Tuesday 30 April 2013

THE MANOR - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Klymkiw HOT DOCS 2013 HOT PICK

The Manor (2013) ****
Dir. Shawney Cohen

Review By Greg Klymkiw
When you are next in picturesque Guelph, Ontario
Please make sure to visit the exquisite gentleman's club 
A very special ALL NEW treat awaits Gentlemen of Distinction.
The Bottle Service Lounge includes everything you could possibly want for the ultimate night out: Front row seating for all major events, your own private waitress, shower shows and comfortable leather couches in your own section.

So you're a six-year-old red-blooded male and your Dad buys a strip club attached to a dive hotel and it becomes the family business wherein you, your little brother and Mom pitch in.

Sounds like a good deal to me.

Even better is that during the first few years the business was operating, your family lived in a suite above the finest Gentleman's Club in Southern Ontario (Le meilleur club pour les messieurs dans le sud de l'Ontario).

Sorry, bro', but this is sounding mighty win-win to me.

I'll admit, though, that time and maturity play nasty tricks on us and in your case, a quarter of a century later, those halcyon days don't seem so golden - if, in fact, they ever were. For example, as a kid, you'd wake up thirsty in the middle of the night, pad down to the bar and pour yourself a Coke from the taps. You remember that during this time, you didn't, for even a second think there was anything "weird" about this.

Hey, bud, why should you? Sounds like some kind of crazy living wet dream to me.

But no, not to you. These days you look around and see your patriarchal 400-pound Dad brashly bullying his way through life, your gentle subservient 85-pound Mom hiding further and further within herself, your baby brother dreaming of owning his own strip club and dating the "help" and you think, is there something wrong with this picture? Is there something wrong with me?

Then you gaze in the mirror and see someone who has not lived up to his potential.

Well, maybe it's not all peaches and cream.

What I see, however, is the kind of filmmaker I dreamed about getting my mitts on during the 13 years I was the Senior Creative Consultant and Producer-in-Residence at Uncle Norm Jewison's Canadian Film Centre.

You know why? You've done what many of them couldn't even dream of doing. You just made one hell of a terrific movie and frankly, your life experience and the talent you display suggests to me that we're going to see some totally amazing work from you in the future.


Director Shawney Cohen, the aforementioned young whippersnapper I was addressing above, clearly needed to explore this situation - if only for himself - but in reality, this process of exploration has yielded something very, very special for all of us. He shot The Manor over a three year period with unfettered access to his parents and their world. What he's crafted here for his first feature is a lovely picture about family, love, loyalty, caring and conflict against the backdrop of a (for some) unconventional setting.

This is one corker of an entertaining movie.

Shawney himself guides us on the journey. His initially dour and vaguely judgemental attitude rubbed me the wrong way, but as the movie progressed, my perception shifted to genuine admiration as the more sour aspects of his character (once he gets a girlfriend, actually) transform into a very moving display of love and caring.

Besides, in both life and art, someone's got to have a voice of reason.

What Cohen does here is pretty damn extraordinary. He exposes a slice of his family's (to some) strange life and makes it completely relatable to everyone. I love how I came to love this family - especially his Dad - a no nonsense, stubborn and unapologetically irascible old curmudgeon who might not always do things the right way, but in his own way, he thinks he's doing the right thing. One of my best friends remarked how frighteningly similar Shawney's Dad was to both my own Dad and, uh, ME. I took it as a compliment. And yes, it was meant as one.

There is, always, a lot of talk about dysfunctional families and there's been much of that in relation to The Manor - even within the film and its promo bumph. I hate that expression. I especially don't believe in how people spread it around like cow shit on the lawn. Unless a family is identical to the fucking Cleavers on Leave it to Beaver, ALL families are dysfunctional - it's simply a matter of degrees.

What I see when I watch Cohen's film is a genuine patriarch presiding over his wife, sons, home and business - old school, for sure - but he is a REAL MAN who LOVES his family. He might not always be choosing the best way to express it, but express it he does.

The Manor, as a slice of life, delivers a great story that's finally all about love.

And why not?

Love is the ultimate unifying force and though many things threaten to split it apart, love - as always - has the last laugh.

"The Manor" is playing at the Hot Docs 2013 Film Festival. For showtimes and tickets, visit the festival's website HERE. It will be released via Kinosmith.

Now Folks, when you're in Guelph, please patronize THE MANOR - I've been there myself and I can personally attest to its abundance of charm. For info, visit the website HERE.


Monday 29 April 2013

15 REASONS TO LIVE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Klymkiw HOT DOCS 2013 HOT PICKS

15 Reasons To Live (2013) *****
Dir. Alan Zweig

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Everyone says that Alan Zweig's new picture is a major departure from everything he's made to date. They're wrong. Since his first feature length documentary Vinyl, the first of his semi-unofficial "mirror trilogy" which then included I, Curmudgeon and Lovable, through to his fourth movie A Hard Name, Zweig has always been about humanity and all his work has been infused with compassion.

15 Reasons To Live is more of the same.

Now, before anyone assumes that's a slag, allow me to add that humanity and compassion are elements of existence always worth exploring - in both life and art. (After all, what else is there? Really?)

Oh, I know, all those championing this as a departure are bringing up the fact that 15 Reasons is not overflowing with self-loathing. He's not looking at himself in a mirror and confessing his perceived failings and then using his subjects to bolster and/or change his mind. He's not aiming his camera at ex-cons, overtly exploring their harrowing dark side in order to find glimmers of both hope and forgiveness. Oh, and for those who saw it (and everyone who should have seen it), he's not even in the territory of his first feature, Darling Family, a tremendously moving and well directed adaptation of the play by Linda Griffiths which was, uh, about a couple on opposite ends of a decision to abort a child.

Or, they say, Oh, he's not a curmudgeon after all.

Well, whatever.

I can only reiterate: Alan Zweig's films are about humanity and compassion - period. He's a great interviewer - probing, insightful, funny, thoughtful and entertainingly conversational - and this, if anything, characterizes a good chunk of his style. This wends its way through all his documentaries and it's one of many reasons why it's impossible not to be riveted by them.

He's got an original voice as a filmmaker and, quite literally within his vocal chords. Nobody, but nobody can sound like Alan Zweig and ABSOLUTELY nobody can make movies the way he does.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of Zweig's original approach is that he is, first and foremost, an avid collector. His films are populated with large casts of characters and these individuals are inextricably linked to the themes of the films, but as such, he pulls from them the things that make each one of them unique and what he seems to do is collect all these people with the same passion he collects vinyl or books or movies or tchochkes, BUT unlike the inanimate objects he collects, he can't purge himself of his collection of subjects by dropping them off at the Goodwill Store.

He collects people of all stripes and he gets, through his films, to keep them forever - not just for himself, but for the world.

And THIS, for me, is what's so special and if there's any difference with the new picture from his previous work, it's that he forced himself into maintaining a strict number of subjects to add to his collection. And yes, there is one key surface departure - he tells each person's story separately without the documentarian's crutch of weaving in and out of his subjects' lives, stories and perspectives.

Inspired by his friend Ray Robertson's book “Why Not: Fifteen Reasons To Live?” Zweig chose the 15 chapter headings - Love, Solitude, Critical Mind, Art, Individuality, Home, Work, Humour, Friendship, Intoxication, Praise, Meaning, Body, Duty and Death - and with his inimitable producer Julia Rosenberg (one of Canada's true producers-as-filmmaker that I can count on two hands and half a foot) and his Associate Producer Whitney Mallett, the team searched out 15 stories that best exemplified each reason to live.

With the astounding cinematography of Naomi Wise (she paints every face with light and her compositions are exceptional) and dollops of exquisite animation by Joseph Sherman, the team shot each story separately and then with the breathtaking work of editor Eamonn O’Connor, each story was cut separately until embarking upon what must have been an even more formidable challenge, working with the assembled stories and, well, assembling them. O'Connor's cutting is especially revelatory. Each tale is perfectly paced, to be sure, but the transitions from tale to tale are quite simply, masterful - at times subtle and gentle, while at others delivering my favourite kind of cut - the cut that takes your breath away. Literally. (These cuts, when they work, are not jarring - they kind of slide in and sidle up to you and before you know it, you've been winded.)

And damn if this structural approach doesn't work just perfectly. The film shares an architecture similar to that of "Dubliners" by James Joyce and "Winesburg, Ohio" by Sherwood Anderson - each book having several great stories that work just fine on their own, but when taken all together, they generate an effect not unlike some dazzling combination of a full novel meshed with a mesmerizing tone poem. This, if anything, is what launches Zweig into some kind of stratosphere - a film that brings together everything that makes his work so goddamn special; all the compassion and humanity your heart could possibly desire in a perfectly cohesive package celebrating life itself.

I think it's safe to say that 15 Reasons To Live is a film that will have the kind of shelf life that only a genuine masterpiece delivers - a film for now, to be sure, but more importantly, one for the ages.

I don't think there is a single story that will not resonate beyond the here and now.


A tale of love against a dream to walk around the world;

A search for solitude amongst the masses;

The application of critical thought in the face of religious dogma;

The appreciation of art when everyone says it'll never be appreciated again;

A slice of individuality from a mysterious source;

A sense of place when one finds a home that means forever;

When work becomes that which fulfills you and feeds your soul;

A sense of humour that manifests itself in a simple, but ultimately layered choice of a name that infuses your identity with one that reflects all your gifts;

Friendship that's thicker than blood when a debilitating disease threatens your quality of life;

A realization that an intoxicant can inspire you to never say never again;

To seek the ultimate outlet to praise and worship that which fills your life more than some spurious non-entity;

Seeking, finding and maintaining the meaning your life gives to yourself and God's creatures;

To honour thine body to honour thine soul to honour the gift of expression through exertion and concentration;

To save a whale;

And finally, the discovery that peaches ARE life itself - sweet and ever regenerating.

These are the individual stories that equal a much bigger and profound story - one in which mankind seeks all those things that give meaning to one's life and how, through faith and perseverance in one's own humanity and place within the universe, anything - ANYTHING - is possible.

And Zweig does all this and more. He gets to have his cake and eat it too. We get to have our cake - his film - and eat it too. Where in previous films, Zweig held a mirror to his face so that it might reflect not merely himself, but us, he takes a step further - he takes grand stories that celebrate life and makes them all the mirror for us to gaze into and realize that what's precious is right in front of us and we've got to seize it and never let go.

The final tale Zweig imparts in 15 Reasons To Live is, without question, a cinematic equivalent to the final story in Joyce's "Dubliners". After first seeing Zweig's truly great film, I thought deeply on my own life and where I had been, was being and where I needed to go. Like the Joyce's final words in the final story of his masterpiece, Zweig's picture, and in particular his animated tale of death made me think about those words - words which give my life solace and meaning when the dark is darkest:

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

To paraphrase Joyce, I can't shake the fact that Alan Zweig has, with this future masterpiece of cinema, created a work that will make all of our souls, both the living and the dead, look to that which faintly falls through the universe and makes us all swoon ever so slowly.

"15 Reasons To Live" has its world premiere at Hot Docs 2013. For tickets and showtimes, visit the Hot Docs website HERE.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have know Alan Zweig since 1987. I produced his first feature documentary. My daughter is a reason to live (in my life as well as in his film). I love movies. When I see movies I cherish, I need to write about them. End of story.

Sunday 28 April 2013

VALENTINE ROAD - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Klymkiw HOT DOCS 2013 HOT PICKS

Valentine Road (2013) ****
Dir. Marta Cunningham

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Two boys. One 15, the other 14. Their home: Oxnord, California - a tiny town amidst bucolic orange groves and smack dab along the Pacific Ocean. Some would call it a paradise, but for Lawrence "Larry" King and Brandon McInerney, Hell in Sun-Dappled Clothing might be a better name for this repressed, racist, homophobic, intolerant backwater. There are, at least on the surface, many positives when weighing the attributes of the Country over the Town, but in many cases, solitude, fresh air and natural beauty - for those who can, uh, think (at least for themselves) - must take a back seat to the numbing negativity of narrow-minded hatred of anything viewed as outside of the perceived norms.

I know this all too well. I've had one toe in the Town and the other toe in the Country for most of my life and the virtues of the latter, while vital on many levels for me, are equally stifling on the other.

There were, while watching Marta Cunningham's finely etched documentary portrait of tragic events in Oxnord, similar dichotomous feelings on emotional levels (though aesthetically I was all for this). Valentine Road is, without question, thrilling filmmaking that crackles with the power of a great procedural thriller, but the effect overall extends well beyond that as we're forced to face the genuine reality of the tragedy that unfolds. One moment we're tantalized by the sheer virtuosity of the filmmaking and the next, Cunningham steers us into territory that's heart wrenching to the point where one is moved to tears - perhaps even stifled sobs.

The facts, you see, are these:

One boy is flamboyantly gay, the other is a potentially burgeoning white supremacist. One is now dead, the other is spending 21 years in prison where, given his age and good looks, is no doubt "enjoying the benefits" of sexual abuse and eventually seeking the protection of being another con's "bitch." And these, are just the surface facts. Cunningham draws us into the true story by painting a portrait - an extremely graphic and horrifying one at that - of a young gay man's flirtatious action leading to his murder before shocked classmates and teacher while at school.

Using a blend of actual security video from the school, crime scene photos, police interrogation room footage, short bursts of animation, tv news and current affairs clips and powerful new interviews with students, parents, cops, lawyers and teachers, Cunningham manages the near impossible - we're sucked into the tale with certain perspectives then subtly drawn into completely different ones. One might say there's ultimately a balanced approach to the tale, but thankfully it doesn't take the form of the (for me) dreaded journalistic approach, but comes closer to that of the rich ambiguities one finds in the work of many great filmmakers - whether it be Antonioni, Resnais, Peckinpah, Haneke, Lynch or, among others, Aronofsky.

What's extraordinary is Cunningham's perfect balance of manipulation (great cinema MUST do this, it's only a problem when we notice it to the point where we're taken out of the drama) and the kind of ambiguity that holds onto the central conflict with the strength of a pitbull's jaws - shaking it up, but never letting go. This feels, of course, as much a triumph of direction as it is the dazzlingly brilliant editing by Tchavdar Georgiev and Yana Gorskaya.

Valentine Road is ultimately an essential film. First of all, for its exemplary use of cinema as one of the great art forms of all time, but perhaps most vitally, its use in reaching those who will most benefit from it - children. The film achieves its attributes that it will have no problem preaching to the converted, but Cunnigham's approach is so dazzling and intelligent that the movie has the potential to go far beyond the rarity of film festival audiences, art houses and HBO viewers. This movie must be seen as widely as possible - especially in schools, especially in the "country".

The intolerance displayed in the school where poor little Larry was gunned down and where his killer suffered years of physical abuse (ignored by those who should know better) is, as seen in the film, appalling. The lack of attention paid to the students after the killing, the lack of counselling and, I think, most egregiously, the horrendous treatment of the warm, brilliant, open-minded teacher who held Larry in her arms after the shooting and continues to suffer post traumatic stress disorder, are all important reasons why America (sadly, in particular) must embrace this film. It must be shown to every educator, every member of the education system, every child, every parent, every bureaucrat, every politician - everyone.

On one hand, I'd normally say there's a snowball's chance in Hell of that happening, but if enough Americans who see this film lobby all their school boards, their politicians and frankly, President Obama himself - lobby constantly and vociferously - this is truly a film that is imbued with the power to change.

Do it!

"Valentine Road" is playing at the Hot Docs 2013 Film Festival. For tickets and showtimes, visits the festival website HERE.

CONTINENTAL - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Klymkiw HOT DOCS 2013 HOT PICKS

Continental (2013) ****
Dir. Malcolm Ingram
Starring: Steve Ostrow, Sarah Dash, Holly Woodlawn, Edmund White, Frankie Knuckles

Review By Greg Klymkiw

You're a businessman. You're looking for a business. Something new. Something exciting. Something challenging. Something needed. Really needed. Now, if you're a great Big Apple businessman like Steve Ostrow was in 1968, you identify the hole and you fill it.

The hole Ostrow identified was deep, dank and dirty. It not only required filling, but demanded to be packed good and hard.

Ostrow was not only a great businessman, he was a flamboyant, forward-thinking visionary - an artist, if you will - so much so, that his true passion was not necessarily the free and open marketplace, but opera. More specifically, Ostrow was a gifted singer and he desperately wanted to project his gorgeous voice on an international stage - to sing in the great opera houses of the world. This, sadly, just wasn't in the cards. He was a husband, a father and he had mouths to feed and bills to pay. In those days - in fact, in most days - a mensch, a real mensch did not shirk away from his responsibilities.

At this time, the free and open marketplace was not quite free and open for his grand idea - especially not for the prospective clientele since their place in the world was not a matter of choice, but hardwired into their very being. In spite of this, homosexuality was illegal and a whole generation of men were ostracized, vilified and hunted down like common criminals for just being who they were - gay.

Many of these men were in the closet. Coming out at that time meant risking everything, so they stayed burrowed in their secret society and surreptitiously sought places off the well-trodden paths to exercise their God-Given right to be who they really were. This forced them into clandestine bars and clubs, but the risk here was even too great, so instead they sought anonymity and sexual solace in steambaths.

Ostrow changed everything. He wanted to run a steambath that wasn't some horrific, unkempt and dingy hovel - he wanted a clean class act for gay men to frolic in.

And so he bore - at least up to that point in his life, his true masterpiece - the Cadillac of gay steambaths, the immortal Continental. Here his clientele were treated as human beings, with respect. Ostrow gave them a class act to pursue their sexual expression. Once he erected his glistening Crown Jewel of steambaths, he didn't rest on his laurels and merely count his shekels - Steve Ostrow always kept several steps forward of the game and his game.

In so doing, The Continental Baths became more than a mere bathhouse - Ostrow created one of the major landmarks in Gay Rights and one of the hottest, most cutting edge launch pads for a myriad of performing artists. Yes, live entertainment, ladies and gentleman. If the action got too steamy in the baths and you sought more, shall we say, restful heat, you could wrap a towel over your genitals, retire to the performing space and watch the likes of Bette Midler (backed up on piano by Barry Manilow, no less).

For a steam bath, the Continental was red-hot and COOL - double your pleasure and double your fun!

It's a great story made even greater by Malcolm Ingram's first-rate feature documentary Continental.

This is one terrific picture. Ingram pulls out all the stops to tell a story that's brash, bold, funny, inspiring and ultimately deeply moving. He does so in such a way that the movie is full of surprises (many happy ones) and always, much like Ostrow's life, a rollercoaster - with all the requisite ups and downs. (Mostly "ups" - "downs" are downers, but they're necessary for those "ups" to be higher and harder.)

Ingram has always been a take-no-prisoners filmmaker and someone I've admired from the beginning of his career. He wanted to make movies - in Canada. Did he initially go knocking on the doors of government agencies. No. He knew his brand of filmmaking would have doors slammed upon it. He made his first film, the insanely odball Drawing Flies which made a virtue of its no-dough status - ON FILM YOU WHINING FILM BRATS!!! ON FILM!!! He made it initially with chicken scratchings and then, with a huge helping hand from Kevin Smith and his View Askew productions, Ingram delivered the picture which, in my humble opinion, has some of the funniest, weirdest writing in Canadian cinema - and that, my friends, is saying something. Smith, of course, was the original graduate of the If-You-Want-To-Make-a-Movie-Quit-Fucking-Whining-About-It-And-Just-Make-The-Fucking-Thing School. Ingram comes from the same stock and by any means necessary, he kept making movies including the all-star cast youth comedy Tail Lights Fade in which he partnered with Canadian Über Producer Christine Haebler and then he went to ground zero and cobbled together enough dough to make two of the best and seminal gay-themed docs of the new century - Small Town Gay Bar and (my personal favourite) Bear Nation.

Well, he's blown all of them away. With Continental, Ingram has hit the stratosphere and delivered Ostrow's tale with clarity, a wonderful sense of celebration and good old fashioned solid filmmaking. He delivers a sense of time, place and history and by the end of the film, he generates a work that is chock-full of elation and yes, one that is genuinely, deeply and profoundly moving.

Ingram aimed for the stratosphere with this one and damned if he doesn't blast right through the celestial fucker.

"Continental" is playing at the Hot Docs 2013 Film Festival. For showtimes and ticket info, visit the Hot Docs website HERE.

WHO IS DAYANI CRISTAL? - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Klymkiw HOT DOCS 2013 HOT PICK

Who is Dayani Cristal? (2013) ****
Dir. Mark Silver
Starring and Produced By: Gael Garcia Bernal

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I really don't get why America has always been so precious about its border with Mexico. Purportedly, the big reason is to make sure that "furriners" don't steal jobs from good, hardworking Americans. This, of course, is a big joke. No matter how poor they are, the vast majority of unemployed America's potential work force refuse to do the jobs illegal migrant workers south of Mexico's border are willing to do. In fact, a big part of America's economy would be deeper in the crapper than it already is without the underground workforce. Those who refuse to admit it are either lying or ignorant.

And yet, year after year, decade upon decade, America has waged war against virtually incalculable numbers of people who try to cross their borders - not to steal, not to make trouble, not to be a drain on the system - but to work. America is good at waging war. It's what keeps the rich getting richer and the poor to get poorer. It's how the rich dumb down its population. Even worse, it's how the rich cull the population while at the same time exploiting other countries for financial gain. Perhaps America's power brokers are hoping that the dwindling middle class in America will get so desperate that they'll be the ones to take all the jobs Americans (at least for now) refuse to take.

Whatever the reasons - and you can bet the official reasons are spurious as all get out - thousands upon thousands of "illegals" are captured, incarcerated and deported with untold millions of dollars spent on enforcing this perverse form of protectionism which is both racist and ultimately, ineffective. They keep coming. They're poor, they have no work and America has plenty for them to do.

An alarming number of these "illegals" die. Some are robbed and beaten to death. Most drop dead of thirst and hunger in the vast desert wilderness between the Mexican border and civilization.

Who is Dayani Cristal? is about the dead and I have to admit, this is conceivably one of the saddest and most infuriating films I've ever seen. (Curiously, one other cinematic wrist-slasher, Liz Marshall's The Ghosts in Our Machine, also appears at this year's Hot Docs Film Festival).

Working with fine writing by Mark Monroe, filmmaker Mark Silver's stunning, harrowing and genuinely great film is a superbly directed feature documentary that gives us a tale of one such "illegal" found rotting in the blazing sun of the deadly Sonora Desert in Friendly Arizona - a state where many of the (mostly unemployed) American White Trash are the first to complain about migrant workers stealing jobs that they themselves wouldn't even begin to think of taking.

The dead man has no I.D. He is a "John Doe". His body will remain on ice until a dogged American forensic team exhausts every possible avenue to match a name with the body based upon any clues they can find. The doctor and his team who do this work display the sort of compassion that makes one, thankfully, realize just how wonderful the American people are and can be - that many are sick and tired of the horrendous totalitarian policies of the rich - and that if there was eventually some way to break the horrendous attempts to dumb-down most of the country's population that maybe, just maybe, there will be a possibility of returning the country to the principles of the founding fathers.

Until then, "illegals" are treated worse than cattle sent to the slaughterhouse.

The film follows two roads. One involves the attempts to identify the man's body - he has one arcane clue - a tattoo that reads "Dayani Cristal". If the teams can - somehow - find out who or what "Dayani Cristal" is, then they might be that much closer to putting a name to the body and returning it to his family.

The other path involves star and Producer, the dreamy heartthrob Gael Garcia Bernal who takes to the open road - travelling with other migrants from Honduras through Guatemala, Mexico and Arizons - hitting the likeliest route, places and activities the dead man would have. These sequences are a brilliant hybrid of drama and documentary that seem less "recreation" or "dramatization", but a genuine journey. The sequences include some of the most hair-raising sequences on moving boxcars I've ever seen, and unless I'm blind, it does not appear as Bernal is using a stunt double.

Though we feel we know what the answer to the mystery will be, it is impossible to be less than enthralled with both the journeys taken by the forensic team and Bernal. It's the roads taken by both that supply us with the reality that faces destitute foreign migrant workers every single day.

And though it IS a film that makes us sad and infuriated, we're strangely elated by the touches of humanity along the way.

The work of politicians and their bureaucratic minions on behalf of the rich are faceless, but it's the faces and spirit of those who struggle on that ultimately move us. That said, there is a sense that the real free and brave of America are those without freedom and whose only real wealth is their bravery.

This is highly polished filmmaking at every level, but it's also indicative of what is still important and truthful about great cinema. And, for that matter, America.

"Who is Dayani Cristal?" is playing at the 2013 Hot Docs Film Festival. For showtimes and ticket information, please visit the festival website HERE.

Saturday 27 April 2013

ALCAN HIGHWAY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Klymkiw HOT DOCS 2013 HOT PICK

Alcan Highway (2013) ***1/2
Dir. Aleksi Salmenperä

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Finland used to be the suicide capitol of the world, but times have changed. It now ranks as the 19th highest suicide rate in the world out of 100 or so countries. This should be cause for celebration.

Not for Hese.

He's in his forties and feels like a stranger in his own land. His dream is to leave his country behind and embark on a gruelling odyssey of self exploration. It's not enough just to leave, though. As he is Finnish - and I base this assumption solely on the cinema of the Kaurismäki Brothers - he must throw himself into an almost Herculean (some might say Sisyphean) endurance test.

God Bless Finland.

So, what does any bearded, healthy (of mind as well as body) forty-something single male do? Well, what anyone of us would do - he journeys to Alaska, buys a broken down late 40s model truck, affixes a mobile home to it, drives through harsh, but spectacular wilderness and aims his sights on Vancouver Island where he will park his truck and live forever.

Sure. Why not? Life is short, isn't it.

Alcan Highway is a strangely funny and compelling film and, in its own way, it's infused with a similar Buster Keaton-like deadpan quality that the 80s Kaurismäki films so memorably pioneered. It's not enough, for example, to detail the journey - fraught as it is with constant mechanical breakdowns - but director Aleksi Salmenperä captures the actual restoration process in painstaking detail.

At times, one wishes to put a gun to the movie's head and say, "Come on, buddy, move your ass."

Curiously, this is exactly what Hese's collaborators feel like doing. It takes 36 of the 86 minutes of the film's running time to get Hese on the open road. At times this is mildly infuriating, but it's also a canny way to place us in Hese's groove. He's meticulously obsessed with every detail and we're treated to this stubborn single-mindedness with the cinematic equivalent to what actually appears to have occurred.

Hese eventually parts company with the two men who have been helping him realize the inaugural portion of his dream and finally, he's on his own. Along the way and not surprisingly once he hits Canada, there are plenty of friendly, polite people who come to his rescue and/or offer support. When things seem at their bleakest, out pops a friendly Canadian with a helping hand.

The entire journey is so perverse in its single-minded trajectory that it successfully mirrors Hese's character traits - at times, perhaps, to a fault - but it's finally never less than compelling as we're sucked into his dream and root for him all the way. In fact, Kaurismäkiian traits aside, the movie also feels a bit imbued with the sort of existential male angst that drove the collective engines of so many American films of the 70s.

All in all, Alcan Highway (and by extension, Hese himself) is like some crazed Jack Kerouac-like wet dream that presides over Leningrad Cowboys Go American meets Two Lane Blacktop meets Taxi Driver by way of Paul Mazursky.

This is not a bad combination at all.

"Alcan Highway" is playing at the Hot Docs 2013 Film Festival. For showtimes and tickets, visit the Hot Docs website HERE.

Friday 26 April 2013

THE AUCTIONEER - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Klymkiw HOT DOCS 2013 HOT PICKS

The Auctioneer (2013) ****
dir. Hans Olson

Review By Greg Klymkiw

While I've never been much on all the egg-headed gobbledygook associated with documentary forms like the Direct Cinema movement (first developed by Quebecois NFB types) and the closely related cinéma vérité, I do respond to the one thing they both share - the desire to capture reality as it unfolds before the camera. On the Quebec side of the equation we had the likes of Michel Brault, Pierre Perrault and Gilles Groulx and south of the 49th parallel, such Anglo stalwarts as Frederick Wiseman, the Maysles (Albert and David) and D.A. Pennebaker - all practitioners of this form on both sides of the border who, among others, created a body of fascinating and groundbreaking work.

What I often enjoy and appreciate is when there is no narration, little or no score (save for natural source music) and no question and answer styled interviewing of any kind. This poses a challenge to the filmmaker to impart information and tell their story by shooting a whack of footage that's then shaped in the edit room. Obviously, some "manipulation" will be involved in terms of following a beat sheet or even script but usually what happens when the camera rolls is, well, WHAT actually happens. It's not only a challenge for the filmmaker, but in some ways, it can pose an entertaining challenge for the viewer - forcing one to glue one's eyeballs to the screen and really pay attention to what's there and, in many cases, to "get into" the rhythm. Doing both, when the picture is genuinely good or great, yields a truly rewarding experience for the viewer.

The Auctioneer, a National Film Board of Canada (NFB) production, is just such a film. Its virtues are many on so many levels - most notably in terms of both narrative and form - happily yielding a finely wrought, delicate and extraordinary portrait of life on the Canadian prairies. Oh, and lest you mistake this for some overwrought piece of midwestern Canadian nostalgia piece like Who Has Cut The Wind, you'd be sorely mistaken. Though the film is replete with sentiment, it's all in the look, not in the telling.

The story is simple as simple can be. This is especially pleasing because it allows director Hans Olson to work magic from the deftly structured scripting by Clark Banack. The film focuses on the dying art of buying and selling on the prairies. Against the backdrop of farm life in and around Vegreville, Alberta we follow a transaction between an auctioneer and a young man looking to sell off the contents of the family farm. The film meticulously follows the initial contact, through to the examination of goods to be sold, then the preparations on both sides to ready the goods for auction and finally, the auction itself.

Sounds like a barn-burner, huh? Well, in its own unique way, it is. By keeping his camera trained on all the salient details, Olson provides a genuinely fascinating look at what it means to sell used goods in a rural setting - one where ebay auctions still don't quite do the trick. I'll never forget when Canadian filmmaker John Paizs told me that audiences love learning new things when they're watching movies - it's something that always delights me now, on a more conscious level than before. What Paizs referred to, of course, were those little touches that occur primarily within straight up narrative filmmaking, but in documentary, teaching is as important on an overt level as is enjoying a good story. The Auctioneer does both superbly.

There's virtually not a single moment (when the film focuses on the selling and buying) that I didn't learn a whole whack of new things while at the same time, deriving pleasure from following this character-driven yarn about two men on opposite ends of the spectrum finding mutual ground in the very act of selling properties that had lost usefulness for one party, but had plenty of life left for others. (On a strictly personal note, since I've become a bit of a gentleman farmer in the past year, I genuinely learned stuff from the film that I'm going to be able to put to practical use.)

And now, here's where I impart what's extra special about this film - it's the maraschino cherries on the ice cream sundae, so to speak. This movie looks gorgeous. I can't think of a single shot that isn't imbued with ravishing compositions and an expert use of light. Olson's eye and cinematographer Mike McLaughlin's superlative lensing combine to create a painterly look not unlike - and I kid you not - that rendered by the great John Ford and his groundbreaking work with the likes of cinematographers Winston Hoch and Gregg Toland.

This is no mere eye candy. Given the fact that Olson has chosen to utilize a restrained approach wherein the camera shoots from a fixed position and records the action/information, it's especially important that our eyes are glued to the screen. What we gain from this approach, as an audience, is first being drawn in to appreciate the gob-smacking virtuosity of the look, then to fixate on the action and finally, and perhaps importantly why those who live in this world are not to keen on kissing it goodbye. Progress and moving on is not always the best choice when the land given to us by the Creator is as overpowering as this. (And, of course, why my ire is so raised by the destruction of the Oil Sands in the same province.)

This approach to documentary is strangely akin to that of Austrian director Ulrich Seidl who also shoots his work with sumptuous, gorgeously lit compositions and though The Auctioneer borrows from a direct cinema and vérité tradition in terms of capturing "reality" it, like Seidl's documentaries, keeps things on sticks. And if there's anything hand-held at all, Olson and McLaughlin have been blessed with the steadiest operator in the world. All this said, Olson and Seidl part company in terms of subject matter since the mad Austrian is firmly committed to exploring humanity in the most ugly human behaviour (save for Seidl's astounding work on Jesus, I Love You).

For such a visual approach to work means that the pacing of the film requires a very challenging languourous quality and its a testament to the editor of The Auctioneer, Dev Singh, that he chooses the most exquisite sweet spots in his cuts so that we move forward emotionally and narratively in a manner that quite literally takes our breath away from shot to shot. This, of course, sets up a rhythm that takes a small bit of time to get used to, but once we do, we're completely hooked - not unlike that of Terencee Malick's pre-Tree of Life pacing when he made real movies and cared about blending style with storytelling.

There is one tiny problem with The Auctioneer in terms of content. Our title character moonlights as a funeral director. The film takes great pains to present this to us in ways that fit the narrative and theme like a glove, but alas, a golden rule is broken. It's the old Storytelling 101 rule of never introducing something that doesn't pay off. The usual analogy would be, if your movie shows us a gun, you have to fire it. Frankly, the movie is begging (or if you will, dying) for a real funeral or memorial service. We get it metaphorically, but that seems like an unfortunate cheat. There might have been exigencies of production that prevented this, but if this was the case, Heaven and Earth needed to be moved at all costs to capture it. The alternative would have been to excise this completely from the film.

It's a minor quibble, but John Ford never avoided an opportunity to have a funeral and/or memorial service and/or graveyard scene. What was good for Ford should also be good for a filmmaker as clearly and richly talented as Olson.

And speaking of John Ford, based on this extraordinary film and Olson's previous dramatic shorts, he's poised to pick up Mr. Ford's torch. If someone in Canada is stupid enough not to deliver a nice fat cheque to Olson, he might need to leave here and go to a place where good, classical filmmaking is appreciated.

He's the real thing. So's The Auctioneer.

"The Auctioneer" is playing at the Hot Docs 2013 film festival. For showtimes and tickets, visit the festival website HERE. It's playing with an excellent short documentary I've reviewed in these pages called "Packing Up The Wagon: The Last Days Of Wagon Wheel Lunch". Feel free to read that review on the same page "Special Ed" is reviewed by clicking HERE. If you're interested in a completely different portrait of life in Alberta, Hot Docs is also presenting Charles Wilkinson's excellent "Oil Sands Karaoke" and you can read my review HERE.

Thursday 25 April 2013

OIL SANDS KARAOKE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Klymkiw HOT DOCS 2013 HOT PICKS

Oil Sands Karaoke (2013) ****
dir. Charles Wilkinson

Review By Greg Klymkiw

One of the most devastating assaults upon Canada's environment continues to take place in the Alberta Oil Sands. For the faceless corporations lining the deep pockets of the very few, one of the largest deposits of petroleum on our fair planet is in - you guessed it - the Alberta Oil Sands.

Fort McMurray, Alberta used to be a city until it was amalgamated with a good chunk of the region of the Oil Sands once referred to as (don't laugh, I'm not kidding) an Improvement District. Once the city and the nameless district became one, the city of Fort McMurray was no longer a city, but rather (again, don't laugh, I'm really not kidding) an urban service area.

It seems tax dollars were hard at work coming up with all that in order to more adequately serve the interests of oil companies that would find it more convenient to strip the land of its natural beauty if they only had to deal with one civic bureaucracy. Fort McMurray and surrounding areas are, you see, a major cash cow. This area is alone responsible for generating two million barrels of oil every single day. This sure isn't a bad haul considering that the world uses 90 million barrels of oil a day.

It is Fort McMurray where Director Charles Wilkinson and Producer Tina Schliessler, the makers of Peace Out, last year's stunning, award-winning documentary on energy consumption, have aimed their lenses upon. This time, though, the subjects are not corporate CEO's and environmental specialists, but rather, the people - the real people of Fort McMurray. Including migrant workers, the population of the amalgamated R.M. can hit heights of well over 70,000 and most of them either work in the oil business or are beholden to it with their own non-oil toils.

Corporations often think about their scads of employees as faceless hordes, but Oil Sands Karaoke seeks to give faces and names to those who break their backs out in the oil fields - haul truck drivers, small business owners and scaffolders to name but a few.

This is a movie about people - working people.

Wilkinson's film treats all of them with the respect corporations don't. Focusing on five primary individuals, Wilkinson's camera eye captures who they are, where they came from, what their work is and what they hope their futures hold. Most of all, it captures their one true passion.

Bailey's Pub is a popular magnet for oil workers. It's a Karaoke Bar where the backbone of the oil industry, the hard labourers, come to express themselves through song, through music, through fellowship and camaraderie - Karaoke!

Bailey's bartender puts it simply and best - the working people of the oil industry come there for a small section of limelight, to focus themselves on pure musical (and in a sense, spiritual) expression. "It's a big escape from reality," the bartender states succinctly.

Escaping the reality of toil in the Oil Sands might be the only thing to maintain one's sense of self-worth. Yes, the wages are great, but Wilkinson cannily displays the working conditions. On the surface, all seems fine - state of the art equipment, an accent on workplace safety and the ability to learn and work a trade to the best of one's ability.

This is all, however, skin deep.

Wilkinson uses shots of the land itself as both transition points in the narrative, but to also expose the ruination of the environment, the bleak, manmade hell that is the Oil Sands. Land scorched and scraped beyond recognition, a hazy treeless wasteland and worst of all, endless smokestacks belching clouds of filth into the air are what comprise the world these workers must live in.

It ain't pretty, but every night in the karaoke bar, all that changes. With lights in their eyes and the sounds of genuinely appreciative audiences, the workers who partake of the nightly forays into musical expression get to experience the thrill of connecting with others using their innate talents to perform.

Life transforms into a thing of genuine beauty.

We've had our share of fictional renderings of this phenomenon - whether it be John Travolta's Tony Manero tripping the light fantastic on the disco floors of Saturday Night Fever or Jennifer Beals gyrating ever-so artistically to Michael Sembello singing "Maniac" in Flashdance - but with Oil Sands Karaoke we get the real thing.

Seeing these genuinely decent working class heroes spilling out their innermost dreams through song and knowing they are the real thing - not a construct of imagination, but rather, what and who they are in life - is what provides the sort of resonance that fiction can't always deliver. Sometimes you just need to train your lens on reality.

This is what Wilkinson does so expertly and poignantly.

And yes, he tells a story. The narrative arc involves an upcoming karaoke contest at Bailey's - an event that grips Fort McMurray by the veritable short hairs - especially those who will participate in it.

One of the revelations in Oil Sands Karaoke is the alluring, passionate and genuinely talented Iceis Rain. By day, a small business owner, but by night a chanteuse of the highest order. He claims to have been the first gay person in Fort McMurray to come out and though he might, in other similar working class towns in other countries - oh, let's say, the United States - he might well be taking his life in his hands. As we come to know and love those who patronize Bailey's, he's in good hands (most of the time) - surrounded by warmth and good cheer.

All that aside, Iceis (pronounced like "Isis") Rain delivers one show-stopper after another. By the time we get to the big Karaoke contest, Iceis knocks us completely on our collective asses. The performance is infused with a strange blend of sadness and elation - a kind of melancholy that has the power to lift our spirits to the Heavens - and does so with a virtuosity that captures it so indelibly that many will be moved to tears. I know I was.

Oil Sands Karaoke is quite unlike any documentary about the environment that you'll ever see. It's about the people. And as is my wont when compelled, I'm always happy to paraphrase that great line Jimmy Stewart has in It's a Wonderful Life. With taste and genuine emotion, Wilkinson sheds light upon all those "who do most of the living and dying in this town."

It can't get more environmental than that.

"Oil Sands Karaoke" has its World Premiere at Hot Docs 2013. For tickets and showtimes, feel free to visit the Hot Docs website directly by clicking HERE.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR. Review By Greg Klymkiw - Klymkiw HOT DOCS 2013 HOT PICKS

Interior. Leather Bar. (2013) ****
Dir. James Franco, Travis Mathews
Starring: James Franco, Val Lauren, Travis Mathews

Review By Greg Klymkiw

This is one sloppy tossed salad of a movie. Adorned with thick runny lumps of yummy dressing that spew from a long-necked bottle, held and shaken with manly vigour over the wide awaiting receptacle, never mixed or smeared into the veins of fleshy arugula, lying in wait for a fork to prong into it to greedily ingest the globules that stick upon their resting place, this magnificent Salade de cinéma is an utterly pretentious, self-indulgent wank-fest of the highest (or lowest order, depending on how you view these things).

And Damn! It's a lot of fun.

James Franco, one of the great actors of the 21st century, teamed up with acclaimed queer filmmaker Travis Mathews to co-direct this exploration of gay male sexuality within the context of re-imagining 40 minutes of excised lost footage from Cruising, William Friedkin's MPAA-butchered masterpiece from 1980. A lack of time and money, however, forced the filmmakers of Interior. Leather Bar. to re-imagine their re-imagining, so what we're treated to is a documentary about the making of a re-imagining as re-imagined by Franco and Mathews before, during and after they re-imagine it.

Fine by me.

Franco, who seems particularly obsessed with what he might discover for (and about) himself (and, by extension, society as a whole), hires a straight actor (Val Lauren) to play the Al Pacino role from Cruising and film the entire process. Lauren and Franco engage in a series of conversations that feel very real (but conversely seem, perhaps, to be scripted) and deal with straight attitudes to gay sex in the world at large, but also within the macrocosmic context of the film-shoot itself. Lauren is constantly on edge and always questioning Franco's motives while Franco often retorts with the notion of how sexuality in the cinema (and in particular, gay sexuality) is repressed, while violence is celebrated. (Indeed, the MPAA ratings board were happy to allow all the graphic butchery to remain in the film over the explicit gay sex.)

Furthermore, Franco laments his upbringing (and that of straight society) which ignores, represses and/or vilifies gay sexuality. He uses toothpaste commercials to illustrate this. I mean, really, what's not to love about James Franco?

Cruising is the perfect launch pad for this exploration. The film was, and continues to be alternately vilified and celebrated by members of the gay community. Even during its making, hordes of angry gay men protested at the filming locations and the studio hired over 300 off-duty NYC officers to keep the peace. Mistakenly perceived as an anti-gay anthem on celluloid, Cruising is a relentless and unnerving mystery thriller about a "homo killer" on the loose in New York and a straight, doe-eyed rookie cop (played by Al Pacino) who matches the physical attributes of the victims and is sent to live undercover within the Big Apple's sect of leather bar S&M aficionados. Pacino becomes a sort of Dorothy in the Land of Oz - introduced to genuine friendship with a gay neighbour (Don Scardino) and most importantly, the joys of leather-clad gentlemen openly fellating, sodomizing and fist-fucking each other in gay leather bars whilst one of the best soundtracks in movie history grinds out the ever-so cool and malevolent sounds of John Hiatt, Rough Trade, Willy DeVille, Madelynn von Ritz, Lump and a bevy of others.

Friedkin's film is a masterpiece - albeit a flawed masterpiece. When submitting the film to the MPAA to get a rating, he was forced to make cuts totalling 40 minutes. This does wreak some havoc with the film's narrative, but what remains is a nightmarish vision of how homophobia (and closeted self-hatred) manifest themselves into the ultimate assault upon homosexuality - a serial killer who butchers beautiful young men he's attracted to during and/or after he's had sex with them runs rampant amongst the leather bar community clearly has considerable metaphoric value. Some might argue that Friedkin creates an inferno of evil when his camera "cruises" the streets and bars, but frankly, it's not this world of leather-clad Hershey Highway Lovers that ever seemed evil to me. It's all so stylishly, lovingly rendered that I always found it unbelievably sexy and cool. The men, all shapes and sizes, are simply mouth watering and the endless array of sexual activity is tantalizing.

At one point in Franco's film, he talks about his re-imagining by stating that he wants to render the evil images from Friedkin's film into something fresh and beautiful. This is not the first, nor last time Franco contradicts himself in the movie (since he also extols the virtues of Cruising). I suspect these odd contradictions are part of the overall design and if not, they at least feel like it and add to the film's wonky charm.

And while this might sound weird, charm is what this movie has in spades. Franco and Mathews are a charming team and whether we see them in action during the prep or production, it's always a blast hearing Franco waxing eloquent while Mathews is a rock solid filmmaker attacking everything with both art and craft. Val Lauren is completely and utterly charming as the young actor chosen to recreate the Al Pacino role. What's always cool is that the film is capturing a genuine actor who must play the thing he is - a straight man who needs to cruise a bar. He's a bundle of trepidation and excitement. Watching the lad ruminate during prep, slowly get into character until he fits in the leather bar scenes perfectly and gaze on with Franco, agog, yet delighted with a sex act performed in front of them, it's so obvious why Franco loves working with him and how, if the heavens are properly aligned, this could be a star-making performance for Lauren.

The bottom line is this: I love James Franco, I love Cruising, I love Friedkin, I love charming, naked men and I love seeing stuff on screen that I can genuinely walk out of the cinema and declare I've never seen before. If you feel likewise, you'll probably love the movie as much as I do.

"Interior. Leather Bar." is playing at the Hot Docs Film Festival 2013. For tickets and showtimes, contact the Hot Docs website HERE."

Take a look at this sequence from CRUISING and THEN try to tell me that William Friedkin is NOT one of the world's greatest living film directors.What you'll see here are a series of montages with Al Pacino cruising bar after bar after bar. Includes, my fave, "Precinct Night" and some fab Crisco action.


And here's a taste of INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

ANITA - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Klymkiw HOT DOCS 2013 HOT PICKS

Anita Hill is not only a worthy subject for a film, but is appropriately presented as an important role model for both men and women.

Anita (2013) ***
Dir. Frieda Mock
Starring: Anita Hill

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Let me get this out of the way - Anita Hill is a hero. No two ways about it. At a time when sexual harassment in the workplace was rampant, yet publicly unheard of and never acknowledged, Hill went up against a long table of "old boys" during the historic 1991 Senate hearings.

The high profile nominee to the Supreme Court was Clarence Thomas. Hill was dragged into the limelight to give testimony. She didn't necessarily have to do it, but she believed that it was her duty as a citizen in a (purportedly) Democratic nation to publicly state the truth when her country asked her to. In front of rolling cameras and hordes of paparazzi, Hill was belittled by both Democratic and Republic Senators who cast aspersions upon her character, motivations and honesty.

Director Frieda Mock has delivered half of a great movie here. The first 45 minutes is a superbly edited blend of the actual taped testimony, archival footage, still imagess, contemporary interviews with supporters and detractors and perhaps most importantly, new interviews with Hill herself - the first time since the hearings that she's gone on public record ON FILM.

The movie in these sections works as a compelling refresher - replete with narrative highs and lows - and an overwhelming sense of frustration that Hill's testimony seemed to victimize her all over again.

Then, as now, the patriarchal nature of government yields New World Order puppets purporting to be freely elected representatives of the People. Instead, they hold ever-so steadfastly onto their Old Boys Club dog-pack obligations, kowtowing shamelessly to the big money that's placed them "in charge" in the first place.

Having to even look at these politicians attempting to cut down Ms. Hill is deeply disturbing. We can never cease feeling their contempt, smugness and double standard disgust as they attempt to protect their interests and their cronies.

Hill's testimony is so clear and refreshing, yet watching this, I almost felt compelled to get up and punch a few of the senatorial assholes in the face. Obviously hoping to trip her up, they force Hill to repeat details endlessly and downright patronize her. These are not learned gentlemen - they're little more than thugs and/or rednecks.

Senator Ted Kennedy is especially ineffectual. Though JFK and RFK were inveterate womanizers, I can't help but think they'd have displayed far more manly gumption than bro' Teddy - though their incredulity would have been completely and utterly dishonest.

Anita Hill's testimony brought the notion of sexual harassment into the public eye. For this, she became an instant role model for women of every age all over the world. Not so to Clarence Thomas's deluded wife who is heard leaving a relatively recent and grotesquely idiotic voicemail for Hill that petulantly demands she do the "right thing" and recant her testimony.

Nest-feathering types want everyone but themselves (or their own kind) to recant. They're above all wrong-doing.

This is all powerful stuff, however, where the movie stumbles is its last half where Mock goes out of her way to build up to an overwhelmingly feel-good ending as she charts Hill's live lectures. The picture spins its wheels endlessly here and resembles one of those "inspiring" mini-docs on Oprah (though running much longer).

There's simply a whole lotta beaming going on. Anita's guest lecture hosts introduce her and beam, her audiences beam and yes, Anita beams - it's one beam-fest after another that never really offers up anything new. It's far too safe, too easy and goes over territory that could have been dispensed with far more brevity. I suspect Mock realized just how harrowing the senate committee hearings come off that she needed to provide balance.

If that was her intent, she was in error. All it provides is tedium.

In spite of this, I'd still urge audiences to not deprive themselves of the film's excellent first half and the same goes for the picture's inherent value as very important audio-visual material to show all kids in all schools. The tale of her testimony has considerable worth for young viewers on how important it is to maintain your self respect and never put up with sexual harassment in the workplace.

Anita Hill is, first, foremost and for always, a role model for both men and women - something the film does succeed in presenting.

"Anita" is playing at the Hot Docs film festival. For tickets, contact Hot Docs online HERE.

Monday 22 April 2013


Special Ed (2013) ****
Dir. John Paskievich
Starring: Ed Ackerman

Packing Up The Wagon: The Last Days Of Wagon Wheel Lunch (2013) ***1/2
Dir. Mike Maryniuk, John Scoles

Two terrific new movies explore the ongoing destruction of a once great city. One's a feature, the other a short. Both will be on view at Hot Docs 2013 the Canadian International Documentary Festival now celebrating its 20th year in Toronto. Special Ed by John Paskievich (my full review can be read in POV Magazine) and Packing Up The Wagon: The Last Days Of Wagon Wheel Lunch by Mike Maryniuk and John Scoles are today's focus in my first Daily Klymkiw Hot Pick at Hot Docs.


Written By Greg Klymkiw

All cities have ghosts. Winnipeg has more than most. My old Winter City is rife with spiritual activity - manifested by inordinate pools of ectoplasm - viscous globs expunged from living sources to release the phantom apparitions that emit screams of agony, horror and deep sorrow.

In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens imagined that the otherworldly cries of despair came – not from the spirits of the innocent – but from those who passed from our world into ghostly purgatory and “sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power to do so forever.”

Alas, there are no such ghostly lamentations from the long-dead rich in Winnipeg. The pain-infused shrieks come from the innocent, the working class, the outcasts who never fit the mould or to paraphrase Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, Winnipeg's phantasmal wailings came instead from the "people who do most of the living, working and dying in this town."

Since the retirement of Winnipeg’s visionary Mayor Stephen Juba in the late 70s, bland civic politicians and hand-picked petty bureaucrats dug their grubby fingers into the pockets of purportedly visionary captains of business – an amalgam of the lowest order of old money WASPS and tasteless, self-satisfied denizens of the city’s execrable nouveau riche – bound and determined to reduce the city to a slag-heap in the spurious name of "progress" (a word co-opted to mask their true desire, personal gain).

Even worse, the boneheadedly well-meaning Core Area Initiative of the 1980s decimated the city’s core instead of revitalizing it. Within this civic-provincial-federal programme, the stupidest thing Winnipeg power-brokers did was tear down three square blocks on the North side of Portage Avenue in the heart of downtown and replace it with – I kid you not – a MALL.

A mall.

Winnipeg loves malls, but they didn't need one downtown. There were plenty in the suburbs - where parking was expansive and shopping carts could easily transport oodles of goods to Ford Meteor station wagons. Besides, Winnipeggers are obsessed with free (or at least dirt-cheap) parking. If they're going to drive downtown (virtually nobody in Winnipeg uses public transit unless they are children or losers) and - God Forbid - PAY for parking, it needs to be for an experience they can't get at suburban malls.

And, ladies and gentlemen, it took three levels of government - count 'em, THREE - to decimate what made the core area and downtown Winnipeg unique.

What WE (Winnipeggers in body and like myself, in spirit) lost were head shops, pinball parlours, record stores, greasy spoons, massage parlours, grind houses, porn cinemas, news agents, coin and stamp shops, comic book stores, nightclubs, strip clubs, punk clubs and manor hotels to the north and Eaton’s, Woolworths, Hudson Bay, Clifford’s and a fine variety of specialty shops to the South.

Cool Sleaze on one side of the street and upscale shopping on the other side of the street. And guess what? There were people on the streets of downtown Winnipeg - at every waking hour. People had a reason to come downtown. No, they had a multitude of reasons.

We were sassified!

In the immortal words of Clarence Carter, the town was positively Strokin’ – it was strokin’ to the north, strokin’ to the south, strokin’ to the east and strokin’ to the west.

Ain’t nothin’ strokin’ no mo'.

After a decade of bureaucratic mismanagement, endless boondoggles and decisions made politically (which, of course really meant lining pockets of politicians and their cronies), Winnipeg’s core became a wasteland. Heritage buildings were closed. Businesses were boarded up. The streets after 5pm on weekdays and pretty much at anytime on weekends became empty.

Instead of people on the streets, all that remained were tumbleweeds.

The second stupidest thing Winnipeg's power brokers did was to destroy the historic Eaton's department store in downtown Winnipeg, then destroy the historic Winnipeg Arena (nicknamed "The Barn") in the West End, THEN build a NEW arena where the Eaton's rubble lay. (Many were happy that Winnipeg, of all places, elected Glen Murray as Mayor - an openly gay politician who inspired iconic Winnipeg filmmaker Noam Gonick to declare Winnipeg as the "Fudge Packing Capitol of Canada.") Alas, it was Murray who supported and pushed for this, the second stupidest thing in the city's recent history.

In sadness and disgust, I left over 20-years-ago. Each trip back became increasingly depressing - seeing one cool thing after another disappearing, seeing the downtown core decay with frightening rapidity. On one such visit I drove along Main Street, my car dipping down into the one and only subway below train tracks and coming up the ramp to the glorious corner of Main and Higgins to witness a wrecking ball smashing into the gorgeous old Brunswick Hotel. I was further agog to see so many of the (admittedly sleazy) hotels along the strip gone and replaced with empty lots and/or ugly new buildings.

This was especially sad. There was a genuine community here - mostly single men; retired and/or widowed bachelors, young working class fellas and malcontent veterans of several wars going back to WWI. There were houses and neighbourhoods of people who used to live downtown. Most were gone - many converted to slums and/or crack houses.

O Winnipeg! Sad, sad, sad.

* * * * *

On any given day, the average Winnipegger ingests an infinitesimal number of asbestos particles. A single glass of fine Winnipeg drinking water has millions upon millions of the little buggers floating around in it. This 80-year-old environmental legacy accounts for much of the insanity inherent in the denizens of this mid-western Canadian city. In particular, I think, it genuinely has everything to do with the cinema produced on the prairies.

Imagine, if you will, a scene during Special Ed in which a congenial wide-eyed madman, having just drilled a natural well in his very own downtown core area Winnipeg backyard, takes an inaugural sip of the water, his face betraying no mere ecstasy, but a beatitude rivalling that of St. Francis of Assisi upon first seeing a seraph upon a cross prior to inflicting the stigmata upon him.

No asbestos here, thank you very much.

The well-drilling-water-guzzler is, by the way, one of Canada’s national treasures, but in recent years, he’s been treated by the Status Quo as someone to bully and snuff out. He's Ed Ackerman: animator, visionary and artist extraordinaire. He also happens to be the subject of John Paskievich's great new film, Special Ed, which makes its world premiere at the Hot Docs 2013 Film Festival.

Paskievich is a natural treasure himself - a patron saint of North End and Core Area Winnipeg via his stunning, indelible photographs of that magical winter city and in particular, those special individuals who do most of the living and dying in that town, the legendary place named after the Cree word meaning "Muddy Water". As a filmmaker, Paskievich has devoted himself to plumbing the depths of cultural traditions within a wide variety of ethnic groups and in particular, those who live on or within the fringes of what's considered mainstream society.

From Old Ukrainians struggling to pass their legacy on to their children (Ted Baryluk's Grocery) to indigenous Native peoples travelling to Czechoslovakia to witness a clutch of Eastern Europeans attempting to adopt traditional Native lifestyles (If Only I Were An Indian) to the ultra-strict members of an Orthodox sect in Northern Alberta (Old Believers) to brilliant, obsessive Inuit carvers (Sedna: The Making of a Myth) and, among many other masterpieces of documentary cinema, Paskievich even turned his camera towards himself with the award-winning Unspeakable to explore his own speech disorder.

Special Ed might be his most special film yet. Initially conceived as an artist's portrait of another artist, Paskievich ended up following the gifted animator for three years and charting Ackerman's hopes and dreams - the most insanely brilliant being his attempts at renovating 100-year-old core area properties as legacies for his children and to also set-up an animation school and studio.

Paskievich's resolve to stick with Ackerman over this period no doubt generated a mountain of footage (that he shot himself). The exquisite, detailed study of Ackerman which also serves as a deeply profound narrative is a testament to its subject, Paskievich, his visionary producer Merit Jensen Carr of Merit Motion Picturesw and his editor (Peabody Award winning director Jeff McKay).

Sadly, what we are witness to in Special Ed is how Ackerman tried to do something visionary and almost single-handedly in the aforementioned climate of greed and provincialism that's gripped and pretty much come close to destroying the City of Winnipeg.

And this is what Paskievich so brilliantly and movingly captures above all - heartbreak.

Heartbreak is also at the core of Mike Maryniuk and John Scoles's Packing Up The Wagon: The Last Days Of Wagon Wheel Lunch, a touching and poetic look at the decimation of a Winnipeg institution by the same aforementioned loser politicians and captains of industry.

Wagon Wheel Lunch was a midday home away from home to thousands of Winnipeggers over its 50-year history. Lovingly prepared homemade food in an unpretentious locale nestled were to be found on Hargrave, one of the few downtown Winnipeg streets on the north side of Portage Avenue NOT to be destroyed to build a useless mall.

Its local devotees were legion and visitors from all over the world sampled its exquisite wares - most notably, the most astonishing Club House sandwich in the world - bar none. Four to five inches thick, this was a sandwich fit for a king. Its secret ingredient was REAL turkey - fresh, daily prepared roast turkey - piping hot and straight out of an oven. Nothing could rival this masterpiece of culinary art.

Its long-time owner and staff looked upon their clientele as family - preparing sumptuous feasts for all - with smiles on their faces and genuine love. The clientele loved the owners and staff with equal familial ardour and those who worked at the Wagon Wheel were so passionate about the legacy of the original owner that a waitress who toiled there for 26 years eventually took over the restaurant after its founder made his final sojourn to that big greasy spoon in the sky.

The film simply and beautifully presents a history of the restaurant, allows staff and customers to weigh in on what made it special and finally details the sad days of its closing. All of this is presented with the time-honoured tradition of prairie post-modernism so deeply rooted in the unique filmmaking tradition pioneered by the legendary Winnipeg auteur John Paizs and adopted by Guy Maddin (whose own sad Winnipeg love story is the acclaimed My Winnipeg).

This tradition of blending arcane and beautiful elements of a cinema from days gone by and applied directly to a documentary tradition adds those extra special touches that will not leave a dry eye in the house.

Yes, the city of Winnipeg is bursting at the seams with ghosts. Maryniuk and Scoles understand this all too well. The living and the dead become one in this gem. Ghosts infuse Packing Up The Wagon: The Last Days Of Wagon Wheel Lunch figuratively and literally.

Like Paskievich's Special Ed we witness love, passion and a unique vision snuffed out by narrow-mindedness.

And what will take the place of the Wagon Wheel Lunch?

A parking lot.

A parking lot in a city that, in its own way (and almost laughably) is one big fucking parking lot.

For me, as someone who was born and raised in a city of so much promise and lived there for 33 years (the life span of Jesus Christ, no less), what is especially heartbreaking about both films is witnessing nobody - absolutely nobody with any REAL power - coming to the rescue of either Ed Ackerman or the Wagon Wheel.

Promises are made to save the Wagon Wheel yet none come to fruition, while in one of the opening scenes in Special Ed we see Ackerman clearing his stuff out of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) Winnipeg headquarters after they’ve unceremoniously given him the boot and after his Herculean-cum-Sisyphian efforts we see him alone - barred from his property while bureaucrats smother his dreams.

My blood boils when I think that the NFB should have just given the guy a fucking office and let him do his thing until he was done. That said, it’s no surprise they didn’t. God knows the NFB has a lot of blood on its hands – Arthur Lipsett, Ryan Larkin and, to a certain extent, John Spotton.

The magma in my brain roils and explodes when I think that the City of Winnipeg itself could have come up with a simple solution to save the Wagon Wheel Lunch.

They didn't, of course. Winnipeg's power brokers have a history of repeatedly blowing it by displaying their poor taste, self interests and greed while ignoring the potential of assisting visionaries to fulfil their dreams and to hold on to the heritage and history of a once great city.

Ed Ackerman and the Wagon Wheel Lunch are the most recent in a long line of casualties within Winnipeg - a purgatory where faceless bureaucrats do the bidding of the soulless power brokers to screw over genuine individuals and institutions that contribute far more to the life of the city than those who look for excuses to destroy it.

"Special Ed" and "Packing Up The Wagon: The Last Days Of Wagon Wheel Lunch" are both making their World Premieres at Hot Docs. For tickets, visit the Hot Docs website HERE. If you get a chance, you may enjoy visiting the Special Ed website HERE.