Greetings readers! I am going to post a quick blog-related post to remind my readers that CinemaAxis.com has started its coverage of the Hot Docs film festival – a festival based in Toronto that focuses on documentaries. In this month’s State of the Blog post, I mentioned that I was lucky enough to review three of these documentaries. In fact, I was offered two additional films, so I ended up with five documentaries to review. Below I will tell you the films that I got to see, the day the review will be posted on CinemaAxis, and a short synopsis of the flick to whet your appetite. Here we go!
One attractive quality of documentaries is that you can seek out the films on subjects that interest you. This being Plot and Theme, a blog on film, I am often drawn to documentaries about film making. Many different aspects of film making interest me, but a subgenre has emerged in force over the last few years: the stories of films that fail to get made. Documentaries focusing on the strife behind camera have existed for decades, perhaps most notably in Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991), which details the struggles behind the making of Apocalypse Now. Similar docs portray the difficulty in making such films as Citizen Kane, Fitzcarraldo, and even The Boondocks Saints. But, at the end of the days, these films all got made according to the director’s vision, however compromised. The documentaries I am interested in showcase a different kind of film: ones that don’t make it to completion whatsoever.
In the basement that has haunted Barry Crimmins since he can remember, the acerbic comedian’s tongue falters for a moment as he hums and haws in the darkness. Eventually, unrehearsed words pour out and assemble themselves into a poignant justification for Bobcat Goldthwait’s documentary Call Me Lucky. Though the film ends up in this strange place, it begins as a seemingly garden-variety portrait of the political satirist and comedy club patron told mostly through interviews with his friends and family. But Goldthwait’s keen directorial eye and editing choices reveal the film’s sinister kernel – one that we won’t fully understand until much later (if ever).
I have been excited to see Asif Kapadia’s Amy Winehouse documentary since I first heard Alicia Malone’s description of it at the Cannes film festival (here). I finally got to see it last week, and I left the theater with a profound feeling of disgust . . . at myself and my culture.
Think about something in which you truly believe. It could be quaint, or it could be defining – but is it the truth? Do you believe this thing because someone has tricked you into it, or is it genuine? In An Honest Liar, escape artist, magician, and debunker James Randi investigates the world of professional deception. Following in the footsteps of Houdini, The Amazing Randi spent a career freeing himself from straightjackets and others from the fantastical claims of faith healers, psychics, and other charlatans through his own brand of trickery. Replicating or revealing their tricks, however, is shown to be insufficient, as belief in telekinetic abilities or divine communication persists after Randi has shown Oz behind the curtain. But, Randi holds secrets in his own life, and their revelation causes great tension and a profound humanizing effect on this titanic man.
Ayrton Senna navigated the racetracks of Formula One as Beethoven navigated the symphony. Born in São Paulo in 1960, Senna and his career racing Formula One is the subject of the Asif Kapadia documentary Senna. The film uses archival footage of Senna’s interviews, racing coverage (including on-car cameras), and voice-over interviews from his friends and family to document his ascent through the sport, culminating in multiple World Championships. The strength of Senna lay in its ability to transport the viewer into Ayrton’s head as we ride along with him at over 200 miles per hour. We feel his frustrations, experience his triumphs, and even see through his eyes during tense races. What emerges is a story exploring themes of the weight of immense ability and the inspiration that such ability can provide, all amid the backdrop of heart-stopping, tense racing action and political intrigue.