Every weekday and Saturday throughout Hot Docs, Torontoist is looking at a handful of festival offerings, recommending the worthwhile and de-recommending the not-so-worthwhile.
The Jenkins family (Mason, Leslie, and Brian) in John Kastner’s Life With Murder. Photo courtesy V Kelly & Associates, Inc.
On offer Friday, the first full day of documentaries at this year’s Hot Docs: Life With Murder, John Kastner’s masterful and compelling study of the human fallout of a 1998 killing in Chatham, Ontario; Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, a rockumentary profiling Canada’s imitable, and wonderfully geeky, prog-rock band; and The Story of Furious Pete, the real-life tale of a suffering anorexic-turned-competitive-eater. Torontoist’s John Semley and Kasandra Bracken tell you what you need to know about all three, after the jump.
TORONTOIST’S RECOMMENDED PICKS GET A
Life With MurderDirected by John Kastner. Canada. 95 minutes.
Stranger than fiction. That’s what they say about the truth. Watching Emmy Award–winning filmmaker John Kastner’s Life With Murder (co-produced by the CTV, NFB, and the director’s own JS Kastner Productions) seems to give meaning to that tired platitude. In 1998, the lifeless body of eighteen-year-old Jennifer Jenkins was discovered by her parents in their Chatham, Ontario, home. Jennifer’s brother, twenty-year-old Mason Jenkins, was soon convicted of murdering his sister in the first degree.
Mason pled innocent to the charge of sororicide, cooking up some cockamamie story involving shotgun-totting home invaders from neighbouring Detroit, but his appeals were too riddled with implausibility and bad logic to gain any traction. It’s a story that shook the small Ontario town. For a while, it was the quaint Canadian version of the Menendez brothers and OJ Simpson trials: the impossible, “it can’t happen here” murder that happened here. But receiving little to no national attention, the story eventually faded away. Mason was shipped off to the Warkworth medium security correctional institute in Campbellford, and his inconsolable parents, Brian and Leslie, attempted to pick up the pieces and move on.
It’s at this point that Kastner’s exceptional film picks up the Jenkins family thread. While it does devote some time recounting the grizzly details of the murder, investigation, and trial, Life With Murder focuses on how the remaining members of Jenkins clan have struggled to cohere as a family. Astoundingly, Brian and Leslie Jenkins remain in close contact with Mason, regularly trekking up the 401 to visit him in prison, where they are allowed to chat and BBQ together in guarded on-site visitation cottages. Despite their son’s conviction, the Jenkins remain overwhelmingly supportive of their son.
Kastner’s film is a powerfully gripping account of a family assailed on all fronts by tragedy. Watching this improbable family unit stir-fry and laugh together is bizarre, unsettling, and often unbelievable. To say too much about Life With Murder is to spoil its many compelling (and astounding) revelations. So suffice it to say that the truth is a strange thing indeed.
Screens Saturday, May 1 at 9:45 p.m. at the Isabel Bader Theatre (93 Charles Street West) and Sunday, May 9 at 3:45 p.m. at the Bloor Cinema (506 Bloor Street West) as part of the Canadian Spectrum series.
The Story of Furious PeteDirected by George Tsioutsioulas. Canada. 85 minutes.
Peter Czerwinski says he doesn’t have a gag reflex. And after watching this film, we wish we didn’t, either. The Story of Furious Pete, based in and around Toronto, profiles a fighter—formerly a faster, now a ferocious feaster. An anorexic mere years ago, Pete’s story is full of twists and turns, but none akin to those taken by the viewer’s stomach throughout the many courses of the movie.
Using Pete as the protagonist, the film tells the meaty story of competitive eating as sport, showing off the jaw-scraping-the-floor kind of spectator game. We see eaters of all shapes and sizes (some unexpectedly tiny or fit) defying all imaginable possibility—the kind of stuff that makes your competition with your high-school pals at the Mandarin look like wussy shit. Where it fails is in devoting too much time to investigating Peter’s stomach and not nearly enough dissecting his brain. How does a guy with a former half-lettuce-head-a-day diet transition seamlessly into the antithetical world of gnosh-shovelling, face-cramming, so-fast-you-can’t-enjoy it eating; how is this any healthier than the initial disorder itself?
Alas, its merits are enough given the gape factor of the entire, very competitive, and sometimes even political, competitive eating scene. Oh yeah, and Pete does it for a cause too….but we won’t spoil the entire feast. Let’s just hope they close the concession for this one.
Screens Friday, April 30 at 7:30 p.m. at The Royal Cinema (608 College Street) and May 9 at 1:30 p.m. at Cumberland 3 (159 Cumberland Street) as part of the Canadian Spectrum Series.
A mid-’70s Rush, in all their leonine glory. Photo courtesy Alliance Atlantis.
Rush: Beyond the Lighted StageDirected by Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn. Canada. 106 minutes.
Rush fans are kind of like Buffy The Vampire Slayer fans: they exist in astounding numbers, they’re singularly obsessive, and they can’t be reasoned with. So anyone who thinks Rush is just a punchline, and not the world’s foremost prog/metal/synth outfit, can probably ignore the latest rockumentary from the charming long-haired filmmakers behind 2008’s Global Metal and 2009’s Iron Maiden: Flight 666. But to anyone who’s ever air-drummed to “Tom Sawyer” or defended the band’s Caress of Steel album as a “woefully misunderstood masterpiece,” well, this movie is a love letter written just for you.
Tracking the band from their early days playing high school auditoriums in the Toronto ‘burbs to tours with Uriah Heep and Kiss, and their much-maligned “synthesizer period” in the ‘80s, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage is a sprawling portrait of Canada’s favourite cult band. Featuring extensive interviews with the band and many of its more famous fans, such as the ever-puckish Jack Black and the ever-obnoxious Billy Corgan (whose love of the band may explain, but never explain away, Zeitgeist’s bloated instrumental canoodling), Beyond the Lighted Stage is the definitive sketch of a band whose success as a Canadian arena rock band has always seemed a little improbable. If the film lacks a sustained thesis, it’s appropriate considering that Rush have themselves consistently proved an elusive rock phenomenon.
Screens Friday, April 30 at the Isabel Bader Theatre (93 Charles Street West) at 4 p.m. Rush tickets (har har) are still available.