: NNNN Winner of two prizes at Sundance, this harrowing study of the human cost of the Afghanistan war plays out in two discrete timelines. In one, a platoon of U. S. Marines clashes with Taliban guerrillas; in the other, a few months later, Sgt. Nathan Harris struggles through a gruelling rehabilitation process after he’s shot in an ambush.
Director Danfung Dennis is best known as a war photographer, and he has a terrific eye; this is one of the bestlooking docs I’ve seen in years. But it’s also emotionally immediate and formally accomplished, with confident transitions between the two time frames that bring us closer and closer to the struggling Harris. It turns out there was somewhere to take the boots- on-theground doc after Restrepo and Armadillo after all. NW Tuesday (May 3), 7: 30 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1; May 5, 4 pm, Isabel Bader.
(Erika Hnikova, Czech Republic/Slovakia). 72 minutes. Subtitled. Rating: NNN Matchmaking Mayor tackles the issue of economic stagnation and social diffusion in Eastern Europe from an unexpected angle. Erika Hnikova’s documentary tracks the attempts of mayor Josef Gajdos to spur a population explosion in his tiny Slovak village of Zemplínske Hámre by matching up the local singles with an insistence that borders on coercion.
Try to watch this without recalling Pierre Trudeau’s maxim about states having no business in the bedrooms of the nation. The townsfolk certainly seem less and less comfortable being told to get busy by an elected official – who himself grows less and less engaging over the course of the documentary. NW Tuesday (May 3), 9: 30 pm, Innis; Wednesday (May 4), 2 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 4.
WE WERE HERE
(David Weissman, U. S.). 90 minutes. Rating: NNN There have been many docs about the AIDS crisis, but few have focused solely on how the epidemic affected San Francisco.
David Weissman’s straightforward, informative doc centres on five subjects whose lives were radically changed during that time. They range from a female nurse and a male volunteer working on the front lines of treatment to a politician dealing with mobilizing the city around issues like safe sex, quarantine and access to experimental drugs.
The heart of the film, however, belongs to Daniel Goldstein, an HIV- posi- tive artist who watched most of his friends and two long-term partners lose their struggle with AIDS.
Rich archival material and many inspiring tales of courage and compassion make this a worthy document to a difficult era. GS Tuesday (May 3), 9: 30 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1; May 5, 1: 45 pm, ROM.
AT NIGHT, THEY DANCE
(Isabelle Lavigne, Stéphane Thibault, Canada). 80 minutes. Subtitled. Rating: NNNN In Cairo, one-time belly dancer Reda teaches the dying art to her daughters, three of her seven children, with whom she fights about their money, drugs and boyfriends.
This is one of those docs that thrusts you into another culture. Here, women perform in all- male environments – mostly wedding- related – and yet the danger factor is strangely low.
Though it’s a tad long, the film features some breathtaking images: Reda training her gum- chewing teen daughter, who looks like a young child; male wedding guests throwing money at the groom; a young girl’s hands as she practises traditional movements.
Very strong. SGC Tuesday (May 3), 10 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 4; May 6, 1:15 pm, ROM.
Wednesday, May 4 GRAVITY WAS EVERYWHERE BACK THEN
(Brent Green, U. S.). 72 minutes. Rating: NN There’s always one experimental documentary that aims big and misses completely. This year it’s Brent Green’s candy- coloured hipster fable about a Kentucky hardware store clerk who retrofitted the home he shared with his wife into a sort of healing chamber after she fell ill.
Though it’s initially intriguing, Green’s handmade aesthetic quickly becomes insufferable, and every artistic choice the director makes – shooting his actors in a form of stop-motion, reading the narration as though he’s constantly on the verge of tears – works against the story’s emotional impact. It’s like watching a long-form Bright Eyes video. NW Wednesday (May 4), 7: 30 pm, Cumberland 3; May 6, 6:15 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 4.
THE SAMBA WITHIN ME
(Georgia Guerra- Peixe, Brazil/Portugal). 72 minutes. Rating: NNN We’ve all heard the samba beats so characteristic of Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival. Now we get a backstage pass to one of Rio’s beat factories.
Georgia Guerra- Peixe’s doc is a visually arresting tribute to the Mangueira Hill neighbourhood, where, despite the dilapidated conditions, poverty and crime, a rich culture and vi- brant personalities thrive. The film might frustrate those looking for a dramatic story or character. Guerra- Peixe forgoes any semblance of a narrative, allowing her camera to simply dance to the rhythms of daily life in Mangueira.
The film tours through back alleys and into the homes where the music is born. It’s a far cry from the spectacle of Carnival. RS Wednesday (May 4), 7: 30 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3; May 6, 1 pm, Cumberland 3.
BOB AND THE MONSTER
(Keirda Bahruth, U. S.). 86 minutes. Rating: NNN “Bob” is Bob Forrest, frontman for the unquantifiable band Thelonious Monster, which helped define California’s underground rock scene in the 80s alongside Fishbone and Red Hot Chili Peppers. But the monster of Keirda Bahruth’s title is addiction, which brought Forrest’s musical career down in a haze of smack, booze and emotional instability. Fortunately for him and dozens of other addicts, Forrest survived to become a rehabilitation counsellor, working specifically with musicians.
Bob And The Monster is awfully formulaic; there are long stretches where it plays like the grimmest- ever episode of Behind The Music, with miserable testimonials from Forrest (looking eerily like the ghost of Warren Zevon) and his famous friends. But the third act, focusing on his recovery and career resurrection, pays off. NW Wednesday (May 4), 9 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2; May 6, 9: 30 pm, Cumberland 3.
THE BALLAD OF GENESIS AND LADY JAYE
(Marie Losier, U. S.). 72 minutes. Rating:
NNN In Ballad, part of Hot Docs’ very strong Next component of films about the arts, creativity and pop culture, visionary and industrial music groundbreaker Genesis P- Orridge recalls his love affair with his late muse, Lady Jaye. The two, always devoted to living large, took themselves and their art so seriously that they made their own bodies their primary art project, pursuing cosmetic surgeries that would make them look like twins.
In her debut feature, experimental short expert Marie Losier mines a trove of archival video – the couple and their friends shot just about everything they did – to draw a compelling portrait. In the end, though, the portrait is more of P- Orridge than of the couple. SGC Wednesday (May 4), 9: 30 pm, Bloor; May 6, 11: 45 pm, Bloor; May 8, 8: 45 pm, ROM.
Thursday, May 5
(Billy Corben, U. S.). 101 minutes. Rating:
NNN Caught somewhere between a time capsule of Manhattan club-scene wackiness and a legal procedural, Limelight follows the ups and downs of Ontario- born nightclub impresario Peter Gatien, who ruled the night life in the 80s and early 90s before getting sidetracked by charges that he was of using his clubs – specifically the Limelight and the Tunnel – to sell ecstasy and cocaine, among other things.
Tarted up with cheesy disco- era visual gimmicks and wall-to-wall techno beats, Limelight is a stylistic mess that nonetheless offers an intriguing look at Giuliani- era New York City from an unlikely perspective. And if you get the feeling that the whole thing was produced in the service of Gatien’s image rehabilitation, well, you also get the feeling the guy might deserve the chance to clear his name. NW May 5, 6 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1; May 7, 4 pm, ROM.
INSIDE LARA ROXX
(Mia Donovan, Canada). 81 minutes. Rating: NNN Photographer and filmmaker Mia Donovan pursues her interest in the commodification of sexual desire in this disturbing film about the first female porn star ever diagnosed with HIV.
Donovan tracks the naive Lara Roxx, whom we first meet in a psychiatric ward in Montreal, abandoned by the media that made her story a sensation, as she prepares to head back to L. A. to reinvent herself.
There are some very tender moments, especially with Lara’s mom, but the film doesn’t really get going until Roxx returns to Montreal midway through the film. Still, Donovan does good work in probing the relationship between filmmaker and subject. SGC May 5, 6: 30 pm, Bloor; May 6, 9: 45 pm, Cumberland 2; May 8, 9: 30 pm, Royal.
THE CHOCOLATE FARMER
(Rohan Fernando, Canada). 70 minutes. Rating: NNN If The Chocolate Farmer feels like it’s going nowhere, that’s because its subject is headed in the same direction.
Rohan Fernando’s doc leisurely observes Eladio Pop, a chocolate farmer in Belize who clings to an ancient Mayan lifestyle while everyone around him – including some of his 15 children – is eager to progress with globalization and the capital markets. The film dabbles in exoticism while it mourns the passing of traditional agriculture, sympathizing with the inability of farmers like Eladio to sustain themselves.
However, it withholds criticism of a man who stubbornly refuses to adapt
and shies away from sending his kids to school, hoping they’ll carry on their past- due culture. RS May 5, 7 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3; May 7, 7:15 pm, Cumberland 2; May 8, 1:15 pm, ROM.
THE FUTURE IS NOW!
(Gary Burns, Jim Brown, Canada). 92 minutes. Rating: NNN Gary Burns and Jim Brown pushed the documentary envelope with Radiant City, a look at urban sprawl that had actors play composite characters to illustrate the increasing homogeneity of the Canadian exurbs.
In their new collaboration, The Future Is Now!, which takes the conceit a step further, a fictional Montreal journalist ( Liane Balaban) tries to convince a fictional interview subject ( Paul Ahmarani) that he shouldn’t be so pessimistic about the future. The characters – identified only as the Woman of Tomorrow and the Man of Today – visit assorted artists and scientists to discuss coming social and philosophical changes, turning a talking-heads documentary into a more accessible entertainment.
That’s the theory, anyway, but this time around the artifice proves dis-tracting. Much as I’ve enjoyed Balaban and Ahmarani elsewhere, the real meat of this movie is in the interviews. NW May 5, 9 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1; May 7, 1 pm, Cumberland 3.
RECESSIONIZE! FOR FUN AND PROFIT!
(Jamie Kastner, Canada). 56 minutes. Some subtitles. Rating: NN Adopting the ironically cheerful, commercialized style of Andrew Nisker’s Garbage! The Revolution Starts At Home and Chemerical, director Jamie
Kastner zips around the globe examining how the world’s wealthiest people are coping with the ongoing economic crisis. ( Turns out they’re barely feeling it, because they’re still incredibly wealthy.)
It’s a subject worth investigating, but beyond pointing out that multi- millionaires are only wasting tens of thousands on their creature comforts these days rather than hundreds of thousands, Kastner offers little insight or context – and his disgust at the sight of wealthy idiots pretending to tighten their belts feels increasingly awkward as he flies around the world interviewing them for
his movie. NW May 5, 9: 45 pm, ROM; May 7, 6: 30 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2.
(James Marsh, U. S./ UK). 93 minutes. Rating:
NNNNN James Marsh, director of the Oscar-winning Man On Wire, delivers another stranger-than-fiction tale of New York in the 1970s. Project Nim charts the odyssey of Nim Chimpsky, a chimpanzee raised among humans (and taught sign language) as part of a Columbia linguistics experiment.
It’s a project undermined at almost every turn by stunning arrogance and incompetence. By the time it’s over, you won’t be able to stand the sight of Her
bert Terrace, who seems to have started the project so he could sleep with a series of comely assistants, and you’ll be astonished at the twists and turns Nim’s story takes after he leaves Terrace’s care.
One of the year’s best documentaries. NW May 5, 9: 45 pm, Isabel Bader; May 6, 11 am, Isabel Bader.
Friday, May 6 BEETLE QUEEN CONQUERS TOKYO
(Jessica Oreck, U. S.). 90 minutes. Subtitled. Rating: NNNN While insects make most North Americans squirm, in Japan many of the rarer species of winged and many-legged critters are collected, bought and sold as house pets. Playful beetles show up as protagonists in kids’ video games, and an entire industry’s sprung up around catching and rearing bugs.
Narrated in the soothing tones of Haruku Shinozuki, Jessica Oreck’s hypnotic, beautifully paced doc looks at Japanese culture to find philosophical and spiritual connections between man and nature. One comment about the Japanese spirit and natural disasters is especially revealing in light of the recent earthquake and tsunami. GS
May 6, 7 pm, Innis.
AFTER THE APOCALYPSE
(Antony Butts, UK). 65 minutes. Subtitled. Rating: NNNN Filmmaker Antony Butts brings his camera to the villages near the former Polygon test site in Kazakhstan where decades of Russian nuclear testing have bequeathed a legacy of background radiation, genetic damage and birth defects to the families living nearby.
And it just gets worse. Butts introduces a doctor who’s working to curb the number of “socially unwanted pregnancies” among the families with a higher risk of producing malformed babies. Plenty of documentaries compete every year for the title of “grim as fuck”; this year, After The Apocalypse wins it in a walk. NW May 6, 7:15 pm, Cumberland 3; May 7, 7 pm, Innis.
THE BALLAD OF GENESIS AND LADY JAYE
DAUGHTERS OF MALAKEH
BURY THE HATCHET
HOW TO MAKE A BOOK WITH STEIDL