Sunday, 8 September 2013

BURT'S BUZZ - Review By Greg Klymkiw - #TIFF 2013 Jody Shapiro Trains His Lens Upon King of the Bees.

Burt's Buzz (2013) ***
Dir: Jody Shapiro
Starring: Burt Shavitz

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Jody Shapiro began his career in film as one of the truly genuine creative producers in Canada, or rather, as a producer, he was always easy to look upon as a filmmaker (as opposed to the annoying assumption that a filmmaker and a producer are two different things).

Working with Guy Maddin in the latter stages of the great surrealist's career, Shapiro brought his artistic instincts to bear and was never shy about leaping into the fray with a movie camera and shooting like a madman. That Shapiro went on to be Isabella Rossellini's chief collaborator as a co-director and producer on her utterly insane Green Porno series of shorts speaks volumes about why he might have been the perfect director to document the life of Burt Shavitz.

Any producer attracted to as many eccentric projects and working closely with as many genuine eccentrics as Maddin and Rossellini has proven indeed that Shavitz could not have been luckier than to have someone like Shapiro infuse Burt's Buzz with his keen eye for the joys of, well, eccentricity. Shapiro's feature documentary is a loving portrait of the famed old bearded hippie whose face has adorned the packaging of the Health Store mainstay products "Burt's Bees". Though Shapiro interviews associates, sponsors and family, the film is mostly all Burt all the time - which is great because the camera loves him and he has a nice low key irascibility.

Shapiro delivers all the fascinating biographical details of how this city boy made his way to the backwoods of Maine and eventually became an avid beekeeper. With the assistance of the woman he loved, the company grew to gargantuan proportions. There's a melancholy to the tale also since Burt by his own admission was not happy nor especially cut out for corporate life and he sadly sold his shares in the company and his "brand" for peanuts. Considering Burt's Bees sold to the Clorox Corp. (I kid you not!), the sale was worth over 900 million dollars. Burt's not seen a cent of that and makes his living as a kind of travelling personal appearance spokesman.

Shapiro bounces between the solace of Burt on his farm and the genuine adulation he receives during live appearances. This is a simple, but effective juxtaposition and was the wisest way to present contrast, conflict and the two sides of the current coin that is Burt Shavitz.

Given the ubiquity of the Burt's Bees brand, you'd think we were dealing with a typical hippie-turned-corporate-sellout, but Shavitz is anything but that. He's a man of nature who's happiest on his farm in Maine and it's within the context of this that Shapiro trains his camera. Though there's probably a film to be made about a natural health company being owned by one of the most heinous producers of environmentally unfriendly consumer goods - this is NOT that film.

It's a sweet, funny and loving portrait of a man, his dog and his farm and how he needs to drag himself out to trade shows and malls to do a horse and pony act for the privilege of living a life of solitude amongst the hills and the trees.

And, of course, his bees.

He might not be a multi-millonaire, but you know, it could be worse.

"Burt's Buzz" is n the TIFF DOCS series of the Toronto International Film Festival 2013 (TIFF 13) and feel free to visit the festival website to get your tickets HERE.