Ask A Documentarian: Today at Hot Docs
This year, Hot Docs honours Toronto-based film maker Kevin McMahon with its Focus On retrospective. McMahon, whose films are noted for being playfully intellectual, accepts the accolade in that same spirit. “Geoff Pevere said to me, ‘a retrospective—now you have to die.'” says the director, “So I’m focusing on the mid-career part.”
McMahon first came to prominence in 1991 with the The Falls—which wove Niagara Fall’s kitsch history with the reality that the river had turned into a toxic soup. That year, The Falls was the highest grossing Canadian Film. Since then, documentary films have become even more present and influential in our lives. There are cable channels devoted to docs. Directors such as Michael Moore are household names (and also the subject of documentaries). An Inconvenient Truth was this year’s most talked about Oscar-winning film. McMahon’s involvement in the documentary community has also boomed. He’s a co-founder of Primitive Entertainment, which is represented at Hot Docs this year with Alan Zweig’s Lovable. He is also a mentor and will be hosting a panel on copyright. “It’s one of these mixed issues,” says McMahon, “Copyright is good when footage is used without compensation, but I also want to be able to film my environment without being told I can’t because some corporation’s logo is in the shot.”
The Focus on Kevin McMahon programme begins tonight with a screening of The Falls at Innis Town Hall at 9 p.m. Other films featured in the retrospective are: In the Reign of Twilight, which illustrates the effects of the west on the Inuit; Intelligence a smart look at human intelligence; and McLuhan’s Wake, a study of media, technology and the national identity. McMahon will be present for questions and answers at all screenings.
Also screening tonight is New York-based director John Philp’s Yoga, Inc. Like McMahon, Philp interconnects many different stories to create an irreverent history of the practice of yoga in North America. The central focus of the flick is Bikram, or “hot,” yoga and the World Yoga Championships. (Speaking of copyright, the form’s founder Bikram Choudhary will sue anybody who uses his moves without a license.) “Toronto is a huge Bikram city,” he says. “I myself am one of the heathens who came to Bikram as a physical practice, not a spiritual one.” He came up with the idea for the documentary in class, when a fellow student started talking about the World championships. “The essential question is, is nothing sacred? And why should it be?” says Philp, who not only looks at competitive yoga, but also 1970s instructional TV shows and chakra panties. “To me, the idea of selling chakra panties is ridiculous. It shows that there is a lot of money to made from yoga.”
Philp sees a similar split between secularism and spiritualism in the documentary world. “My film is not a damning indictment of the business of yoga,” says Philp. “I think any filmmaker’s first obligation is to entertain people—I hope this film provides a few good belly laughs and makes you think.” Yoga. Inc is playing tonight at The Royal at 7 p.m. Philp will be in attendance.
Still from Intelligence courtesy Primitive Entertainment. Yoga, Inc courtesy John Philp.