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culture

Hot Docs 2014: Artists at Work

Profiling some of the festival's takes on artists, both celebrated and fringe.

Pulp

Now in its 21st year, Hot Docs is North America’s largest film festival dedicated to the art of nonfiction filmmaking. Those seeking a path through the festival’s massive program of nearly 200 documentaries may do well to focus on some major recurring themes. The following is a primer on some of the festival’s strongest offerings about artists at work—offerings that explore subjects ranging from working-class pop stars reuniting in their hometown to a schlocky savant who runs his own one-man movie studio.


Pulp
Directed by Florian Habicht
Program: Nightvision

Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor Street West)
Sunday, April 27, 11:59 p.m.

TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Monday, April 28, 4 p.m.

The Royal (608 College Street)
Sunday, May 4, 7 p.m.


Of all the Britpop bands that burst onto the scene in the early 1990s, Pulp arguably stayed closest to the urban post-industrial milieu from which it came, parlaying its savviness about urban, working-class life in the U.K. into hits like “Common People” and “Sheffield: Sex City.” That synchronicity between the band, led by the now 50-year-old (but still nattily dressed) Jarvis Cocker, and its steel-producing hometown of Sheffield is what Florian Habicht explores in his lively and affecting documentary Pulp.

Habicht eschews most of the usual concert-doc tropes—backstage chatter, anonymous fans writhing in ecstasy against the stage barrier—in favour of a surprisingly deep anthropological sketch of the band’s hometown, the site of their reunion show. Though Cocker sits down for a life- and career-spanning interview that makes up the film’s backbone, Habicht is just as interested in the lives and professions of the hometown fans who’ve followed the band for decades. That puts Pulp closer to the work of Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin’s classic Chronique d’un été, a chatty portrait of average Parisians in the summer of 1960, than to, say, Jonathan Demme’s countless rock documentaries (chief among them, Stop Making Sense), and that’s for the better: as the native Sheffielders we see throughout the doc like to say when expressing their highest approval, “It’s all right.”


The Possibilities Are Endless
Directed by Edward Lovelace and James Hall
20140425The Possibilities Are Endless 3

Scotiabank (259 Richmond Street West)
Wednesday, April 30, 9:30 p.m.

Scotiabank (259 Richmond Street West)
Thursday, May 1, 1:30 p.m.

The Royal (608 College Street)
Saturday, May 3, 7:30 p.m.


Best known in North America as the one-hit wonder behind the smash (and still-pretty-good) 1995 single “A Girl Like You,” Scottish alt-rocker Edwyn Collins underwent a major transformation in 2005, after surviving a cerebral hemorrhage that seriously affected his memory and motor skills. Edward Lovelace and James Hall’s The Possibilities Are Endless—along with his wife’s name, one of the first phrases the artist was able to say following his stroke—follows Collins as he recovers and enters a new phase of his family life and career.

While more standard fare might have dodged the challenge of capturing Collins’s impairment and his gradual recovery of language by focusing on archival footage and present-day interviews with friends and colleagues, Lovelace and Hall’s film tackles that representational problem and makes it one of its main issues. The filmmakers pair Collins’s halting but insightful voiceovers with abstract, expertly lensed images of his physical surroundings, attempting to capture something of his fragmentary new sensory experience of the world. The images might be a bit self-consciously poetic at times, recalling the precious wheat fields of the cinema of Terrence Malick, but on the whole it’s a noble and beautiful experiment.


From the Bottom of the Lake
Directed by Clare Young
Program: Next
20140425From the bottom of the lake 1

Scotiabank (259 Richmond Street West)
Friday, April 25, 1 p.m. 

Scotiabank (259 Richmond Street West)
Saturday, April 26, 8:30 p.m. 

TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Saturday, May 3, 3 p.m. 

Early in Clare Young’s modest behind-the-scenes profile of Jane Campion, we see the celebrated New Zealand auteur sitting at her kitchen table, hammering out an early draft of the script for her award-winning BBC Two miniseries Top of the Lake. “I’m just not sure if it’s a little too … ” she says, trailing off, as writing partner Gerard Lee swoops in to finish the sentence: “Stupid?” Young’s documentary is at its most compelling when it offers up these vignettes of frustration, demonstrating the difficulty of every stage of the filmmaking process, even for an old hand like Campion.

Those hoping for a tactile and poetic approach in line with Campion’s own style will likely find From the Bottom of the Lake disappointing. Young’s method is more functional than that of her subject: she captures Campion on the fly as she writes, scouts for locations, and runs through dialogue and character motivations with her actors. Some of this material will no doubt prove interesting for anyone curious about the intellectual and social labour of film production, though the prosaic style unfortunately makes the film feel more like a DVD extra (albeit a decent one) than a full-fledged film in its own right.


Giuseppe Makes a Movie
Directed by Adam Rifkin
Program: Nightvision
20140525Giuseppe Makes A Movie 1

Scotiabank (259 Richmond Street West)
Saturday, April 26, 7 p.m.

Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor Street West)
Monday, April 28, 11:15 p.m.

TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Sunday, May 4, 6 p.m.


“I didn’t question that, or second guess that,” Giuseppe Andrews says when discussing the title for his new film Garbanzo Gas early in Adam Rifkind’s puckish and proudly slight Giuseppe Makes a Movie. A former teen actor with memorable bit parts in films as varied as Independence Day and Rifkin’s own Detroit Rock City, Andrews is now a true outsider artist, having cranked out over three dozen micro-budget films from a mobile home in Ventura, California, where he aims to create Garbanzo Gas in a whirlwind two-day shoot.

Andrews is a great find for Rifkind—an earnest, breathtakingly overconfident, good-natured dolt who, despite his relative lack of talent, dreams of making a film in the spirit of the equally prolific and profane Rainer Werner Fassbinder. He’s more than capable of carrying the story as he marshals his misfit cast and crew through a fairly scuzzy shoot, though his self-enchanted aura seems to rub off on Rifkind as the film progresses. Still, it’s a rare privilege to see a film embrace rather than condescend to its eccentric star, and if nothing else, Garbanzo Gas seems like a good time.

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