Friday, April 30, 2010

Hot Docs opening night

Last night was the opening of the 2010 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, the largest documentary film festival in North America. It kicked off in style with two gala presentations. The first was the Canadian premiere of Babies by French director Thomas Balmès. It's a pure vérité documentary where there is no narration or interviewing, just straight-ahead fly-on-the-wall observation of the subjects. In this case, the primary subjects are four babies from four different countries in the first year of their lives. They are Ponijao from Namibia, Bayarjargal from Mongolia, Mari from Tokyo, and Hattie from San Francisco.

The film provides an interesting side-by-side comparison of cultural similarities as well as the expected differences. No subtitles are provided for the adults who appear because in many ways what they say is irrelevant. The babies are the focus, and they wouldn't understand the words anyhow.  Perhaps the film might have gone deeper and looked at social issues as the The Up Series. But at this early stage in their lives, the children have an angelic innocence that the film captures beautifully.

The other opening night film was RUSH: Beyond The Lighted Stage which takes an interesting look at a cult band that people either love or hate. This film has some odd similarities to the Hot Docs opener from 2008, Anvil! The Story of Anvil. Both films are about under-appreciated Toronto metal bands with some Jewish members. Both films begin with other musicians and fans talking about how influential and significant they were. Both bands endure a roller-coaster ride from their high school friendships, to success in the 80s, through lean years, and a resurgence.

But while Anvil! The Story of Anvil was an inspired true-life version of This Is Spinal Tap and was very funny, RUSH: Beyond The Lighted Stage plays it straight. Whether you like the band or not, their story is quite interesting. It's curious to see that this group who everyone considered technical wizards could sometimes fall short of their compositional ambitions. We get to see their human sides. And as it turns out anyhow, the movie is quite funny - not because of directors Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn though, but because the band themselves and those they've touched are such characters. You may not end up liking their music, but you'll at least get a sense of their likability as people.

UPDATERUSH: Beyond the Lighted Stage won the Heineken Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday May 1. The award comes with a $25,000 cash prize. 

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