Hot Docs Review: 'Sugar Coated'

Sugar Coated
(Canada, 91 min.)
Dir. Michèle Hozer
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (World Premiere)
“In the most delightful way!” Yes, Mary Poppins was indeed correct when she flew into town on her brolley and sang that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. Director Michèle Hozer gets the recipe just right in Sugar Coated as she whips up on intelligent argument with a dash of playful humour. This doc smartly articulates the dangers in consuming sugar in excess quantities, and audiences are likely to swallow this dose of what’s good for them given how succinctly and sweetly Hozer conveys the argument.


Hot Docs Review: 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
(USA, 132 min.)
Dir. Brett Morgen
Programme: Special Presentations (Canadian Premiere)
I really like Nirvana's music, but I've never quite understood the mystique of Kurt Cobain. Fans and devotees characterize the lost poet of rock with prophetic affection. Cobain's, one of the 27 Club's most esteemed and tragic members, holds an immortal place in the canon of rock and roll thanks to his game-changing electric music and tragic death by suicide at the peak of his career. The phenomenal rock doc Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck doesn't tear down or deconstruct this mystique of Kurt Cobain (if anything, it affirms it), yet it undoubtedly builds a complex and fascinating character study of a brilliant and deeply complicated man in an equally brilliant production that elevates the art form. It's a stunner.

Hot Docs Review: 'Jesus Town, USA'

Jesus Town, USA
(Canada/USA, 80 min.)
Dir: Julian Pender, Billie Mintz
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (Canadian Premiere)
“I know how hard it is to be Jesus,” says one of the many kind townsfolk featured in the droll doc Jesus Town, USA. The wise old barman, a former portrayer of Christ in the annual passion play of a peculiar Oklahoma town that features a full-fledged reproduction of ancient Israel, gives his words of wisdom to Zach, who is the current incarnation of the Role of roles, as Jesus downs some wine coolers to soothe his troubles. A passion play of its own comes into play in Julian Pender and Billie Mintz wildly hilarious and enlightening Jesus Town, USA, but, thankfully, it doesn't end with a crucifixion.


Hot Docs Review: 'Tig'

(USA, 95 min.)
Dir. Kristina Goolsby, Ashley York
Programme: Show Me the Funny (International Premiere)
Tig Notaro in Tig, Courtesy of Beachside Films
'Good evening, I have cancer,' sounds like the perfect line to kill the mood in a comedy club, yet Tig Notaro totally killed it when she opened a stand-up comedy routine with this unconventional lead-in in October 2012. Tig, which marks a notable opener for the 2015 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival as an LGBTQ-friendly film with a female subject and two female directors, looks at this woman who found life in the face of death. Tig's announcement and the comedy routine that followed it are natural moves for a comic--using life to inspire material--but the candour and vulnerability of her performance ignited a response from audiences so powerful that Tig became a viral sensation. Tig proves that laughter is indeed the best medicine.


LAFF Review: 'Panama Canal Stories'

Panama Canal Stories
(Panama, 106 min.)
Dir. Abner Benaim, Carolina Borrero, Luis Franco Brantley, Pinky Mon, Pituka Ortega-Heilbron; Writ. Alejandro Fadel, Martin Mauregui, Manuel Rodríguez
Starring: Lakisha May, Andre Morris, as Carlos Eduardo Goldstein Alemán, Ivan González, Hannah Schöbitz, Luis Manuel Barrios
We’ve strolled through the arrondissements of Paris in Paris, je t’aime, roamed the boroughs of New York in New York, I Love You, and heard tales of Hogtown in Toronto Stories. The next stop on the travel anthologies train lets audiences stamp their cinematic passports in Panama and learn the histories of the country’s iconic canal in Panama Canal Stories. This five-part anthology film, which opens Ottawa’s Latin American Film Festival on Saturday, differs from the aforementioned travelogues, since it offers not a tourist’s view of the city as it takes viewers through five moments in time, rather than to five geographical pockets. Panama Canal Stories tells about the people who live and thrive in the city and the characters whose lives are the lifeblood of the Panama Canal.


'Atanarjuat' Tops TIFF's List of the Best Canadian Films of All Time

Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner
Here's a surprise! The Toronto International Film Festival released its list of the Best Canadian films of all time, and the film stop the list is Zacharias Kunuk's Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, knocking Mon Oncle Antoine from the top spot. Atanarjuat is a landmark for First Nations filmmakers in Canada and was Canada's submission to the Oscars for 2001. Other notable additions to TIFF's fourth edition of this list are Jean-Marc Vallée's C.R.A.Z.Y. and Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell. (I'm disappointed that Incendies didn't make it though.) The huge snub is The Barbarian Invasions, which is the best film ever to come out of Quebec, although Denys Arcand is on the list for Jesus of Montreal. Glad to see my favourite, The Sweet Hereafter, made the cut.

Who Made My Clothes?

(Canada/USA/India, 68 min.)
Written and directed by Jennifer Sharpe
“It's difficult for a new designer to come out with a new set of ideas when there is an established industry that is moving to a completely different logic that's about low price at whatever cost,” says designer and professor Lynda Gross in the fashionably progressive doc Traceable. Gross’s words perfectly summarize the conundrum in which forward-thinking fashionistas and designers such as Traceable's central subject Laura Siegel find themselves as they try to balance the wants of consumers with the practical needs of the other threads in the fashion chain. Siegel’s plight should be a simple one: to offer fashionable garments that better educate consumers and retailers about the stories woven within the clothes on their backs. However, consumer culture, especially the “fast-fashion” on which the garment industry thrives with impulse buys and quick turnarounds, doesn’t traditionally allow for new ideas other than those that popularize, say, The September Issue. We’ve seen all those fashion docs before, as famed eyes of the fashion world tell the stories of how they became trendsetters, but a new trend is beginning and it starts right here.


Contest! Win Tickets to 'Adult Beginners' in Toronto!

Funnyman Nick Kroll (“Parks and Rec”) stars alongside funnygirl Rose Byrne (Neighbours) in Adult Beginners, the directorial debut of indie producer Ross Katz (Lost in Translation). Adult Beginners opens in select theatres on May 8 from The Archive, but Toronto readers who want to attend an advance screening—with Nick Kroll in attendance!—are in luck! Answer the trivia below for your chance to win tickets!


'The Grand Seduction', 'The Lunchbox' Win TIFF Film Circuit People's Choice Awards

Taylor Kitsch and Liane Balaban in The Grand Seduction, an eOne Films release
The people have spoken! The winners have been named for this year’s champs of the TIFF Film Circuit! The winners of the 11th annual Film Circuit People’s Choice Awards are The Grand Seduction and The Lunchbox. The Grand Seduction, directed by Don McKellar, nabs the prize for Best Canadian Film, while The Lunchbox, directed by Ritesh Batra, scoops the title of Best International Film as voted by Film Circuit audiences across Canada. Both films hit the circuit after enjoying Gala Screenings at TIFF 2013.


Latin American Film Festival Gives Hungry Cinephiles a Nibble

The 2015 Latin American Film Festival kicks off with Panama Canal Stories.
Me pica el bagre! I really hope somebody shrieks this line during the Latin American Film Festival this year.  I randomly discovered this Argentine expression today whilst chatting with some colleagues at the temp job I’m doing in Toronto in the weeks before Hot Docs, and I’m hooked. One doesn’t often get to shout, “The catfish is biting me!”Where does that line even come from? Me pica el bagre!


Canadian Cinema Editors (CCE) Nominate 'Wet Bum', 'Backcountry'

Wet Bum
The Canadian Cinema Editors (CCE) have abounded their annual nominations. These industry awards, the Canuck equivalent if the ACE Eddies, honor the best editing in film, television, and digital media. There are some surprises here, but it's nice to see film like Wet Bum, Backcountry, and Monsoon recognized for their superb tech work. Here's what films made the cut:

Vancouver the Gritty

Down Here
(Canada, 88 min.)
Dir. Teach Grant, Writ. Dean Wray, Teach Grant
Starring: Dean Wray, Tantoo Cardinal, Martin Cummins, Rebecca James, Teach Grant
The gritty drama Down Here takes audiences to the dark underbelly of Vancouver’s Eastside. Beneath the sprawling mass of ugly, towering condominiums sits a lost character of the city. Hidden, forgotten, and overlooked citizens survive in the shadows, and this film by Teach Grant explores how the unseen members of society are often the most vulnerable ones.


True Story: Jones (Almost) Saves It

True Story
(USA, 100 min.)
Dir. Rupert Goold, Writ. Rupert Goold, David Kajganich
Starring: Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones
Jonah Hill as Mike Finkel and Felicity Jones as Jill in True Story.
Mary Cybulski © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Three cheers go to Felicity Jones for almost saving True Story. The British actress, Theory of Everything star, and LEGO Oscar-winner dons a deep American accent for her turn as Jill, the wife of ex-New York Times writer Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill), and she gets the one big actorly moment in a film that should rightly be an actors’ showpiece. It’s a great scene. Jones owns it.

Canadian Film Gets Big Boost with New and Improved NFB.ca

Incendies is one of the major Canadian films now available on the NFB's VOD.
Canadian film gets a huge boost today with the major expansion of the National Film Board of Canada’s VOD streaming services. In addition to the crop of 3000-odd shorts and docs freely available at nfb.ca, the NFB now offers two new VOD channels bringing the finest in Canadian independent cinema and independent documentaries alike. The new Canadian channel marks a partnership with the newly launched Canada Screens effort from First Weekend Club, which brings the best in Canadian film directly into homes across the country. The new Canadian channel offers some Canada’s strongest contemporary dramas including some of the decade’s best Canuck flicks like Incendies, Barney’s Version, and Mommy, just to name a few of the films hand-picked by guest curators including Atom Egoyan, Robert Lantos, and Sarah Polley. (Stories We Tell has been there for a while given its NFB parentage.) Canuck classics like Naked Lunch are now available, as are hidden gem indies like Gary Burns' Waydowntown. Canadian docs are also well-represented with some of the best recent Canuck non-fiction like Julia Kwan’s Everything Will Be and Canadian Screen Award winner Super Duper Alice Cooper. There's a lot worth exploring, especially for the upcoming 'Canadian Film Day' on April 29!


Contest! Win Tickets to 'While We're Young' in Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg

Readers in Toronto and Vancouver had great things to say about Noah Baumbach's While We're Young after last month's sneak peek, and readers in the rest of Canada now get their turn to catch Baumbach's latest starring Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts. While We're Young expands April 24 from Elevation Pictures, but if you want to attend a sneak peek in Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton or, you are in luck! Answer the trivia below to win tickets!