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.


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.


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.


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.