Chronicling the work of famed atheists and scientists Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss around the world, Gus Holwerda’s documentary The Unbelievers is a sometimes unnecessarily heavy handed, but overall fairly special and enjoyable road movie of a different sort.
Krauss (who also serves as an executive producer) carries on dialogues with Dawkins to sold out auditoriums often with people protesting their very existence and the challenging of religious beliefs only feet away. Their talks both together and apart are the real meat of the film, but even then it’s edited down into easier to digest chunks. Still, they’re fascinating figures and the relative ease that they bring to sometimes hostile discussions is admirable.
Less effective is Holwerda’s desire to make these two into veritable rock stars by relying heavily on pop songs and bookends to the film featuring famous faces giving their two cents on atheism. It becomes a film clearly aimed at the high school and university crowd, but I guess that’s the new battlefield for this discussion. Still, it feels unnecessary when the subjects are as interesting as these two. Their friendship borne from shared understanding is more rewarding.
Lawrence Krauss, Gus Holwerda, and producer/cinematographer Luke Holwerda will participate in Skype Q&As following the 6:30pm show on Friday, February 7th and the 7:00pm show on Saturday, February 8th. Gus and Luke will also conduct Skype Q&As on Sunday, February 9th following both the 3:30pm and 8:30pm shows.
Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia
Both feverishly outspoken and intellectually well spoken, late American writer Gore Vidal lived an incredible life within a political, academic, and literary climate that never had a clue what to make of him. A staunch left-wing pundit (and atheist in his own right), Vidal never shied away from picking fights with people you would think he would agree with. His novels pushed boundaries, he was a successful screenwriter, his essays are often seen as some of the best insights into the American condition from the 50s up to his death in 2012, and his TV appearances were always must see events. He was a man who relished his fame, knew how smart he was, and was self aware enough to not give a shit what anyone thought about him.
His thoroughly fascinating life comes across splendidly in Nicholas Wrathall’s bullet point look at the iconic writer that benefits greatly from having the chance to sit down with the man himself before his passing (and despite mobility issues, he was just as feisty and gleefully honest as ever). From a childhood idolization of his blind Senator grandfather from Oklahoma that indoctrinated him to a world of politics that always infuriated him to become one of the world’s foremost wits and pundits, Vidal lived a spectacular life that few writers could ever hope to achieve. He also had very little help in doing it, often shunned by academia, the Hollywood system that made him a bit of a name, and contentious TV debates (most notably with staunch right winger William F. Buckley throughout the 60s and a drunk Norman Mailer ostensibly over feminism on The Dick Cavett Show) that often painted him as a bit of an erudite asshole.
Normally, bullet point documentaries are dull as dishwater to watch, but Wrathall’s work here rises far beyond a format known for being dull and static. In fact, it fits Vidal’s no bullshit sensibilities perfectly. About the only thing that doesn’t get covered here is Vidal’s notorious writing of the Penthouse produced Caligula, but it’s hardly missed. Blending recent and archival interviews with Vidal and those who knew him best, the theories, opinions, and sometimes hilarious public beefs with his theoretically opposed, but intellectual equalds, Wrathall really nails down what made him so special. It makes you want to run to the bookstore and just load up on Vidal immediately after the film ends.
Nicholas Wrathall will conduct Skype Q&As following the 6:00pm show on Sunday, February 9th and the 8:45pm show on Tuesday, February 11th.
Also at The Bloor this week:
Award winning Canadian author Vincent Lam (Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures) comes to the Bloor to kick off Hot Docs collaboration with PEN Canada, PEN Picks with a screening of Chris Hope’s 2012 documentary Hatsumi on Monday at 6:15pm. Lam will be on hand to talk about Hope’s powerful look back on Japanese internment in North American during World War II with his grandmother. Tickets are $15 general/$12 for members, with full series passes (including future talks with Camilla Gibb, Miriam Toews, and Linwood Barclay all discussing how documentaries influence their fiction) also on sale for $45 regular/$36 members.
Another Hot Docs sponsored series, this time in association with the Toronto Society of Architects, also kicks off this week. Oppositions: Architecture on Film is a series of documentary double bills looking at different forms of cultural and social development. The series kicks off on Thursday the 13th with the pairing of Oliver Hodges’ 2007 film Garbage Warrior and 2012’s German produced Work Hard – Play Hard at 6:30 and 9:30pm, respectively. Both films speak to the topic of work, with the first film focusing on a man whose work happens to be about creating structures and the second dealing with rigidly controlled, pre-existing structures. Both films will be followed by a Q&A with University of Pennsylvania lecturer, author, and architect Martin Haas to be moderated by the Toronto Society of Architects. The double bill is $15 regular/$12 for members, with single tickets for individual features costing $11/$8.
White Pine Pictures will be holding a fundraiser for the Lindalee Tracey Fund to help up and coming Canadian filmmakers on Wednesday at 8:30pm, with a screening of The Anatomy of Burlesque, hosted by White Pine president Peter Raymont and featuring a live burlesque performance. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased here, where you can also learn more about the film, the legacy of Lindalee Tracey, and what the fund supports.