In the second part of our Hot Docs 2011 previews, Andrew Parker takes a look at Becoming Chaz, Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then, Fightville, Beauty Day (pictured above), and Magic Trip. Check back over the next few days for more previews of films playing at Hot Docs 2011.
Directors: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato
Chaz (formerly Chastity) Bono serves as a producer of the documentary that follows his numerous steps towards becoming a man. While the message at the heart of the film is admirable, the film is ultimately very self serving. Chaz comes across as a media darling, but the film seems to pull it’s punches on what it wants to show. Many questions remain unanswered or are casually glossed over. This leads to the film to stop feeling empowering as it would like to come across as. Scenes between Chaz and his long term partner Jenny are the real meat of the film and serve as the heart of an otherwise soulless feeling “triumph of the human spirit story.” The message of the film seems to be that you can achieve anything if you have enough rich people around you that believe in you. A film with good intentions, but still nothing more than a good intentioned vanity project.
Rating (out of five stars): **1/2
Friday, April 29th at 9:15 p.m. at Bloor Cinema
Sunday, May 1st at 4:00 p.m. at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Sunday, May 8th at 6:45 p.m. at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then
Director: Brent Green
A maddeningly artsy experiment about a genuinely interesting subject. Filmmaker Brent Green attempts to recreate the true story of a Kentucky man who turns his country home into a healing chamber and monument to his dying wife. There is a wonderful idea at the heart of the film, but the fact that the film feels like a badly slapped together student art project (with terrible actors recreating the events) kills any momentum or emotion the film might have had. Every time the audience is treated to something approaching a real emotion, the film finds some new way of ruining it. Definitely not a film for people who would laugh at anything that is referred to as “hipsterish.” Not really a documentary, but definitely art. It’s just not very good art. It might be much easier to just close the eyes for a while and pretend a Bright Eyes B-side album is being played in the auditorium.
Rating (out of five stars): *1/2
Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then plays with the short Tuned In (not reviewed)
Wednesday, May 4th at 7:30 p.m. at Cumberland 3
Friday May 6th at 6:15 p.m. at TIFF Bell Lightbox 4
Directors: Petra Epperlein, Michael Tucker
More of a winner than one might expect, Fightville takes viewers into the minor leagues of the mixed martial arts juggernaut by following two up and coming fighters with vastly different additudes and work ethics and a former professional wrestler turned family man and fight promoter. Fightville likely won’t create any new converts to the sport of MMA, nor will it ever really address any criticisms levied against it by it’s detractors, but casual fight fans and the curious will definitely find more than enough to chew on. Film lovers will surely adore just how gorgeously the film is shot and how it essentially plays as the Friday Night Lights of fight films. The film is full of wit and heart, and thankfully not always at the expense of the participants. It is nice to be reminded that there is a world outside of the big leagues in any sport and there couldn’t be three better characters to look at it with.
Rating (out of five stars): ****
Thursday, April 28th at 9:30 p.m. at Winter Garden Theatre
Friday, April 29th at 1:45 p.m. at Isabel Bader Theatre
Thursday, May 3rd at 3:45 p.m. at Cumberland 2
Director: Jay Cheel
In terms of sheer entertainment value this festival, it might be darn near impossible to to Jay Cheel’s sidesplittingly funny and remarkably touching film about St. Catherines, Ontario’s Ralph Zavadil, better known to Niagara cable access viewers in the mid-90s as Cap’n Video. Zavadil was known for his Jackass and Tom Green style stunts before either of those shows ever came into existence. Zavadil is a remarkable human being who is incredibly candid and reflective upon his life despite what the audience might think of him at times. This is one of the best “root for the underdog” stories in years and the best documentary about filmmaking since American Movie. It is also a great examination of art and the difference between “getting it” and “not getting it.” Beauty Day isn’t just one of the best films at HotDocs this year. It is one of the best films of the year.
Rating (out of five stars): *****
Beauty Day plays with the short:
The Burton Cycle, Part 1: Fahrenheit 7-Eleven
Director: Walter Forsberg
A funny short that recreates a fateful encounter that Guess Who singer Burton Cummings had at a 7-Eleven convenience store in his native Winnipeg. A really funny look at how a story can become an oft told legend that might never get the facts right. A very worthy lead in to the film that follows and definitely worth showing up early for.
Rating (out of five stars): ****
Friday, April 29th at 6:45 p.m. at Isabel Bader Theatre
Wednesday, May 4th at 7:30 p.m. as part of Rooftop Docs on the roof of London Tap House (19+)
Saturday, May 7th at 4:15 p.m. at Isabel Bader Theatre
Directors: Alex Gibney, Allison Ellwood
Directors Ellwood and Gibney recreate the trip and “trips” of Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters as they make their way from Oregon to New York City for the 1964 World’s Fair. Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) and Ellwood have painstakingly recreated the trip using footage and interviews recorded by Kesey and his busmates that no one was able to assemble coherently until now. The amount of work that went into the film must have been astounding, but sadly it feels like there were a lot more cuts that should have been made to this one. The final third of the film runs out of gas and doesn’t really add anything to the history or mythology of the cross country trek. Watchable and interesting for history buffs, but not as good as it could have been. Side note: This is one of two films to feature Neal Cassady (the real life inspiration for Dean Moriarty in Kerouac’s On the Road) playing at Hot Docs this year.
Rating (out of five stars): ***
Saturday, April 30th at 9:45 p.m. at Isabel Bader Theatre
Monday, May 2nd at 3:30 p.m. at Isabel Bader Theatre
Hot Docs 2011 runs from April 28 – May 8. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit hotdocs.ca.
Top image: A scene from Beauty Day. Courtesy Hot Docs.