Entering its final teenage year before turning the big 2-0, the Toronto based NXNE festival kicked off this past Monday and runs clear through this weekend. It usually starts in earnest, but the weekend is when things really start to get jumping. In addition to the predominantly musical focus of the annual shindig, and alongside interactive, comedic, and traditionally artistic pursuits is a film program, kicking off on Thursday night and running through Sunday at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.
Usually only focused on music, this year there are also a lot of films talking about the stand up process. Since only one of those films were made available to us before press time (the not so great A Universal Language, screening on Sunday night at 6:30 after an appearance at Toronto Jewish earlier in the year, and nothing more than basically a travelogue grafted onto an infomercial for Yuk-Yuks), we decided to make this movie preview all about the music.
Tickets are available on an individual basis, but getting a wristband is usually the best deal to get the most out of NXNE, with numerous packages – including an all film wristband – are available. For more information, a full list of films and programs, and to order tickets, head to nxne.com.
All Out War (Thursday, 9:45pm) – B-boying and breaking never went out of style once it had a stranglehold on the public consciousness, but while the style and public perception of street dancing has changed, the actual street ethos of it all remains deadly serious. In Robert Pilichowski’s globe trotting look several people entering the famed King of the Ring tournament, the audience gets to know the people rather than just the style. They also get to know these sometimes volatile dancers beyond just a reality show styled sketch. They include previously incarcerated Alien Ness from the Bronx River Projects, Vancouver-born, but LA living baby face Casper who has a homeless father and a struggling mother, and Dyzee, a former Toronto addict turned serious title contender. From the beats to the beefs and everything in-between, the candour of the subjects shines through at every turn. Even the youngest of the bunch knows they won’t be good forever. The final third of the film might be a bit battle heavy, but everything that comes before it is solid character work.
Mistaken for Strangers (Friday, 4:00pm) – One of the strongest contenders for the Audience Award at Hot Docs last month, Tom Berninger’s endearingly earnest, painfully awkward look at attempts to document the life of his older brother hits the right blend of funny and sweet without seeming pedantic or shallow. 30 year old Berninger’s older brother and the film’s main focal point Matt is the frontman for buzz band of the moment The National (who will also be giving a free concert at Yonge and Dundas Square later in the very evening). Tom’s metalhead ways and love of horror films has always put him at odds with his indie rocker brother, but the burgeoning filmmaker gets put on The National’s road crew to work and shoot at the same time. Tom keeps screwing up and even the movie he’s making and showing turns out to be an almost disastrous waste of time before he pulls it all together. While it might have been cool for Tom to look at how The National is made up of two other pairs of siblings falling in behind his big bro, it isn’t needed. Mistaken for Strangers is a genuinely sweet and well intentioned look at good-natured sibling rivalry and how familial love can manifest itself in the strangest ways.
BB King – The Life of Reily (Friday, 6:45pm) – Starting with an oddly chilling kind of overture from a really serious looking Bill Cosby, director Jon Brewer looks at the defining name in electric blues, Riley B. King, otherwise known by the initials he garnered as a Memphis DJ. There are plenty of testimonials from some extremely well known talking heads (Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Bono, John Mayer, Carlos Santana, John Mayall, and countless others) talking about King’s influence, and while they’re never boring anecdotes that move along swifter than the ominous 123 minute running time might suggest, its unsurprising that the best stuff comes directly from the source’s mouth. It’s well put together and it excels at making the audience realize everything that made King a force to be reckoned with in the music world. It’s brimming with the vitality and urgency of the musician it’s telling the story of, and that’s not an easy task to pull off.
The Rolling Stones – Charlie is My Darling – Ireland 1965 (Friday, 9:15pm) – Not much to really say about this one aside from it being a pretty decent entry to the Stones canon, if it really is only of interest mainly to fans. It’s pretty much an assembly of footage shot by director Peter Whitehead in the titular year during a tour stop in Ireland shortly after scoring their first number one hit. There’s a lot of fan interaction, some great tunes, and fans will surely get a kick out of this reimagining of the original concept by Mick Gochanour, but there isn’t too much insight other than the recapturing of a feeling long thought lost. At just a shade over an hour, it’s the perfect length for this kind of material.
Filmage – The Story of Descendants/ALL (Saturday, 1:00pm) – The real highlight of this year’s film program is this exemplary world premiere from directors Deedle Lacour and Matt Riggle taking a look back at the career of pop-punk pioneers Descendants and their often slept on, but fairly equal offshoot ALL. Both the brainchild of drummer Bill Stevenson (who also dabbled with a little band called Black Flag BETWEEN his two most widely associated acts), both bands experienced almost a revolving door of new members on a regular basis for a variety of different reasons. Probably best known for the Descendants’ years with iconic frontman Milo Aukerman, Lacour and Riggle take a warts and all view of Stevenson and company’s endeavours from their 1979 formation (ostensibly over fishing, of all things) through to today and Stevenson’s brush with death at the hands of a massive blood clot. This is as thorough a look at any band as you’re likely to find, balancing the informative, the anecdotal, and the requisite laudatory talking heads from outside the band perfectly. The filmmakers also hold off on revealing the more personal side of Stevenson until very late in the film, making sure everyone else gets their due first. It’s a structural gambit that pays off in spades and helps to elevate the film well beyond the already great mark it sets for itself early on in terms of research and thoroughness. This is the must see of the bunch, and hopefully it makes a return appearance for those who couldn’t make it out this time.
Global Groove Network (Saturday, 9:15pm) – The only real, true outright dud of the film selection this year is Courtney James messy, unfocused, dull, and self serving look at DJ and house music culture. Bouncing around between extremely ill advised personal narration, actual portrayals of DJs in action (which is fine, if a bit amateurish with poorly shot and conducted interviews), and looks at the brains of DJs and music as a form of spiritual gospel, James can’t sit still enough for ten minutes at a time to ever make anything interesting. He tries to overcompensate with every cliché in the documentary playbook (people espousing the familial virtues of the cultures, way too famous and obvious quotes to herald new segments of the story), but there’s no saving this grating debacle. It actually has the potential to set house music back a few years if it gets out. When a filmmaker stops his thesis twenty minutes in to have an elongated aside about how he worked at East Side Mario’s with a bunch of like minded people (which never pays off), you are in deep, deep trouble. Thankfully, there is probably at least one truly great house act playing somewhere else during the festival at the exact time this film is running.