Just prior to Hot Docs kicking off this week, a pair of documentaries open up at the Bloor Cinema this week for truncated runs just prior to the festival that will serve as the pride and joy of the venue over for the next couple of weeks. Both films are histories on different topics, but one works more effectively than the other.
Bert Stern: Original Mad Man
Photographer Bert Stern was seen by many as defining the style for an entire generation of art and advertising, but while his work can be easily analyzed and pondered over, director Shannah Laumeister’s film is only skin deep in its look at such an influential figure.
With Stern telling the majority of his own story, Original Mad Man briefly chronicles his depression era childhood through his first big break working on a Smirnoff campaign and eventually to becoming the most sought after mind in his field thanks to his obsession with the female form.
And that’s really all there is to this. It would be a little easier if Stern seemed more comfortable talking about his life on camera. He seems uneasy; something that he freely admits early on. He has an interesting story to tell, but not enough to sustain a feature length documentary in this kind of format. He seem more like the kind of person you would want to have drinks with instead of watching him be somewhat forced to be open and forthcoming.
A Fierce Green Fire
Director Mark Kitchell delivers his first documentary since he made Berkley in the Sixties in 1990 with this sprawling and admirably comprehensive oral history of environmental activism since the late 1940s.
Divided into several sections focusing on different parts of the struggle for environmental awareness (narrated by the likes of Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Ashley Judd, and Isabel Allende), Kitchell crafts a lengthy, but well paced look tracing activism from the days of the Sierra Club to the modern day ball dropping on Kyoto. It’s far more even handed and intriguing to watch than someone simply giving a lecture on the same topic. It might be better suited for television viewing, but it’s nothing if not interesting, and it could serve as a great starting point for those wanting to learn more about our troubled history with our environment and those wanting to save it.