Thursday, 30 April 2015
Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World (2015)
Dir. Charles Wilkinson
Prd. Tina Schliessler
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Some of the most important environmental documentaries being made in the world include the work of Canadian director Charles Wilkinson who knocked us on our collective butts with his powerful energy-consumption doc Peace Out and his potent, strangely uplifting Oil Sands Karaoke, that focused upon the face of humanity amidst the horrific environmental exploitation in the Alberta Tar Sands. His new film, Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World, comprises the third of what feels like an unofficial trilogy (which one hopes will continue well beyond its current trinity).
On one hand, the current picture essentially supersedes Wilkinson's previous work with the film's delicate blend of cold, hard facts which, we should all be actively concerned about and, on the other paw, a very gentle (deceptively so) tone poem to one of the greatest natural treasures of the world. Officially known as the Queen Charlotte islands, this gorgeous archipelago in northern British Columbia (BC) comprises about 150 islands and is home to a varied and important population of flora and fauna - vital to the area itself, but also to the world at large.
The Haida Gwaii, which literally translates as "Islands of the Haida people" was traditionally the domain of this great aboriginal nation who prospered here for over 10,000 years until Colonialism decimated the population through both disease and, of course, Canada's uniquely polite form of genocide (both literal and cultural, the latter of which has always been the big stick Whitey calls "assimilation"). Today, however, the dominant population of the Haida Gwaii are the indigenous people of the island and surely they have the right to self-determination. In fact, they do have that right, only it is continually ignored and/or bamboozled by Canadian government bureaucracy.
Treaties in particular continue to be broken and/or ignored under the aegis of Canada's belief that all lands, even if they belong to Aboriginal Nations, are Crown Lands and as such, can be dealt with in any cavalier fashion the government chooses - dispensing, willy-nilly, all manner of dispensation to corporate rapists of the environment. One of Canada's more appalling back-handed acknowledgments of Aboriginal Rights in the Haida Gwaii has been to convert a huge chunk of land not destroyed by clearcut logging and other crimes against the environment into a massive national park. Yes, this protects the land (supposedly in perpetuity) but the park is essentially "owned" and administered by the "Crown" as opposed to those who really own it, the Haida Nation. It's the Government of Canada's God-like assumption that with one hand it giveth and with the other taketh, all in the schizophrenic snow job to make it seem like they respect the First Nations (and by extension, the environment), when in reality, it's to feather the nests of Big Money (and by extension, the on-the-take pockets of politicians).
Ownership of these lands seems almost preposterous to one of the film's subjects. Allan Wilson, the Haida hereditary Chief makes the astute observation: "We care for the land here, but we don't own the Animal Kingdom, it's a part of us, it's family. I kinda think that's the way it is because everything has its part and every part has its value and every value contributes to our life."
The Government of Canada, however, has no values save for those which fill the pockets of politicians' rich friends, and of course, themselves.
Wilkinson's film contains a plethora of alarming facts with respect to this. Two thirds of the Haida Gwaii's forests have been decimated by illegal logging and billions of dollars of profits from this has been dispersed into the pockets of the very few. Yes, Haida people had jobs in logging, but not to the tune of billions of dollars. Besides, in recent years, the jobs issue is a public relations smokescreen since mechanization in the logging industry has swallowed up most of the available jobs. Land and resources are sucked dry, but nothing comes back to the Haida.
Even more sickening is that Canada's Federal Nazi Party (aka The Conservatives), in cahoots with corporate oil interests and the Fascist Party of BC (aka The Liberal Party of BC, aka Really Not Much Different Than The Conservatives Party) are all threatening to upset the natural balance of life in this paradise on Earth with the current desire to plough through the Tar Sands seaway to Asia. The powers-that-be want us to believe it's all about jobs (BC Premier Christy Lemire's spurious excuse for all her dubious decisions), but in reality, the short-term gain of this smokescreen will potentially wreak havoc that can only yield long-term environmental pain.
What the world needs to know, what it needs to wake up to is that First Nations people all over the world have lived with a sustainable relationship to the environment for millennia. This is certainly the case with the Haida. Not that Herr Harper and his cronies at the federal and provincial level care. They and their rich buddies don't need to care. The government has forgotten that it is the People - all people. Still, the rape of the Haida Gwaii is ongoing. At one point, it's revealed that in addition to pipelines, there are plans afoot for huge tanker ships to traverse along the shorelines which are in extremely rough, rocky waters. (Way to go Government and Big Business! Morons!) Even the slightest spill - clearly an inevitability - will contaminate a huge part of the ecosystem and result in both people and animals eating poison food. Then again, why should Harper and his gang of Nazis and Fascists care?
Wilkinson's film cannily places the anger of the Haida Nation over Canada's flagrant violation of Aboriginal Rights within the context of a people who are not only trying to live as traditionally as possible, but in many cases are working towards a reclamation of traditional cultural values which were under Colonial attack for so long. Wilkinson introduces us to Haida elders, activists and even the youth who all provide us with an important perspective - that the people and land are one; they're inextricably linked to the degree that any violation of this connection is not only an infringement upon the Haida, but by extension, all Canadians and frankly, the world. In fairness, Whitey is not only represented as the faceless corporate/governmental evil; Wilkinson also introduces us to those of the pale-skinned persuasion who are equal partners with the Haida in protesting the pillage of this paradise.
The poetic qualities of the film are what ultimately create a love and appreciation for what is both sacred and in need of protection. We are lulled, not into complacency, but the sheer magic these islands provide and the greatest impetus for Canadians and the world at large to reject the illegal, immoral use of these lands to ultimately benefit the very few.
Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World might well provide the most persuasive aesthetic argument to save these islands at all costs by placing us into frame of mind which is ultimately the next best thing to actually being there. By the end of the film, we're consumed with deep emotional ties to the land, but most importantly, we're firmly placed in the corner of those who possess the best chance to save our world, those indigenous First Nations who have been able to thrive in spite of the deadly roadblocks placed in front of their right to live freely in their own cultural and environmental milieu.
The Haida are fighters, but their greatest weapon is the land itself. Hats off to Wilkinson for crafting a film which walks tall, yet softly and carries the big stick of our ultimate salvation, the environment itself and, of course, its people, the Haida.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***** 5 Stars
Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World enjoys its World Premier at Hot Docs 2015. For tickets and info, visit the festival's website by clicking HERE.
Wednesday, 29 April 2015
Missing People (2015)
Dir. David Shapiro
Review By Greg Klymkiw
The art of Roy Ferdinand is bathed in the blood, sweat, pain and fears of the New Orleans mean streets. It pulsates with life (and yes, death). His rich, crazily skewed work is so vital, vibrant and unique that he'd be a natural for any obsessive to get obsessed over. Martina Batan is just such a person. She has a huge collection of Ferdinand's art in addition to a few of his personal effects; nothing too odd, but the smelly socks balled up in a pair of boots might not be everyone's first choice to tingle the olfactory nerves.
On one hand, her obsession makes sense. She is, after all, the director of one of the coolest galleries in Manhattan. Ronald Feldman Fine Arts has hosted more than its fair share of astonishingly original work, so her taste in all things artistic is top of the line.
Martina, does have other obsessions, though. She doesn't sleep much and most nights she's up past the witching hour constructing a massive Lego sculpture in her living room, a project she's been working on for years and which, she admits, seemingly has no end in sight.
I can accept that.
However, she has one other obsession. Well, perhaps not so much an obsession, but rather, a mystery which has haunted her for over 35 years. Her little brother Jeffrey was brutally murdered and the case has remained unsolved all these years. There's been no closure on this horrific loss and if anything, her sleeplessness, Lego construction and almost mad love for Roy Ferdinand's brutal depictions of the New Orleans underbelly might well be tied to the tragedy which plagues her.
She's reached a breaking point and hires a private detective to investigate her brother's murder.
As the amiable gumshoe goes about his business, Martina heads down to the Big Easy to track down a number of Ferdinand artworks she's yet to lay eyes upon herself. She's also determined to meet with Ferdinand's surviving family members to get more insight into what made him tick.
Yes, Ferdinand is dead and somehow, these are all pieces of a deeply disturbing and ever-complex puzzle which director David Shapiro follows as closely and obsessively with his lens as Martina now delves even deeper into the world of an artist whose unflinching eye for violence on the filthy, grim pavement of New Orleans mysteriously parallels her own baby brother's brutal end on the equally mean streets of Queens.
Violence has touched Martina and followed her her whole life. The artist she loves more than any other was also irrevocably tainted with the ruthless, vicious barbarity of a world where life is as cheap as it is precious. Somehow, this must all converge. The journey she allows us to take with her is both harrowing and moving. It's an odyssey to find answers, and in so doing, we are faced with terrible truths which also betray the deepest depths of humanity.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** 4 Stars
Missing People has its World Premiere at Hot Docs 2015. For info click HERE
Tuesday, 28 April 2015
Censored Voices (2015)
Dir. Mor Loushy
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Censored Voices might be one of the most profound anti-war films made in recent years. Though the backdrop is the 1967 Arab–Israeli Six Day War, the picture brilliantly transcends all contemporary controversies, acting simply and poetically as a testament to the madness of all war and the reality that it's the "people" who suffer as much, if not more than the armed forces.
A few weeks after the war, writers Amos Oz and Avraham Shapira conducted a series of interviews (on reel-to-reel tape) with numerous Israeli soldiers. These tapes were suppressed and/or heavily redacted by the Israeli government for over 40 years until filmmaker Mor Loushy accessed the unexpurgated audio to listen intently to these young men, to hear their thoughts on what they'd just been through.
Blending news footage, archival materials and using the audio tapes as narrators, Loushy provides a shocking, surprising and deeply moving experience. Tracking down some of the original interviewees, all now old men, Loushy combines the aforementioned with gorgeously lit/composed shots of these former soldiers - listening silently to their own voices from 1967. Their voices from back then, reveal the unexpected. Their faces reveal all.
This profoundly and decisively victorious war is how Israel laid claim to Gaza, the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula and the West Bank. Decimating the enemy's military forces was a veritable cakewalk, but the real war endured by the Israeli soldiers turned out to be, at least for many of them, a much more haunting, tragic and frustrating experience than the fields of battle.
In the historic interviews, we hear men - young men some 40+ years ago - who are deeply saddened, confused, conflicted, disappointed, if not outright shocked that they found themselves at war with civilians. It's as if they were front-line pawns, but not as cannon fodder as so many young soldiers in war are. While the trauma is still fresh in their youthful minds, we hear devastating stories of non-military personnel being gunned down, beaten, tortured, corralled and forced to leave their homes.
The soldiers, it seemed, were no longer fighting-men, but glorified cattle herders.
In reality, they were not soldiers, they were occupiers.
The men are expected to rejoice over the return of many historical places to Israel, but they can't. They are privy to the suffering of innocent people, even forced to be the instruments of the dehumanizing process of destabilizing and forcing tens of thousands of people to flee and become refugees.
As one of the men states, this has nothing to do with God and/or The Torah. These are, after all, physical structures which have been won. There's nothing in Judaic culture about the holiness of a place. It's the human spirit and God that are Holy.
So many of these stories are heartbreakers - especially since director Loushy leads us into the film with the happy, hopeful sense of statehood and the determination of a people to reclaim what was once theirs so many millennia ago. The skill, training and superiority of the Israeli armed forces is simply a forgone conclusion. The strategy and surprise Israel employed is also a thing of beauty (albeit a terrible beauty). In fact, we get a sense that the war is a masterstroke of military genius and might. It's all the shining stuff of good, old fashioned boys' adventure. The qualities of the sublime dissipate quickly, however.
The questions many of the men ask do indeed resonate in a contemporary context. They wonder, so long ago, how a nation (Israel) constantly under attack, surrounded by enemy states can ever really and truly be a nation? Alternately, others feel that a nation which must occupy in a kind of perpetuity can also never truly be a nation.
Hearing these sweet, young men facing such complex moral dilemmas so soon after a victory they should be celebrating, forces them (and us) to confront realities that have always been at the core of war. To hear these voices juxtaposed with actual footage from the period, but most evocatively, against the silent faces of the old men who listen to the sound of their own voices has a strong element of poetic tragedy coursing through the entire film.
Though the current conflicts between Israel and Palestine can't be ignored in the context of Censored Voices, Loushy seems far more interested in capturing a reality that ultimately faces all of us, especially once we recognize and accept that a Six Day War, a 60-day war or a six-year war - at any time, any where - is still war and that the true casualties of war are the innocent on both sides of the equation.
Hearing the story of Arab men - civilians, no less - standing with their hands raised in the hot sun for hours on end would be despairing enough, but to hear that they've been filling their shoes with their own urine in order to have something to drink, is infused with the kind of sorrow we, as an audience, can never forget. Clearly, the soldiers don't forget this either, as they recount how these same Arab men, learning they'll be given fresh, cool water, collapse in front of the soldiers, kissing their feet in gratitude as they also retch and vomit upon the soldiers' boots. This sequence (and so many others like it) grind our collective faces into the realities of both war and nationhood.
Occupation is not nationhood. It's merely the residual blight of war - one in which we are all guilty of, and as such, a party to the inherent shame of it all.
Censored Voices enjoys its Canadian Premiere at Hot Docs 2015. For info visit the Hot Docs website HERE.
Monday, 27 April 2015
All The Time In The World (2014)
Dir. Suzanne Crocker
Review By Greg Klymkiw
A happy, progressive family from Dawson City realize that the stress of modern living is wreaking havoc with their quality of life and creating barriers between honest, real communication in their home. They do what many dream about, but never do - they pack their bags with kids, cat and dog in tow and hightail it up north to the most isolated reaches of the Yukon to live for a year completely off-grid. Mom (Director, Producer and Cinematographer Suzanne Crocker) also decided to document the family's journey and given how much old settler-style toil the family endures (especially during the first third of the picture), she probably deserves some manner of SuperMom Oblation to have made a movie and carried on like Honest Abe Lincoln's Mom must have done in that old log cabin.
Happily, we don't spend too much time in the city, nor are we subjected to what must have been a seeming lifetime of rumination, then planning and finally getting everything ready that they're going to need to live on in the middle of nowhere - a place bereft of any means to communicate with the outside world. We get just enough of the aforementioned so we can get to the good stuff.
And wow! What good stuff! We get to experience the utter drudgery of carting what seems like half the contents of a storage locker warehouse from their boat up to the cabin deep in the forest, building a humungous above-ground storage facility for their food, rigging a platform to pull their boat onto dry ground for the winter and a whole whack of other necessary duties to get themselves set up.
I was especially delighted to note that the family brought along archery gear, big sharp blades and firearms. I know from experience that the wilderness can be home to bears, wolves, coyotes and perhaps, most menacing of all, inbred country cousins. My fingers were crossed. All good storytellers know you don't introduce weaponry into your yarn without making good use of them.
The film has a unique three-act structure which naturally follows the events of the family's journey, but clearly much effort and thought has been placed into evoking more than mere narrative beats. What the film provides us with is the actual tone and almost poetic nature of this lifestyle. The family have no phones, no computers, no radios, no television sets, no walks, no CBs and perhaps most importantly, no clocks of any kind. The sense of time having no meaning is something the film beautifully evokes. We get to experience genuine conversations, the simple pleasures of reading aloud, preparing all the food from scratch, chopping firewood (one of my personal favourites - NOT!) and endlessly hauling buckets of water up and down a steep, rugged hill (double NOT on this for me).
There's fun, of course: skating on rivers, ice-sledding, playing in the snow, building a huge tent which gets covered with snow (becoming a cool clubhouse/fort) and even celebrating events like Halloween and Christmas in ways unique to the isolated setting. There's also a real sense that the family is in on stuff together - the kids often present very cool ideas and contributions to their lifestyle. There's danger, too. (No, the inbred country cousins haven't shown up yet.) There's a humungous snow storm and Dad's out in the wilds on his own, thus injecting a few beats of genuine tension.
What the film does not show (or chooses not to show) is the kind of nasty, verbal sparring that can rear its ugly head when family or friends are afflicted with cabin fever. I longed, with baited-breath for some Edward Albee or Eugene O'Neill-like acrimony - Mom and Dad sloshing back several beakers of rotgut then hurling barbs of verbal abuse at each other while the children cower in the corner.
Oh well, they seem like nice people. I cannot fault them for that.
Finally, what really hits home (at least for me) is the silence and then realizing, life in the middle of nowhere is NEVER silent, but that the sounds of the natural world are not unlike a gorgeous symphony orchestra. I personally know quite a bit about living off-grid (because I indeed do) and certainly found much in the film I was able to connect with, but even I couldn't do what this family did. They're not simply off-grid for most of the picture's running time, they might as well be off the planet. Me, I need my shortwave radio to listen to crazy survivalists and evangelists barking madly into the deep night and while I'm perfectly adept at chopping wood, I much prefer getting one of the locals to dump a few cord of wood every six months or so. I do, however, enjoy stacking it.
Much to my consternation, the inbred country cousins never do show up. Damn! I harboured images of Dad blowing the grizzled, drooling psychopaths away while the kids got into the action with bows, arrows, knifes and axes. (Mom would be filming all this, of course.) I was ready to throw in the towel when the reality of this hit me. However, an unexpected visitor DOES show up and yes, the gun must be fired.
This made me happy. Then again, don't mind me. As James Cagney would always say in Raoul Walsh's Strawberry Blonde, "It's just the kind of hairpin I am."
THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** Three Stars
All The Time In The World will have its Toronto Premiere at HOT DOCS 2015. For schedule and tickets, visit the Hot Docs website HERE.
Fractured Land (2015)
Dir. Damien Gillis, Fiona Rayher
Review By Greg Klymkiw
It's the stuff good movies are made of; WITNESS: a young, handsome, rugged, Mohawk-pated Aboriginal man of the Dene Nation in northeastern British Columbia with a penchant for hunting, trapping and expert tomahawk-throwing who is also an impeccably groomed "monkey-suited" lawyer entering his articling year with a desire to focus on Native land rights and environmental issues. He's split between the town and the country - a kind of Clark-Kent-Superman figure who is already on the cusp of shaking up the world of evil corporate and government exploitation. It's also a clever take on the dichotomy twixt savagery and civilization.
Oh, and our hero has a physical "defect", a cleft-palate which is the result of environmental poisoning in his family's gene pool. It's a defect which, like all great movie heroes, causes him considerable and painful rumination upon his childhood and how this "defect" has affected him, but also how it empowers him. Joaquin Phoenix is a natural for the role if it's ever turned into a feature length drama (hopefully directed by Paul Thomas Anderson) or an HBO limited series.
For now, though, it's ALL documentary and ALL real. The aforementioned young man, one Caleb Behn, is the primary subject of Fractured Land by co-directors Damien Gillis and Fiona Rayher and they've deftly focused their interviewing techniques and cameras to capture the kind of complex, charismatic character that screenwriters and directors toil to bring to life on both the page and screen of feature narrative. They allow us to follow Behn in both the wilderness and the city, buffeting his compelling tale with a solid variety of interview subjects - friends, family, locals, elders, big oil honchos and, among others, fellow activists.
We're privy to the cold, hard facts of the environmental devastation that has already taken place in northeastern BC as well as what's happening now and will, indeed, happen in the future if something is not done. It's a given that the right side of this war against exploitation will be populated by many Native Canadians, but the film's thematic subtext reveals the overwhelming sense of fractures - not just in the fracked/clearcut and formerly pristine land, but in those Aboriginal people who are direct beneficiaries of the jobs on offer and the economic benefits of environmental exploitation. Even Caleb Behn knows that his opportunities to receive a post secondary education are rooted in the employment his own parents benefitted from.
The biggest fracture, at least to my mind, is the government's blatant disregard for treaties and agreements with the Native People of northeastern BC which suggests that the powers-that-be are that stupid or worse, stupid like foxes. Then again, not even a fox would prove to be as brain-bereft as the manner in which the government purports to consult. Any use of the Aboriginal Lands is subject to approval and consultation, however, all the government does is send thousands upon thousands of documents telling the Natives what will be done with the land. In spite of objections, the government has continued to just go ahead and sell scads of land to Big Oil. Big Oil turns around and extols the virtues of their endless fracking by suggesting that they'll be providing 30-50 years worth of benefits to the community. Benefits? No matter what these dubious benefits are, the land, after 30-50 years is completely decimated and outright poisoned and of no use to anyone in the future.
BC's Liberal Premier, the sickening Christy Lemire with her continually smiling oh-so perky, chirpy cheerleader stance of "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs" is currently leading the way for more environmental abuses and playing right into the hands of Canada's psycho Nazi Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Government and Big Money also have deep pockets to fight any challenges to their blatant theft from Canada's First Nations.
Worse yet is the fact - once again - that any benefits of pillaging, raping and murdering the environment are strictly ephemeral. The future, however, could be very bleak for everyone and this is where Caleb Behn could make a difference. In the midst of his gruelling work as an articling lawyer/student, he is a much-sought-after public speaker on environmental/Aboriginal issues and he simply can't seem to say "No" to any invitation for him to publicly denounce the evils of fracking, clear cutting and all other manner of "legal" criminal actions against the Earth's potential for survival.
A very powerful sequence has Caleb visiting New Zealand and meeting with Maori leaders who discuss and then show him first-hand the devastating effects of fracking upon their land. It's potent and empowering, but also deeply moving. Caleb seems even more energized to fight the good fight in Canada.
It's a cool movie that way. Caleb Behn is going to become one of the country's important leaders (if not the world's - Native or otherwise) and here we get a ground-floor glimpse at the beginnings of what will be a stellar ascension. Looking forward to sequels to this film will, in fact, be looking forward to Planet Earth's health and longevity with Behn leading the charge.
I can hardly wait.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** Three Stars
Fractured Land enjoys its World Premier at Hot Docs 2015. For tickets and info, visit the festival's website by clicking HERE.
Leaving Africa (2015)
Dir. Iiris Härmä
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Uganda is a beautiful country and so are its people, but it's been fraught with scourges like the butcher dictator Idi Amin Dada and in recent years, organized religion. The intolerance, repression and mass-manipulation continue to run rampant in the country, but there are many brave people who constantly struggle against it. Certainly, the 2013 Hot Docs presentation of Call Me Kuchu by Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall was a numbing, powerful and moving experience which detailed the country's hatred towards the LGBT/GLBT community.
Leaving Africa is a new film which superbly presents its material and story with a combination of filmmaking excellence and compulsively fascinating subject matter. Friendship forged through a mutual appreciation for education is the heart that drives Iiris Härmä's truly great film.
Finland's Riitta Kujala lived in Uganda for 27 years, bringing public health education to the country and nurturing new domestic generations of those who can continue this vital work. When the film begins, she is 67 years old, already past retirement and embarking upon what might be the crowning glory of her legacy and by extension, that of Finland and the Ugandans who carry-on and support her endeavours. She begins an important workshop devoted to gender equality and sexual health aimed squarely at Uganda's religious leaders. Given that so much of the country's difficulties have stemmed from the backwards idiocy perpetrated by many of God's cheerleaders in collaboration with a government too often exhaling a miasma of extreme conservatism, this is not only an action of utmost significance, but a brave one as well.
Riitta's best friend and housemate Kata Othieno is also a chief and equal partner in all of her educational initiatives. She's as big-hearted as they come and visually, her tall, robust, full-figured beauty is a lovely contrast to that of Riitta's lean, slender and seemingly steely - dare I say, "buff" - physical countenance. At age 63, Kata could still have her pick of any litter of hunky suitors, but after an often tempestuous and outright abusive life with men, she's eschewed their place in her life - she's tired of lap-doggish gents hiding their pit bull nature. Education is her constant bedfellow and driving force.
Luckily for Riitta, she not only has a dear friend and colleague in Kata, but a family. Kata's children and grand kids are the genuinely loving progeny she avoided physically bearing herself, especially having remained single her entire life.
And then, there is the work - a life's work that these two dynamic women have shared. One of the more fascinating and delightful elements of this are the workshops for the Ugandan religious leaders. They've come from all over the country and represent a variety of faiths within the purviews of Christian and Muslim persuasions. Huge drawings of female genitalia with a pointer aimed at various parts of the equation meet the (often) open-mouths of the assembled pupils.
Role playing, discourse, questions and answers relating to sexuality and gender are engagingly presented by the filmmaker in a manner that documents the undertaking itself as well as delivering ideas and information that the participants are ultimately eager to learn about. These deftly-captured-and-cut sequences also contribute greatly to film's compelling narrative. (I'd even argue that some of these sequences might well provide a much-needed education to "enlightened" Western gentlemen who see the film, though, for me, as a descendant of sensitive, open-minded, Easter-Rite-influenced Ukrainian Cossacks, it served merely as that which has already been bred in the bone. Sort of.)
Though much of the film feels idyllic, the crushing reality of repression, tribalism and corruption rears its ugly head - threatening to scuttle Riitta and Kata's influential ongoing legacy. Riitta feels the pull of retirement and returning to her native Finland, but none of that is going to achieve fruition if an anonymous letter to the Ugandan government, fraught with horrendous allegations and serving as a virtual poison pen blackmail tome, destroys everything.
Riitta and Kata are going to fight this to the end. It might be bitter, bittersweet or uplifting, but love, friendship and dedication will persevere through whatever tempests brew up in the grand, but oft-repressed nation of Uganda.
The miss-en-scene and cutting that impel Leaving Africa are so potent that director Iiris Härmä's extraordinary film feels like one of the best independent neo-realist dramas I've seen in years - worthy, certainly, of the same pantheon occupied by the likes of the Dardennes Brothers. The difference, of course, is that we're watching a documentary and matched by filmmaking of the highest order.
The Film Corner Rating: ***** Five Stars
Leaving Africa is making its International Premiere at the 2015 edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. Visit the Hot Docs website for dates, showtimes and tickets by clicking HERE.
Sunday, 26 April 2015
A Different Drummer: Celebrating Eccentrics (2014)
Dir. John Zaritzky
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Marching to the beat of one's own drum is not without merit and the title alone was enough to pique my curiosity, but then, my heart sank. During the first few minutes of A Different Drummer: Celebrating Eccentrics, I felt primed to hate it. Why wouldn't I? I detest both whimsy and standard TV-style docs - both of which seem overbearingly present within the picture's opening.
We get the digestible bite-sized thesis in which we learn how a ten-year study revealed that eccentrics are healthier, happier and indeed, manage to live longer than everybody else. We then get the de rigueur snippets of introductory interviews from what will be our wild, wooly and wacky subjects - a lot of which are all set to a frightfully jaunty musical score.
Ugh was dancing across my cerebellum and I almost flushed the sucker down the toilet bowl of unmentionables in order to slap on a different doc, but then, as if by magic, genuinely delightful movie magic began to snuggle up to me and the next ninety-or-so minutes yielded one of the happiest, funniest and moving little pictures I'd seen in awhile.
Zaritzky clearly loves his subjects, but not to the film's detriment. He settles in on each glorious nutcase (a man who lives in caves, a zany inventor, a duck lady, a "joke" politician, a man who celebrates a "useless" American president and one real lollapalooza I won't spoil for you here) with sensitivity and good humour. He's never laughing at them and neither will you. Some you'll laugh with and others you might even need to shed a few droplets of ocular moisture.
At the end of the day, it has been said that I'm eccentric. As such, I luxuriated in Zaritzky's sweet, lovely ode to madness of the most glorious kind and I'd be delighted to host any one of these people in my own home.
The thesis is proven, the whimsy in the opening a minor aberration and one of the more delightful feel-good documentaries made in recent years won me over completely.
Oh, and the best news: I look forward to a long, healthy and happy life.
The Film Corner Rating: ***½ Three-and-a-half Stars
A Different Drummer is making its Toronto Premiere at the 2015 edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. Visit the Hot Docs website for dates, showtimes and tickets by clicking HERE.
Saturday, 25 April 2015
Dir. Noemi Weis
Review By Greg Klymkiw
I have to admit that Milk was a huge eye-opener for this fella and might well have a similar effect upon millions upon millions of people. On the surface, the film seems like a fairly standard, straightforward look at motherhood - most notably in the area of breast-feeding. As the film progresses, it is so much more. The picture touches upon areas like midwifery versus traditional medical birth methods, but in many ways this is the springboard needed to jettison us into the shocking and sickening misuse and abuse of women's bodies and by extension, those of their newborn babies.
Once again, corporate interests are promoting extremely unhealthy practises all in the name of profits. What I personally learned was the extent to which the commercial baby food industry held sway over women worldwide - especially in the area of promoting milk supplements instead of good, old fashioned breast milk. Frankly, I just assumed all babies were breast-fed except in rare instances where milk supplements were the only route to take.
Unfortunately the marketing and lobby of corporate pigs is so strong, that kids are being fed powdery packets of poison and chemicals because safety and convenience play such a huge part in the selling of said supplements. One of the more appalling examples of the lengths to which infant formula manufacturers will go to are presented by their purported altruism wherein they donate their product in far-flung reaches of the planet which have been decimated by natural disasters or war. Mothers and their babies get hooked on the crap, and then, the companies having not provided enough donations of formula, force families to pay for more of it in the supermarkets. Some families are so destitute they seek alternate forms of powdered food which end up being much cheaper.
And you know what? As the jingle goes, "Coffee Mate, tastes great, Coffee Mate makes your cup of coffee taste GREAT!"
The last time I checked, synthetic coffee cream powders are not food, but are fed to babies anyway. The marketing of said product does little to dispel the notion that it can be used successfully.
Milk goes well beyond its TV doc roots and delivers a powerful, insightful look at this detestable exploitation and does so across five continents. The scope is wide; as it should be in the case of children and what they're (force) fed during their earliest years.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** Three Stars
Milk will have its World Premiere at HOT DOCS 2015. For schedule and tickets, visit the Hot Docs website HERE.
Friday, 24 April 2015
How To Change The World (2015)
Dir. Jerry Rothwell
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Preamble: A few things about Robert (Bob) Hunter that contribute, for me personally, to his legendary perch in Canadian history.
"If we wait for the meek to inherit the earth, there won't be anything left to inherit" - Robert HunterRobert (Bob) Hunter was many things. Mostly, I just always thought he was cool. And well, you'd kind of have to be that to have accomplished so much in so short a time (he died of cancer at age 63).
As a dyed-in-the-wool Winnipegger, I especially thought it was cool, given Robert Hunter's deep concern for Canada's Aboriginal people, that he was born in the City of St. Boniface which eventually amalgamated with all the wonky neighbourhood city-states along the Red, Assiniboine and Seine Rivers of Manitoba to become - you guessed it, Winnipeg.
All this rich land, which not only became the city we all know and hate/love (plus all points north-south-east-and-west) historically belonged to the Metis Nation, but was torn from their possession by the Canadian Government's land transfer scrip system which was virtually useless except to rich white guys who knew how to push it through the complicated bureaucracy to actually cash it in. The vast majority of uprooted Metis were starving, so they sold their scrip to the rich white guys, for pennies on the dollar.
Even more interesting to me was that Hunter's birthplace in St. Boniface ended up being the one community which contributed the most to Manitoba becoming (even now) Canada's largest French-speaking region outside of Quebec. Why? Many of the displaced Metis were also targets for violence because of the 1870 Louis Riel wars against the corrupt rich white guys of Winnipeg and the eastern power-brokers who held a vicelike grip upon the government of Canada. This resulted in a huge number of Metis forcing their Native heritage underground and bringing their French heritage to the fore and living in - you guessed it, St. Boniface.
His tenure as a columnist at the Winnipeg Tribune and Vancouver Sun was before my time. I didn't even become aware of him as a journalist until I moved to Toronto in the early 90s and began watching CITY-TV (when it actually had a real personality thanks to its eventually-departed head Moses Znaimer). Here, I began to enjoy the amazingly cool, almost Hunter S. Thompson-like "environmental reporter and commentator. I was soon compelled to begin reading his books wherein I discovered that he was Bob Hunter, the heart, soul and public face of the environmental group Greenpeace.
This, for me, was virtually cooler-than-cool and when he passed away in 2005, I was genuinely saddened that we'd lost him. Thankfully, this film now exists. It's not a biographical documentary of Robert (Bob) Hunter, but in many ways, it might as well be.
And now, the Film Review proper:
There were many things about Hunter I didn't know after all these years and I'm grateful to director Jerry Rothwell for his almost-epic-like motion picture documentary How To Change The World which presents a side of this great Canadian that was not only fresh to my already-admiring eyes, but kind of jettisons Hunter into some supreme inter-stellar glowing orb of coolness.
Rothwell poured over hundreds of 16mm rolls of film that had been canned and unopened since the 1970s. Seeing, pretty much before his very eyes, the visual history of the Greenpeace organization, Rothwell consulted with Hunter's colleagues, foes, conducting fresh interviews with all of them, blending the result of Herculean research and expertly selected and edited footage from the Greenpeace Archives. (The fact that Hunter was so brilliantly media-savvy pretty much accounts for this wealth of material even existing.)
What we get is the story of a respected counter-culture columnist who aligns himself with a motley assortment of friends and colleagues (most of them of the 60s/70s "hippie" persuasion) to head out on a boat in an attempt to stop nuclear testing on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean and then, with the same bunch, to go tearing after Russian sailors butchering whales up and down the coast of the Pacific Northwest. The campaigns continued and somewhere along the way, the movement of Greenpeace was formed.
With both the existing archival footage and the new interviews, Rothwell has painted an indelible portrait - not only of the key events in the movement, but the individuals themselves - as disparate a cast of characters you could ever imagine. What makes them cool is how different they are as people, but as such, they each bring individual qualities to the movement that had a symbiotic relationship - for a time. As is the won't of anything or anyone growing beyond initial beginnings, egos as well as legitimate desires/directions begin to rear their ugly heads and minor cracks in the "vessel" become tectonic plates, yielding high-Richter-scale fractures.
In addition to the dazzling filmmaking, I was swept away onto the high seas and weed-clouded back rooms of Greenpeace thanks to the perfectly selected and abundant readings of Bob Hunter's exceptional reads. Embodying Hunter is the magnificent character actor Barry Pepper who delivers us the man's words with the kind of emotion which goes so far beyond "narration". Pepper captures the soul of Hunter impeccably. It's a brilliant performance. (If anyone does a biopic of Hunter, Pepper is the MAN!!!
The first two-thirds of the movie is compulsive viewing. The first third, focusing upon seafaring derring-do is nail-bitingly thrilling. With Bob Hunter at the helm of some totally crazy-ass dangerous antics - like some mad, dope-smoking, Sterling-Hayden lookalike - Rothwell creates a veritable action picture on the high seas with an obsessive Captain Ahab targeting not whales, but the hunters of whales. (So much of the film is charged with a great selection of period hit songs and a gorgeous original score by Lesley Barber also.)
Who'd have thought environmental activism could be as thrilling as Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin "Master and Commander" adventures? The middle section begins focusing on the leaks in the organizational battleship that became Greenpeace. Mixing in more derring-do with internal conflicts is easily as thrilling as the intrigue-elements of O'Brian's high-seas swashbucklers.
The final third of the film tends to fall by the wayside a touch. It's not Rothwell's doing, as that of - gasp - real life. There's a great deal of sadness and acrimony in this section of the film and part of me wishes that life didn't throw the kind of curve-balls that surprise your favourite batter at the plate into striking out. This is ultimately a minor quibble though, in light of the sheer force, power and entertainment value of the picture. What epics don't suffer from a sag or three? At least this one eventually builds to a note of well deserved and earned high notes and the movie finally packs a major one-two emotional punch. When this happens, tears might well be flowing amongst many and the lapses of real life will be fleeting, especially when you exit the cinema feeling, "Goddamn! That was one HELL of a good show!"
The Film Corner Rating: **** Four Stars
How To Change The World is making its Canadian Premiere at the 2015 edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. Visit the Hot Docs website for dates, showtimes and tickets by clicking HERE.
Thursday, 23 April 2015
This is one of purportedly hundreds of children
viciously & mercilessly sexually assaulted by
former Anglican priest & Boy Scout leader Ralph Rowe.
Survivors Rowe (2015)Dir. Daniel Roher
Prd. Peter O'Brian
Review By Greg Klymkiw
I doubt you're going to see a better short film at Hot Docs 2015 than Survivors Rowe. In fact, I doubt you're going to see a better short film all year than Survivors Rowe. There's something heroic about this picture - it's terrific filmmaking to be sure, but its subjects, all grown men who share their most deeply personal reminiscences of childhood are to be exalted to the highest degree imaginable.
The other heroic element, which cannot be ignored, is the commitment of the short's Producer Peter O'Brian to have offered his expertise, passion and artistry to director Daniel Roher's fine work. O'Brian is a legend. He's a genuinely heroic figure for having produced so many of Canada's greatest motion pictures including, but not limited to The Grey Fox with the late-greats Richard Farnsworth and Jackie Burroughs in one of the great westerns of all time - period - and One Magic Christmas with the astonishing Harry Dean Stanton as one of the most evocative (and dark) guardian angels in film history in (yes) one of the great films about Christmas - period!
What is not heroic is Canada itself and the country's insidiously grotesque and hateful history with respect to our aboriginal nations, a horrifying element of which is so artfully and powerfully exposed in Roher's short film. It is one of a multitude of inhuman(e) assaults upon Canada's Native People, one that began with colonialism and frankly, continues to this very day, especially in light of the hatred and disregard expressed by Canada's Chancellor (or is it Prime Minister?) Steven Harper, the leader of our country's Nazi party (or is it, the Conservative party?).
Rowe is not only a charismatic, almost mythic figure, but he's actually taken the time to learn Native languages and dialects to converse with elders, adults his own age and kids. What nobody knows, what nobody could ever imagine, is that Ralph Rowe is a pedophile. The on-camera testaments delivered by the film's key subjects reveal some of the most harrowing, horrific and just plain malevolent acts perpetrated by this man of the wilderness, this man of God, this monster.
One of the most extraordinary things director Daniel Roher achieves here as a filmmaker is how he fashions any great narrative's need for an antagonist. On the surface, this figure is clearly Ralph Rowe, but as the film progresses, Rowe's external position as a villain, or rather, as an antagonistic force flows into the pain, sorrow, self-loathing and self-harm faced by the victims of his crimes. Then, even more extraordinarily, the antagonistic force of Rowe, his victims' suffering and the metamorphosis of this into the aforementioned process of healing, gives way to an even greater antagonist - a seemingly perpetual cycle of abuse which, is ultimately societal and must be actively addressed far more vigorously and openly than it is.
Ralph Rowe most likely sexually assaulted over 500 Native children and was, no doubt, responsible for a huge swath of suicides amongst both children and adults (not to mention residual effects upon subsequent generations). Unfortunately, the Canadian judicial system has only tried and convicted him for what amounts to a mere handful of sex crimes. He served a meagre five years in jail, was essentially handed a deal by the Crown to leave him be no matter how many accusations continue to surface and he lives a quiet, peaceful life in Surrey, British Columbia. Neither the Anglican Church nor the Boy Scouts have ever officially apologized to the victims and yet, those victims who did not commit suicide have endured decades and, if truth be told, lifetimes of living Hell.
On a purely aesthetic level, what Roher achieves here is a film that serves as a document of the suffering, torment and misery Ralph Rowe caused, but there is a strangely magical and poetic structure to the work which takes us from idyll to horror and finally and astoundingly, but perhaps necessarily, to forgiveness.
It's impossible to shake the impact this short film has. In fact, it has the sickening shock of a merciless cold-cock, blended with an elegiac, profoundly moving sense of loss and leavened with a kind of grace that not only reflects the deep humanity of the film's subjects, but shines a light of clemency upon a monster.
What the film cannot forgive, nor can any of us (I hope and pray), is the deep-seeded hatred and racism of colonialism which continues in Canada to this very day. If an Anglican priest and Boy Scout leader viciously sexually assaulted over 500 white children, would he still be living freely in society with the legal implication that he'll never serve more incarceration for his crimes, no matter how many continue to surface?
The answer is obvious.
|Here's what convicted pedophile Ralph Rowe|
looks like now in his comfy Surrey, B.C. environs.
It'd sure be nice to have a few more recent photos
out there for the safety of all children and families.
And whatever you do, don't miss Survivors Rowe.
The Film Corner Rating: ***** Five Stars
Survivors Rowe is making its World Premiere at the 2015 edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. Visit the Hot Docs website for dates, showtimes and tickets by clicking HERE.
Wednesday, 22 April 2015
Dir. Sophie Deraspe
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Set against the turbulent backdrop of war-and-revolution in contemporary Syria we meet one hot French-Canadian babe in Montreal (Sandra Bagaria) and one hot Syrian-American babe in Damascus (Amina Arraf).
They meet online. They're young. They're in love.
Okay. That's it. Go see the movie.
Oh, that's not fair. Here's a bit more to, uh, chew on:
Yesiree-bob, they're lesbians and they're totally into each other, wholly - in mind (what's some nice sapphic eroticism without a few healthy dollops of intellectual discourse) and in, oh yeah, baby, BODY. And let me tell ya', quicker than you can say "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir)?", l'action de yum yum gets going and it's guaranteed to be hot and heavy.
No? Okay, check this out:
The rub, so to speak, is that they're separated by continents, culture and physical proximity, so they must create virtual worlds via text messaging and avatars to become one. Yes, it's cybersex, but no matter. This is a movie, so, via the film's director, we have mega-potential for lots of imagined, recreated hot caresses, tongue action, rug cleaning and soft, lithe, supple flesh against flesh to demonstrate for us, the unbridled passion unfurling in their respective loins - I mean, minds. Better yet, as the film progresses, they can well imagine what the real fireworks are going to be like when they finally meet.
So can we.
Yowza! Yowza! Yowza! Do I really need to keep writing?
I do? Well, okay. Don't mind if I do. Just thought you'd want to dispense with reading this review and just go see the movie (with a handy raincoat to place over your lap for any discrete digital manipulations you might wish to indulge in as the picture unspools).
So, where was I? Oh yes, so our two femmes are tres exotique and maybe, just maybe, the virtual will become a reality. There's danger, though. Sandra lives a fairly normal, comfy life in La Belle Province whilst Amina is surrounded by violence and political unrest during the Syrian uprising as its being quashed by the ruling patriarchy. Oh, and lest we forget, those of the LGBT persuasion are on the top of most Syrians' extermination lists which ups the suspense ante when brave Amina launches a blog entitled "A Gay Girl in Damascus" - a delicious blend of news, politics and ground zero reportage of the Syrian conflicts. The blog goes through the roof - journalists and news agencies from all over the world look to the "Gay Girl" for their news, until, the worst happens.
Amina tells Sandra that the secret police are on to her. It's scary stuff. She aspires to be a novelist and her blog posts and emails to her cyber-love are plenty evocative. She walks the streets of Damascus, attends rallies and protests, and at times, finds herself alone in the shadows of tiny labyrinthian walkways. All the while, she's convinced she's being followed. (The filmmaker delivers a whole lot of hazy dramatic recreations for us - a total bonus). Eventually, Amina informs Sandra that she needs to go further underground and that their communications will be sporadic and brief.
Amina completely disappears. The world is watching. Where is the Gay Girl in Damascus? Word travels through various underground and cyber channels that Amina has been kidnapped by the Syrian authorities and languishes in prison. Sandra is desperate. She launches an intense campaign to find and rescue Amina. With the help of Western activists and even American diplomatic channels (Amina is, after all, a dual American citizen), a tense, multilevelled investigation is underway. Mystery upon mystery begins to exponentially pile up and soon Sandra (and by extension, we, the audience) are ripped away like a Harlequin Romance heroine's bodice from a sex-drenched love story and plunged into a superbly complex thriller that keeps us wanting to know more.
And the more we (and Sandra know), the more we become afraid.
And guess what? We're only a third of the way into the film. There's a lot more thrills and intrigue to enjoy.
AND it's all true.
Aside from the deftly directed dramatic recreations, skillfully edited with a myriad of other characters/subjects and interviews, The Amina Profile is never less than jangling, compulsive viewing. Where it goes, you'll never know until you see it. Once you do see it, as the suspenseful pieces of the puzzle slowly, creepily and shockingly fall into place, you'll find yourself registering surprise at every turn of every corner. You'll be confronted with the deep, dark mysteries of international intrigue amidst violent revolution as well as the strange, dark corners of cyberspace.
The picture's a corker. In fact, The Amina Profile might be one of the most vital contemporary films to examine how loneliness coupled with activism yields a Knossos-like journey to a shocking reality of what all of us face in parallel worlds - those in which we question and alternately, those we do not.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** Four Stars
The Amina Profile will have its Toronto Premiere at HOT DOCS 2015. For schedule and tickets, visit the Hot Docs website HERE.
Tuesday, 21 April 2015
HOT DOCS 2015 - Documentaries About Loss - Reviewed By Greg Klymkiw: SHOULDER THE LION ****, 3 STILL STANDING ***½, ON HER OWN ***, WARRIORS FROM THE NORTH ***, NUESTRO MONTE LUNA ***, PEACE OFFICER ***½
Shoulder the Lion (2014)
Dir. Erinnisse Rebisz, Patryk Rebisz
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Loss takes many forms, but the scariest thing for me would be to lose a part of myself that would prevent me from doing what I love to do more than any other thing in the world, the part of my being that essentially defines me. Shoulder the Lion focuses upon three people - artists - who have all lost parts of themselves which would, to most "normal" people keep them from experiencing life to its fullest.
Graham Sharpe was a musician on the cusp of greatness when the horrific, debilitating tinnitus reared its ugly head and caused him severe pain and the almost endless sound of ringing and buzzing in his ears. Playing live in a band became yesterday's new for him and he's had to spend most of his life learning to live with this incurable affliction. He still plays, but he can only do so for himself and by himself. What he does beyond this, though, is extraordinary and he's become the the senior producer of a massive music festival.
We meet Katie Dallam, the woman who was the real-life inspiration for Clint Eastwood's film Million Dollar Baby. During Katie's first professional boxing match, she took hundreds of blows to her body, a good portion of which were to her head. The result was severe brain damage and the need to relearn even the simplest things, never mind that which she was ultimately placed on this earth to do. Katie is a painter and sculptor. In her strange, dream-like world of memory loss, she manages to keep making art.
Alice Wingwall is a photographer. She started to go blind. Now, with virtual darkness and occasional flashes of light in her line of non-sight, she continues to take photographs - extraordinary work based on her instincts, her prowess with cameras and a tiny bit of verbal direction from friends (but rooted in her own needs and desires to express herself).
Shoulder the Lion is hugely inspirational, but it's not like it's some stereotypical disease of the week documentary about brave people overcoming their afflictions to find new meaning in their lives. These are people who brilliantly embrace their afflictions. This is not about overcoming them, but finding new dimensions in the hearts, minds and artistry to create work that pushes all the boundaries of their chosen mediums.
Directors Erinnisse Rebisz and Patryk Rebisz bring the kind of filmmaking artistry to this astonishing triptych of tales which not only captures the vital essence of these three people and their art, but does so with the highest level of aesthetic command of the medium of cinema to render narrative, character, documentation of creation and most of all, to do it with astonishing visuals and moments of genuine film poetry.
Loss has seldom seemed so elevating. The film takes us to higher planes, just as its subjects soar to stellar limits on the steam of their own inner flames.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** 4 Stars
Shoulder the Lion Premieres Internationally @ Hot Docs 2015. Further info click HERE.
3 Still Standing (2014)
Dir. Robert Campos, Donna LoCicero
Starring: Will Durst, Larry "Bubbles" Brown, Johnny Steele, Robin Williams, Dana Carvey, Paula Poundstone
Review By Greg Klymkiw
If one was to deign the existence of an official capital of standup comedy, San Francisco during the 1980s was it. Anyone with even the remotest talent in this uniquely American art form ventured forth to this great, vibrant city to ply their trade, but only the very best prospered. The best of the best, like, for example, the late Robin Williams were able to utilize the 'Frisco stomping grounds as a springboard to stardom, if not, superstardom.
Robert Campos and Donna LoCicero provide an extremely entertaining and informative history of this hotbed of laughs, though like the best humour, good cinema provides a deeper context and so it is with their feature documentary 3 Still Standing. The tale is told through the exceptionally talented comics Will Durst, Larry "Bubbles" Brown and Johnny Steele. None of these guys have become household names, but long after the well ran dry in San Francisco's almost insanely prolific comedy club scene, these three brilliant funny men have continued to live and work in the majestic, glorious "City by the Bay".
There's clearly a sense of loss and melancholy which runs through the picture. We get a cornucopia of period comedy footage which details the onstage routines of comics from the period and our three subjects acquit themselves astoundingly with all the bonafide superstars-to-be. Seeing contemporary footage of the men, they still do. These guys are hilarious - especially, to my taste, Larry "Bubbles" Brown who seems completely well-equipped to have achieved the heights afforded to so many others beyond this scene.
What we get within this amazing historical view of comedy is the story of a place which demanded the ongoing presence of America's best comedians, but now stands as one great city, but one without the same buzz, if not outright mania for standup. Our three protagonists are pretty much all that's left from that era, but they are solidly working comics,
There's also a massive elephant in the china shop of the film's more doleful qualities and it's the lovely, loving presence of one of the greatest comic talents of all time. The film is richly buttressed by contemporary interviews with comics who did indeed move beyond the localized parameters of the city: Paula Poundstone, Dana Carvey and the late Robin Williams. The gleam of admiration in Williams's eyes for the 3 comedians still standing is genuine.
Poundstone, Carvey and Williams have great stories about the "old days", but also seem genuinely beholden to the comedy genius of Durst, Brown and Steele. While the film doesn't overtly attempt to analyze what made some stars, and others not, there's plenty of material on view for us to make our own assumptions. That said, it doesn't seem to matter. Stardom is an elusive, unexplainable entity and what counts is how brilliant the three working comics actually are (and the filmmakers give us plenty of their comedy).
There is, however, a mournful quality to the film, especially Williams's appearances. Those glints of admiration in his eyes occasionally seem distant and somewhat infused with regret. I've watched these sequence a few times and I'm convinced I'm not finding it because I feel the reality of us losing him, but because there's a genuine wistfulness in how he talks about those days that will, I suspect, move many to tears.
Ultimately though, we're always brought back to Durst, Brown and Steele. If anything, Campos and LoCicero's film might be enough to bring these guys greater notoriety. Stardom is a bitch-goddess; she giveth and she taketh away. I've got my fingers crossed that she's going to giveth to these guys, thanks to this film.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½ 3 and-a-half Stars
3 Still Standing Premieres Internationally @ Hot Docs 2015. Further info click HERE.
On Her Own (2015)
Dir. Morgan Schmidt-Feng
Review By Greg Klymkiw
The family farm has long been under attack in America, but oft-times we're privy to tales of various financial crises or corporate pigs like Monsanto wreaking havoc with this venerable tradition and lifestyle. However, there are still many farms that continue to thrive and provide a decent living for agricultural families and On Her Own is a film which focuses on just such a situation - at least at first.
When we meet our subjects, there are certainly all the usual problems or running a farm; stuff breaks down and has to be replaced, cash flow is not always steady and personalities amongst the family occasionally clash. Nancy Preblich and her sister are the youngest adults (in addition to the sister's husband) who work the farm which has been in the family for five generations. Though Mom and Dad are getting on in years, they're both seemingly spry and, in addition to their grandkids from Nancy's sister, all contribute to the daily maintenance of the farm.
Director Morgan Schmidt-Feng focuses in a straight-forward direct cinema fashion upon all the usual farm activities which, in this case, are primarily livestock-centred. What seems like a film that begins one way (a family maintaining a generations-old way of life), morphs into something else altogether. This is not so much the result of an exigency of production, but rather the exigencies of life.
In a very short space of time, Mom and Dad pass away, leaving the farm activities to the sisters. The central conflict arises when Nancy's sister and her own family reveal a flagging commitment to working the farm. Nancy faces the daunting task of running the family business all on her own steam.
Here we're faced with the potentially sad realities of family farms. What happens when there's only one person left to tackle the myriad of chores once handled by so many? The film provides us with the cold, hard palpability of such a situation and adds to the important cinematic legacy of documentaries detailing this fading tradition.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** 3 Stars
On Her Own Premieres Internationally @ Hot Docs 2015. Further info click HERE.
Warriors from the North (2015)
Dir. Søren Steen Jespersen, Nasib Farah
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Watching a father who has lost his son to death is bad enough, but the most agonizing aspect of Warriors from the North is seeing a father fret about his son who could die any second, any minute of any day. The picture focuses upon three Muslim friends, all born in Denmark after their Somalian parents had fled their country of birth for a better life - not so much for themselves, but for their children.
Alas, the ennui of feeling like strangers in their own land renders the lads susceptible to being taken in by radical extremists. All three boys join the militant Islamic group Al-Shabab and leave their comfortable lives in Europe behind to devote themselves to serving as potential suicide bombers. It's the father of one of the three whom we follow closest of all.
Everyday the father prays and worries about his son. He is endlessly on the telephone with friends and relatives in Somalia and trying desperately to connect with the child he loves so dearly.
While the film provides many fascinating details about how groups like Al-Shabab reel in their victims for the cause, the actions and motives of these young men still seem as alien to us as they appear to be for the desperate Dad. All he wants is his son to come to his senses, come back home and to live.
In these horrible days of war and uncertainty, it's not too much to ask.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** 3 Stars
Warriors from the North North American Premiere - Hot Docs 2015. Further info click HERE.
Nuestro Monte Luna (2015)
Dir. Pablo Alvarez
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Let's be honest, here. Bullfighting, no matter how long it's served as a traditional symbol of graceful machismo, is little more than teasing, torturing and killing an animal for the edification of cheering throngs of slavering lunkheads. That filmmaker Pablo Alvarez even bothers to focus upon the "sport" is somewhat beyond me, but he does his job in terms of direct cinema documentary by focusing upon a group of young wannabe bullfighters in the dirt-poor city of Choachi in Colombia.
Bullfighting, you see, had been banned (rightly so) in the city of Bogota, but it was overturned by a moronic judicial decision and now, every poor lad who wishes to avoid a life in a gang, cartel or as a pimp, is chomping at the bit to bring pride to himself, his family and village by training to be a toreador.
The film presents a painstaking and well shot examination of the meticulous, painstaking training that goes into the artful teasing, torturing and killing of an animal. Clearly, the director is also more interested in the hopes and dreams of these young men in a virtually impossible life of impoverishment. His aim is true and he hits his target with the prowess of an expert.
As the picture progresses, many of the bullfighting veterans and aficionados defend this dying "art", especially since the protests against it are loud, clear and well, uh, civilized and as such, fly in the face of everything the unwashed masses have come to cherish. There's merit to the film and one feels as if there's a decent attempt at good, old fashioned Dziga Vertov-like objective truthfulness, but in spite of this, one's tolerance for the film will ultimately be linked to one's tolerance for public barbarity against animals.
If bullfighting goes the way of the Dodo bird, I still think these young toreros would have a lot more to lose if it didn't vanish (which, I hope to God, it will).
THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** 3-Stars (grudgingly)
Nuestro Monte Luna screens at Hot Docs 2015. For info click HERE.
Peace Officer (2015)
Dir. Brad Barber, Scott Christopherson
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Dub Lawrence has a lot to be proud of. As a rookie cop, he was instrumental in breaking the case of the notorious serial killer Ted Bundy. Obsessed with a law enforcement system needing a good shakeup, he became one of the youngest elected Sheriffs in America when he took over the position in Davis County, Utah. With ever-increasing challenges due to tense hostage situations, Dub formed an elite SWAT team unit which served his county ably and responsibly.
Fast forward 30 years later. Dub is semi-retired. He moonlights as a septic repairman to feed his passion of being a private investigator. He's still proud of his accomplishments, but he's now faced with the bitter pill of loss. His son-in-law was mercilessly gunned down in cold blood by the very SWAT unit he founded.
Dub's adversary is now the very thing he devoted his life to.
Directors Brad Barber and Scott Christopherson deliver a solid documentary detective yarn in which the film's key subject brilliantly and painstakingly builds a strong case to prove that his son-in-law's death was murder - pure and simple. The sense of sadness is palpable and we're plunged into a raw, harrowing indictment of solid law enforcement tactics gone completely awry in the madness of a police-state-like post-9-11 world.
Peace Officer is as much about righting wrongs as it is solidly rooted in a man's sense of redemption in his desire to seek the terrible truth within the very thing he once held dear. The picture is as riveting as the best police procedural thrillers, but the difference here is that we're watching a documentary, not a drama.
Once again, truth is stranger than fiction and the ultimate truth of Peace Officer is its power to inspire positive change in a system that's gone completely off the rails.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½ Three and a half Stars.
Peace Officer screens at Hot Docs 2015. For further info click HERE.