In our second of many looks into this year’s 2013 line-up of the 20th annual Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival we take a look at some films looking to knock ’em dead in the metaphorical sense. Today we look at some of the singing and dancing showstoppers gracing the festival.
Remember to stay tuned every day this week for even more exciting Hot Docs action, including all the latest reviews and filmmaker interviews. For more information, showtimes, tickets, and a full list of all 205 films being screened, head on over to hotdocs.ca
We Always Lie to Strangers
Director: AJ Schnak, David Wilson
Recommended: No doubt. It more than lives up to its title when taking the image of one of the happiest places in America down a peg or two.
It’s a town in Missouri with just over 10,000 regular residents year round, but the tourism industry in the wholesome hamlet of Branson, Missouri has netted billions over the course of the past several decades. This right leaning burgh has an undying love for show tunes, old time religion, air shows, cornpone vaudeville, Andy Williams, and Yakov Smirnoff, but what about the people who service the thriving entertainment side of things?
Directors Schnak and Wilson take a look at the mayor, several families with longstanding roots in the community, and individual performers trying to make a go of it in a place where putting your best foot forward with a smiling face means closeting unpopular political opinions or any sexuality that isn’t straight and wholesome. It’s not exactly shocking stuff if you’re ever been to or know anything about Branson, but these personal stories are often as sad as they are humorous. It balances the historical and the human quite well, building to an unforgettable final twenty minutes that underlines the sacrifices some people make to stay on top in one of the friendliest places on Earth.
Monday, April 29th, 5:30pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Tuesday, April 30th, 1:30pm, Isabel Bader Theatre
Sunday, May 5th, 4:30pm, Hart House Theatre
The Great Hip Hop Hoax
Director: Jeanie Finlay
Recommended: Absolutely, It’s full of energy and features a great story that will appeal to all.
When their promising Scottish hip hop act is dismissed as “the rapping Proclaimers” by A&R scouts, best friends Billy and Gavin re-group as Silibil N’ Brains. The duo adopt fake Yankee accents and re-invent themselves as California homies. Suddenly, music execs are tripping over each other to sign the duo. Featuring confessions from the con artists themselves, insight from the suits they duped, and doodled re-enactments from revered UK cartoonist Jon Burgerman, the film charts the highs and lows of a scam that led the MCs into madness.
The Great Hip Hoax is unbelievable, undeniable and a whole lot of fun. The main reason the film works and why the audience is behind Gavin and Billy throughout is the fact that the duo is extremely talented. Director Jeanie Finlay takes us through the entire hoax, and shows us how the boys thought they had to behave night and day in order to keep up their façade. The footage secured for the documentary enhances the story as the concerts from Silibil N’ Brains are high energy and infectious treats that will be sure to have the audience dancing in their seats. The animation sequences are also entertaining and serve to highlight important parts of the boy’s story. (Kirk Haviland)
Wednesday, May 1st, 9:30pm, The Royal Cinema
Friday, May 3rd, 11:45pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Saturday, May 4th, 8:30pm, The ROM Theatre
Good Ol’ Freda
Director: Ryan White
Recommended: Yes, and put a “highly” in front of that if you’re a fan of the Fab Four.
Pete Best, Brian Epstein, and Yoko Ono have all been referred to as ‘the 5th Beatle’ at some point, but just as deserving of that moniker is Freda Kelly. Working as a secretary in Liverpool as a teenager, Good Ol’ Freda was picked seemingly at random by Epstein to take care of some administrative work for the up and coming band and subsequently ran the Beatles’ fan club from its inception to the bitter end.
Primarily a firsthand account from the lovely lady herself, it’s easy to see what endeared her so much to the band members and why she became a staple when so many others came and went. Freda was first and foremost a Beatles fan which resulted in her unwavering loyalty; it wasn’t long before she had integrated herself into the families of the rising stars. Her primary job was answering their fan mail (delivered directly to her address) before it became too much for one person to possibly count, let alone respond to.
50 years later she still respects the privacy of her previous employers. When asked if there was ever anything beyond the sisterly relationship depicted, she just smiles and says “that’s private.” So while you won’t get any juicy tidbits about what The Beatles were up to in those early days or at the height of their fame, it’s a treat to hear from someone who was there for all of it and loved them as a fan and as friends. (Noah Taylor)
Saturday, April 27th, 9:00pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Sunday, April 28th, 1:00pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Saturday, May 4th, 8:45pm, The Regent
The Great North Korean Picture Show
Directors: James Leong and Lynn Lee
Recommended: Perhaps. The curiosity of seeing this private world with people so entrenched in their country and leader may entice some, but the film never really comes to life as one would hope.
Welcome to Hollywood, Kim Jong-il style. For the first time, foreign cameras are allowed into the world’s most secretive state’s only film school. Filmmakers James Leong and Lynn Lee follow two young actors and a director, handpicked by the regime to become stars while they hone their state funded craft. Every scene of implored love for the state and each painstaking rehearsal raise the question of whether a gun, either literal or metaphorical, is pointed at the actors from the ever-watchful sidelines. We’re never certain whether its rank and file toe the party line with anything like the willingness evinced by the privileged protagonists.
It’s hard to discuss and explain the Great North Korean Picture Show without the undeniable urge to shake some of the participants in the film violently. Of course, this is a normal reaction from people living in a free society without strict regimentation, but even with NKPS’s amazing access, the horridly ridged training schedule and circumstances are horribly frustrating, from both the circumstances and the filmmaking. And you leave still wanting to shake some sense into someone. (Kirk Haviland)
Wednesday, May 1st, 8:45pm, Scotiabank 4
Friday, May 3rd, 7:00pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Saturday, May 4th, 9:15pm, Scotiabank 3
Director: Mika Mattila
Recommended: Yes, it’s a film that brings up some interesting social and political ideas that artists in China have to deal with.
A Chimera can refer to either a mythological beast or a wild, unrealistic dream or idea. Both definitions apply to the pair of Chinese artists depicted here. Wang Guangyi is an international art star and founding father of Chinese contemporary art. He’s also a multimillionaire pop artist at the peak of his career that’s looking out for his legacy. Liu Gang is a promising young photographer imagining a world shaped by Eastern culture without Western influence. He’s an only child born to rural parents, thats thrust into Beijing’s art scene fresh out of school. Each man wrestles to realize his art in an era that many tout as the “Chinese century”. Both are distracted by questions of communist ideology and eastern philosophies co-existing with capitalist ways of thinking.
As a cultural community and a country in a certain degree of flux, this film brings up some interesting questions about Chinese art grappling with Western culture while trying to maintain some degree of native identity. Writer/Director Mika Mattila guides us through these struggles while keeping the viewer’s attention and avoiding dry spots. Admittedly it gets a little unrealistic as it goes, but that also poses some interesting questions about how our world continues to get smaller. (Dave Voigt)
Friday April 26th, 9:00pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3
Sunday April 28th, 1:30pm, Scotiabank 4
Thursday May 2nd, 4:30pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 4
Oil Sands Karaoke
Director: Charles Wilkinson
Program: Canadian Spectrum
The Athabasca tar sands in Fort McMurray, Alberta have seen a record population boom. Thousands of men and women have flocked to the city to work, all attracted by the promise of good jobs and a high salary. The weather is harsh, the social life sparse, and everyone must cope with the knowledge that many people worldwide, possibly even friends and family, object to what they do for a living. How do they cope? With karaoke of course! Oil Sands Karaoke profiles five Fort McMurray residents as they prepare for the big karaoke competition at the local pub, Bailey’s.
This is a refreshing film that shows the audience a different side of the oil sands business in Fort McMurray. All of the employees highlighted enjoy their jobs, and while they acknowledge the environmental impact that this may have, they are quick to point out that they are merely small cogs in a big machine with people lined up to take over. Or as one of the participants boldly proclaims ‘there was an oil spill thousands of years ago, we’re just cleaning it up now’. (Kirk Haviland)
Friday, April 26th, 8:30 pm, Isabel Bader Theatre
Saturday, Apr 27th, 2:00 pm, The ROM Theatre
Saturday, May 4th, 6:30 pm, Scotiabank 4
Finding the Funk
Director: Nelson George
Recommended: For the uninitiated Finding the Funk will provide tons of information, but for those who already know about the funk scene the film may be disappointing.
Filmmaker-historian Nelson George conducts an examination of funk music – the crucial bridge between ’60s soul and ’80s hip hop – replete with loving testimonials about funk hotbeds Dayton, Ohio, and Detroit, Michigan. With The Roots member Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson as our guide, and warm regaling from notable musicians such as Bootsy Collins, George Clinton, Sheila E. and Mike D of the Beastie Boys, we’re transported to the hippie-ish ’70s when a mad fever of savvy creativity saw the transmutation of jazz, soul and R&B into infectiously danceable funk.
The film aims to be a loving and joyous exploration of the genre, and while seeing a lot of these funk luminaries and hearing some of their tales is great, the film does less ‘finding’ of the funk as opposed to skimming the story of funk. With very little of the infamous and amazing music the film talks about actually being in the film Finding the Funk lacks the sense of life and vibrancy of the movement. Also the VH1 style pop-up ‘Funks Facts’ while informative are distracting and many times end up covering facts the film has either already discussed or is about to discuss. (Kirk Haviland)
Tuesady, April 30th, 7:00 pm, The Royal Cinema
Thursday, May 2nd, 4:30 pm, Isabel Bader Theatre
Saturday, May 4th, 1:30 pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
The Burger and the King
Director: James Marsh
Recommend: Definitely, but only if you love Elvis and/or fried food. That’s covers everyone, right?
Long before he was the Oscar-winning director of Man On Wire, James Marsh built up a career of eccentric documentaries for British television that rarely made it across the pond. Fortunately the good folks at Hot Docs have been unearthing Marsh’s forgotten flicks for years and found his Elvis documentary for this year’s festival. Inevitably, Marsh’s take on Elvis was a little unconventional. He followed Elvis’ life though the mountain of food the king consumed and it’s remarkable how many details are uncovered through interviews with those who made the meals Elvis shoved down his rockstar throat. The tale begins with a poor country boy scarfing squirrels and ends with Las Vegas’ most indulgent man commissioning private jets for peanut butter and bacon sandwiches.
Obviously, The Burger and the King is more of a lark than Marsh’s contemporary work. Yet, the director’s trademark visual wit, candid interviews, and ethereal tone are on full display. Speaking with Elvis’ former friends, chefs, and followers creates a surprisingly personal portrait of Presley. Elvis emerges a simple man of simple pleasures who just happened to become the biggest star in the world. Amusingly, food emerges as the king’s longtime friend and arch nemesis. Something he craved as a poor child and eventually indulged in until it killed him (hearing the doctor describe how that happened is almost enough to put viewers off of cheeseburgers…almost). Sounds silly and it is, but it’s also an oddly touching and human presentation of an icon that tops most other films on the subject. Plus, you’ll learn the definitive recipes for deep fried squirrel and fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
Friday, April 26th, 11:00am, Isabel Bader Theatre