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music

2014

Hot Docs 2014 #7: Clothes and Courage

At last, a day where I didn’t have to take out my umbrella! After a morning catching up on reviews and emails, I headed out to the Bader for my first of three screenings. And, even though I arrived an hour before showtime, there was already a big rush line – this was going to be a popular pick, obviously.

By the time the lights dimmed, the theatre was JAMMED. Every seat was filled, volunteers and audience members were getting testy (I thought an empty seat in my row would result in a screaming match at one point), and a few people even squatted in the aisles. (Note to Bader staff and volunteers: pretty sure that’s a violation of the Fire Code, so either find a chair for every bum, or stop letting people into the venue.) I wasn’t really surprised: the program-book description for the feature-length film was cinematic catnip for the Hot Docs daytime crowd... especially since all daytime screenings are free for students and seniors.

But first, there was a superb short called You Won’t Regret That Tattoo (8/8), which profiles a number of tattooed folks in their 50s and up, who each reflect on the tattoos he or she has, the circumstances around them and how they feel about being inked. Beautifully structured and simple, the film – directed by Angie Bird – proves that not everything you do in your youth becomes a regret, and that you’re never too old to make a dramatic change. A wonderful 13 minutes!

Then it was time for the feature.

Directed by first-timer Lina Plioplyte, who’s immensely likeable (she was on hand before and after the screening), Advanced Style (5/8) focuses on a number of “women of a certain age” in Manhattan, who march – and dress – to the beat of their own drummers. Fashion icons as a result of a blog called “Advanced Style,” the women (who range in age from their 60s to their 90s) embrace their age as much as their often-wild-and-colourful clothes, hats, make-up and hairdos. Spirited, funny, elegant and inspirational, it’s no surprise these ladies wound up in a film.

Thing is, though, the documentary itself isn’t great, structurally or narratively. It starts out strong, with profiles of each of the women, but then just kind of unravels and meanders for its latter half. Random vignettes are just plunked one after another, without rhyme, reason or context, and there’s little sense of a clear direction in the filmmaking from midway onwards. At a screening later in the day, one of my fest-going pals (who’d also seen the film) commented that he felt like the project was just a supplementary promotional vehicle for the blog and the accompanying book (also called Advanced Style) rather than a strong documentary on its own. And I agree.

Next up was a change of pace and tone over at the Lightbox. Point and Shoot (7/8) starts out as a bit of a travelogue, as its central figure – twentysomething American Matthew VanDyke – sets out on a 35,000-mile solo motorcycle trip through the Middle East, Africa and Europe in a bid to shoot an adventure film. He dubs it a “crash course in manhood” and, along the way, meets a Libyan man who changes the course of his life. Soon, the once-shy adventurer is taking up arms alongside Libyan rebel forces to help overturn the regime of Moammar Gadhafi/Qadaffi/Gaddafi/Kadafi (fun fact: evidently, there are more than 100 ways to spell his whole name).

Directed by Marshall Curry – who took VanDyke’s hundreds of hours of footage, supplemented it with interviews and added elements of animation (to recreate events that took place when VanDyke was famously captured and held for months by the Libyan army) – the film tracks VanDyke’s personal and political evolution, creating a well-rounded look at how an ordinary guy can find himself in the middle of extraordinary (and terrifying) circumstances. The footage is impressive and does a great job of placing the viewer in the middle of the action, whether that’s VanDyke crashing his bike in the middle of nowhere, or taking fire alongside his rebel brethren.

Both VanDyke (who bears a striking resemblance to Alex Pettyfer) and Curry were on hand for the post-film Q&A, and I noticed VanDyke still chatting with filmgoers and answering questions elsewhere in the Lightbox more than half an hour later.

I’d cut out of the Q&A early so I could get in line for my final film of the day, An Honest Liar (6/8), the story of legendary magician James “The Amazing” Randi and his efforts to debunk self-proclaimed psychics, faith healers and con men. Part profile, part exposé and part love story, the film wasn’t what I expected – in a good way.

Co-directors Justin Weinstein and Taylor Measom do a great job of tracing Randi’s history, from his early days growing up in Toronto (yay!) and introduction to the world of magic, through the height of his fame in the 1970s and ‘80s. There are conflicts with other famous names – not the least of which are Uri Geller and Peter Popoff – and Randi’s mission to expose their fraudulent practices are fascinating. Then, the film takes an unexpected (for me, anyway) turn, that just makes the portrait of this now-80something legend even richer and more profound. It actually made me tear up.

Much to the audience’s delight, Randi showed up for the post-film Q&A, and proved himself just as sharp, smart, funny and insightful as ever. Unfortunately, thanks to my new address and longer commute home, I had to head out before it was over in order to catch my bus, but my film-going pal tells me Randi actually performed a couple of tricks for the crowd after I left. Cool.

And, if I may get on my soapbox for just a second: why are so many Hot Docs audience members completely unable or unwilling to utter the words “excuse me” when they shove their way past my knees to get into the row in which I’m sitting? Especially at the Lightbox, where 4 out of every 5 people to climb in and out just push their way in without so much as a “sorry” or a “pardon me” or a “thanks”?

I’ve lost count of the number of times it’s happened. It’s like people figure they can just stand there and I’ll make way, or (even better) they just start pushing past in silence (or chatting with their friends) before I have a chance to move.

WHERE DID MANNERS GO?

I’ve decided to just make the passage inaccessible until such time as someone clues in and says “excuse me.” Don’t get me wrong, a few people do, and some (like me) are hyper-apologetic (“I’m so sorry, I just have to grab my coat,” “excuse me, sorry, thank you!” and, last night, the hilarious “sorry my ass is so big, but it’s getting smaller...”), but most seem to forget that it’s common courtesy to at least acknowledge the folks making way for you.

Sheesh.

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