Despite the Gods - Featured

Hot Docs 2012 Reviews: Part 2

Day two of our Hot Docs 2012 review coverage focuses on some extraordinary women (The Queen of Versailles, GLOW: The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, Oma & Bella), some films about standing up for the creative process (Beauty is Embarrassing, Not a Carwash), and people looking to come back from vastly different forms of hardship (Despite the Gods, Herman’s House, Ballroom Dancer). Want to know our thoughts? Read on!

NOTE: All films that say RUSH ONLY were screenings that went rush as of press time. Please always check an official HotDocs source for official details. For showtimes, tickets and a full list of films, please visit and don’t forget to check out Part 1 of our review coverage here.


The Queen of Versailles

Director: Lauren Greenfield


Program: Special Presentations

100 minutes

Recommended: Very highly

Out on her lavish Seagull Island estate in the Florida Everglades, former Mrs. Florida Jacqueline Siegel and her billionaire husband and timeshare magnate David, live with their seven kids (and Jackie’s adopted niece) as a picture of the American dream; spending lavishly and extravagantly without any hope of consequence. That is, until the housing bubble bursts in 2008 when David nearly loses everything and Jackie refuses to reign in her spending habits.


Greenfield’s work here functions equally as satire, commentary, and in the later stages, great drama. Easily the most thoroughly entertaining, film at the festival Greenfield wisely reminds the audience that no matter how crazy they seem, that Jackie actually does have a heart big enough to make up for her lack of brains. Their plight almost becomes sympathetic, as a result. These were people who were simply addicted to the “cheap money” banks once offered, and now they have to pay for their former comforts. (Andrew Parker)


Wednesday, May 2nd, 7:00pm, Lightbox 1(RUSH ONLY)

Thursday, May 3rd, 9:15pm, Isabel Bader


Friday, May 4th, 8:45pm, Bloor

Not a Carwash

Director: Gentian Koci

Program: Made in Southeastern Europe


Screens with: Her Cinema Love (23 min)


49 minutes

Recommended?: No


The idea of film students rising up to defend their outdoor cinema from government reappropriation was one that certainly appealed to my own sensibilities but it’s difficult to sympathize with either side when the viewer gets thrown into the middle of this chaotic shoving match with very little context. The film students act more like drama students under the tutelage of their professor, whom it appears has cast himself in the lead of his pupil’s final project.

Surprisingly enough it’s the school’s philosophy professor who prevails as the voice of reason as he seems to be the only one who can calmly articulate the significance of the cinema. He highlights the important role culture plays in a country’s history and the lack of government support for the arts in Albania, thus making a case far more convincing than the film professor’s hyperbole and sense of entitlement over his “sacred institution.” In short, “Not a Carwash” would have benefited from less heart and more brain. (Noah Taylor)


Tuesday, May 1, 6:30pm, ROM

Thursday, May 3, 1:30pm Lightbox

Beauty Is Embarrassing
Director: Neil Berkeley
Program: Next
91 minutes
Recommended?: Yes, strongly

Beauty Is Embarrassing is the story of Wayne White, an American artist who initially found success as a designer on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and continued undeterred after its cancellation as a painter, a sculptor, a cartoonist, a puppeteer, and even a banjo player.

Though brazenly ambitious, White is without the affectations of success; His confidence never comes off as arrogant, nor does his eccentricity appear to be anything but honest expression. He has a Zach Galifinakas-like quality to him that excuses any obscenity that falls from his mouth, endearing you even more to his affable, scruffy, nonsensical Southern charm.

This is an exquisitely made documentary which features animated sequences, behind-the-scenes footage from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, and interviews with Paul Ruebens, Matt Groening, White’s family, and even the first grade teacher who encouraged White to draw. (Sasha James)


Sat, Apr 28 6:00 PM Bloor
Sun, Apr 29 1:30 PM Isabel Bader

Sun, May 6 3:30 PM Bloor

Herman’s House

Director: Angad Singh Bhalla

Program: Canadian Spectrum

81 minutes

Recommended?: Sadly, no

After spending 23 hours a day in a 6X9 prison cell since 1972, Black Panther Herman Wallace strikes up a mutually beneficial friendship with artist Jackie Sumell first to draw awareness to his case through a 2007 art installation, and then by using her to design and break ground on a Louisiana community centre based around a house that Wallace designed in his dreams.

Bhalla takes an objective perspective at two people who might just be using each other to forward their own agendas, but it seems at times at odds with the more interesting personal story of Wallace and his case. At times Sumell alternates between aloof and overly passionate without ever getting the full story. It’s a nice story and an interesting concept, but there’s no real way to tell why Summer ultimately cares so much about the project in the first place. Is it white guilt, philanthropic passion, or someone looking to forward their career? In the film’s closing moments, Sumell’s unclear actions become almost too maddening for the film to overcome them. (Andrew Parker)


Friday, April 27th, 9:00pm, Lightbox 1(RUSH ONLY)

Wednesday, May 2nd, 9:15pm, ROM

Sunday, May 6th, 9:30pm, Lightbox 2

Despite The Gods

Director: Penny Vozniak

Program: World Showcase

85 minutes

Recommend: Yep, but only if you enjoy making-of-documentaries gone wrong

Despite The Gods is a doomed filmmaking documentary along the lines of Overnight or Lost In La Mancha. It’s about Jennifer Lynch (yes, David’s daughter), who traveled to India to make a Bollywood comedy/horror/action/musical/love story about a snake goddess. Lynch eventually disowned the film that was re-edited by the producers and released only in India as Hiss. Whatever drama went on in post can’t compare with the shit-show production endlessly delayed by weather, scheduling gaffs, low-to-no preparation, confused crews, a temperamental movie star, raging producers, and a perpetually stressed out director.

Watching the production play out from the disaster-promising preparations through the tense shoot definitely has a trainwreck appeal. The only downside being that part of what made the shoot so painful for Lynch was how long and exhausting it all was, which comes through in this documentary. Mistakes and fights make for a fun watch, but tedium and delays aren’t quite as entertaining. As a result, the doc won’t have the same wide appeal as Terry Gilliam’s similar odyssey un-making his Don Quixote movie. This one’s exclusively for movie geeks who enjoy watching film shoots turn into never-ending uncomfortable experiences pitched somewhere between sitcoms and Greek tragedies. (Phil Brown)


Saturday, April 28, 6:45pm, Cumberland 3

Monday, April 30, 1:30pm, Cumberland 2

Saturday, May 5, 9:30pm, Innis

Oma & Bella

Director: Alexa Karolinski

Program: World Showcase

Screens With: Grandmothers (9 min.)


76 minutes

Recommended: Yes, but you will probably need tissues and a good meal when it’s over.

Director Karolinski travels to Berlin to spend time with her elderly grandmother, Regina, and her best friend, Bella, as they reminisce about their friendship and their lost years during to the Holocaust, often while cooking traditional Jewish dishes or out on the town.

It’s a very simple concept and it really is for the most part just two people talking to each other or to the director, but these women have a lot of heart and wit, and their stories are absorbing and touching. Also, the food looks fantastic. (Andrew Parker)


Saturday, April 28th, 6:30pm, Lightbox 3 (RUSH ONLY)

Monday, April 30th, 4:30pm, ROM


Ballroom Dancer

Directors: Christian Bonke, Andreas Koefoed

Program: Special Presentations

84 minutes

Recommended?: No

Slow and unfocused, Bonke and Koefoed’s look at former World Champion Belgian dancer Slavik Kryklyvyy’s attempts at a comeback adds nothing to the litany of dance and sport films that have come before it, and even worse, it frames the story in completely the wrong manner.

The brooding, shell shocked Slavik attempts his comeback at age 35 and after several years of complete inactivity with his new girlfriend and partner Anna. Bonke and Koefoed forego telling much about Slavik’s backstory, and the subject comes across as being too unredeemable to warrant the comeback story arc. Slavik’s former partner is still on top of the world, so why not actually explore what happened there? Add to that a clear point about 50 minutes into the film where it should have logically ended before turning into an ill advised movie about doomed romance and you have one of the most maddening documentaries of the year. (Andrew Parker)


Monday, April 30th, 9:00pm, Isabel Bader

Tuesday, May 1st, 3:00pm, Lightbox 1

Wednesday, May 2nd, 11:00am, Isabel Bader

GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling
Director: Brett Whitcomb
Program: Nightvision
76 minutes
Recommended?: Yes, but not strongly

Living in a bedazzled void somewhere between Saturday Night Live, World Wrestling Entertainment, and the campiest vaudeville you could ever conceive, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (G.L.O.W.) became an overnight television sensation in the 1980s.

Initially conceived by David B. McLane as a vehicle to promote women in professional wrestling, but instead of athletes, he cast actresses, models, and dancers as his stars. G.L.O.W.’s over-the-top wrestling personas and reality show context overwhelmed audiences, pushing the focus away from the sport and toward the spectacle.

Unfortunately, McLane and almost all of G.L.O.W.’s production team chose not to participate in here. This limits the documentary to the perspective of the wrestlers, who
were kept under strict curfew, and purposefully knew little about the politics of the show beyond their “Big Brother”-esque accommodations. It’s moving to see these strong, vibrant women reunited after over thirty years apart, but the documentary’s seeming disinterest in the production of G.L.O.W. is reproachable. (Sasha James)


Friday, Apr 27th, 11:30 PM, Bloor

Saturday, Apr 28th,  1:30 PM, ROM
Saturday, May 5th, 
6:30 PM , Regent

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