Lo­cal film buffs flock to doc­u­men­tary so­cial club

Toronto Star - - ENTERTAINMENT - RYAN PORTER EN­TER­TAIN­MENT RE­PORTER

Peo­ple tend to have strong opin­ions about Christo­pher Car­son, whose life’s am­bi­tion is to per­ma­nently re­lo­cate to the moon. Ar­diana Mustafa cer­tainly did af­ter see­ing the 2012 doc­u­men­tary Lu­narcy! “It made him look like a bumbling fool,” she re­calls.

Yet the 30-year-old fundrais­ing pro­fes­sional found her­self un­ex­pect­edly lis­ten­ing to him for three hours one night last Fe­bru­ary. “We were all just mes­mer­ized by him,” Mustafa says. “He knew ev­ery­thing about liv­ing on the moon!”

The meet­ing has been a high­light of the Har­vard Seal Doc­u­men­tary Film Club, a monthly so­cial group founded three years ago this Oc­to­ber that pairs doc­u­men­taries with postscreen­ing drinks and dis­cus­sion, of­ten fea­tur­ing guest speak­ers. Their most re­cent screen­ing was Un­branded, the Hot Docs Au­di­ence Award­win­ning film about four men cor­ralling cat­tle from Mexico to Al­berta.

The club be­gan af­ter Re­becca French re­turned home to Toronto af­teruni­ver­sity and found her­self locked in a fa­mil­iar rou­tine: go to work, come home, watch a doc­u­men­tary, re­peat.

“One thing that I found a lit­tle bit dif­fi­cult was to find a so­cial group where I could meet new peo­ple,” French, 25, re­calls. “At univer­sity it was easy to join clubs where you could meet other peo­ple with sim­i­lar in­ter­ests.” The club now has 455 mem­bers on Face­book.

The post-screen­ing dis­cus­sions of­ten at­tract a dozen or two in­tel­lec­tu­ally cu­ri­ous 20-some­things. Nearly 100 came out to the club’s sec­ondyear an­niver­sary party to screen Ci­ti­zen­four, the Os­car-win­ning doc about Ed­ward Snow­den. “It’s a lot less labour in­ten­sive than a book club,” notes Jes­sica Cupola, 28. “You can just spend two hours watch­ing some­thing and then dis­cuss it.”

Af­ter the Au­gust screen­ing of Alex Gib­ney’s Steve Jobs: The Man In The Ma­chine, a crit­i­cal look at the late Ap­ple founder, slips of pa­per printed with dis­cus­sion ques­tions such as “How do you think Steve would have jus­ti­fied some of the crit­i­cisms of his char­ac­ter as por­trayed in the film?” were scat­tered be­tween the three ta­bles, with peo­ple read­ing them aloud as con­ver­sa­tional fire­crack­ers.

Greg Van De Mark, 26, a busi­ness de­vel­op­ment con­sul­tant, found the club has given him a way to en­gage with the arts.

“It pro­vided an out­let out­side my work life that was in­tel­lec­tu­ally stim­u­lat­ing,” he says. “It was some­thing I didn’t know I craved or missed. It re­minded me so much of my days in univer­sity, just dis­cussing, learn­ing, lis­ten­ing.”

The group has hosted guest speak­ers such as Jen­nifer Baich­wal, the di­rec­tor of Water­mark, a 2013 doc­u­men­tary about hu­man­ity’s re­la­tion­ship with wa­ter. When the club screened the Kurt Cobain doc­u­men­tary Mon­tage of Heck, the all-fe­male Nir­vana cover band Her­vana were their guests.

Peo­ple of­ten as­sume that the club at­tracts the kind of ded­i­cated doc fans who’ve checked off ev­ery film on Rot­ten Toma­toes’ Top 100. “There’s this idea that we all must be doc­u­men­tary film nerds,” says Van De Mark. “I like the fact that I don’t need to know a lot about doc­u­men­tary films to have some­thing to of­fer in those post-film dis­cus­sions.”

As great as the films are, the con­ver­sa­tions they pro­voke are even bet­ter. “Some of those peo­ple have be­come my clos­est friends pri­mar­ily be­cause, through these doc­u­men­taries, you of­ten talk about some deep and sen­si­tive top­ics,” French says. “I find by hav­ing a doc­u­men­tary to start that con­ver­sa­tion in a safe en­vi­ron­ment it of­ten al­lows peo­ple to con­nect deeper than if they met in a dif­fer­ent way.”

About That Name . . . OK, so French didn’t ac­tu­ally get Har­vard’s seal of ap­proval for her Doc­u­men­tary Film Club. The name pays du­bi­ous trib­ute to a doc club mem­ber who mis­heard “har­bour seal” (the an­i­mal) as Har­vard Seal. Though French ad­mits it couldn’t have less to do with docs, the joke lives on: their two-year-an­niver­sary flyer art was an il­lus­trated wav­ing seal.

TIFF

Doc­u­men­taries screened by a lo­cal film club have in­cluded Lu­narcy!, about Christo­pher Car­son, who wants to live on the moon.

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