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.
Still from Iris K. Shim’s House of Suh.
On offer Thursday at Hot Docs: the gripping, true crime thriller The House of Suh; Complaints Choir, documenting an art project that sets everyday gripes to choral music; and The Parking Lot Movie, a look at the lives of a bunch of jaded college grads working a college town parking lot. Torontoist’s Steve Kupferman, Kasandra Bracken, and John Semley tell you what you need to know about all three, after the jump.
TORONTOIST’S RECOMMENDED PICKS GET A
The House of SuhDirected by Iris K. Shim. USA. 90 minutes.
Andrew Suh, once promising and popular at school, is serving one hundred years in prison for killing his sister’s boyfriend, Robert O’Dubaine. The House of Suh, a true crime doc from director Iris K. Shim, takes that cold-blooded premise and unspools it with sensitivity and precision, until all that remains is the heartbreaking family drama at its core.
Within minutes of the beginning of the doc, we learn what Andrew did to earn his sentence: when he was nineteen years old, at the behest of his sister, Catherine, he flew from college in Rhode Island to Chicago, his home city, and then took his place inside a dark garage, where he waited for four hours, until Catherine could lure O’Dubaine inside. Then, Andrew shot O’Dubaine, only to be arrested shortly afterward.
Shim doesn’t waste much time rehashing the banal details of the murder, which have already been the subject of an episode of America’s Most Wanted, and were even adapted into a made-for-TV movie (with white actors, though Andrew and Catherine Suh are Korean). Instead, the doc adroitly posits Andrew’s crime as an inevitable result not only of his mental state at the time of the killing, but of his upbringing and his personality. House of Suh establishes a complete rationale for a seemingly senseless act and, in the process, humanizes Andrew, even if it can’t exactly exonerate him.
The doc credibly characterizes Andrew as a person who consistently put family above all else, in accordance with the expectations of his strict Korean father, an ex-military man. Then, we’re given an explanation of how Catherine and O’Dubaine became Andrew’s surrogate guardians, after his father’s death from cancer, and his mother’s brutal murder during an apparent robbery.
In tracing the way this unusual family situation eventually led to O’Dubaine’s murder, House of Suh weaves together court records and family photos with Andrew’s own narration, as well as interviews with his family members, acquaintances of his parents and sister, and even O’Dubaine’s brother, who still can’t forgive. The synthesis is deft to the point that when an explosive revelation drops, late in the doc, we don’t feel manipulated.
In the end, we are confronted with the fact, both comforting and disturbing, that even the most horrific crimes are committed by people with histories and complex inner lives. Whether or not this necessitates forgiveness is the question House of Suh leaves lingering for viewers to contemplate, once it’s had its say.
Screens Sunday, May 9 at 7 p.m. at the ROM Theatre (100 Queen’s Park) as part of the World Showcase series.
A whole bunch of people singing about how they wish the TTC accepted debit cards in Complaints Choir.
Complaints ChoirDirected by George Ada Bligaard Søby. Denmark/Finland/USA. 60 minutes.
Just moments after this film’s finish, I turn to my neighbour, who whines, “it’s cold in here.”
After an hour of listening to complaints, I’m unaffected enough to utter one myself—so maybe that’s the problem with Complaints Choir, an hour-long film that follows a Finnish couple’s art project, a mass movement in select cities where willing bitch-n-moaners are invited and encouraged to manifest their menial gripes and grievances together through melodies. Though the real-life Complaint Choir Project has now spread to sixty cities (and is actually pretty cool!), the film centers on two choirs—the Chicago Choir (comprised primarily of white yuppies, quick to quibble about their boss, global warming, and how “everybody is a moron”) and the Singapore Choir (fearful to publicly vocalize complaints with the government’s tight reign on free speech, complain about not being able to chew gum, have sex with their same-sex boyfriend, and of course, their leaders in general).
While the disparity between the two places’ worries provides a satisfactory portrayal of their respective qualities of life, the effects of the film are offset by its poor organization and shooting. The doc’s interspersed with self-taped YouTube-esque complaints and a few streetside whiners, both unrelated to the choir—a statement, perhaps on people’s willingness to grumble, but distracting in its placement. Sometimes, the camera in a standard, easy-to-film interview will unnecessarily and jarringly zoom with a shake so distracting it’s hard to hone in on the interviewee’s words.
The light-hearted feel of the film as a whole is polarized by the real problems faced by the Singaporean singers—prohibited by tight government restrictions regarding what they can sing, and who can sing it. The drama in Asia draws a potent contrast to that of North America, but it’s hardly enough to make up for the rest of this otherwise ho-hum film.
Screens Thursday, May 6 at 4:30 p.m. at Innis Town Hall (2 Sussex Ave) with The Fabulous Fiff and Famm as part of the Next series.
Still from The Parking Lot Movie.
The Parking Lot MovieDirected by Meghan Eckman. USA. 84 minutes.
Like Clerks with a grad degree, The Parking Lot Movie surveys a group of self-styled nonconformists who have, at one time or another, been employed at the Corner Parking Lot in Charlottesville, Virginia. A college town hipster mecca (imagine the Sonic Boom or Suspect Video of parking lots), the notorious tarmac has attracted a rotating cast of cool kids well-versed in the tenets of Marxian exchange value and Rousseau’s social contract, and all able to employ the word “existential” as an adjective, whether or not it really applies.
While the Corner Parking Lot’s employees are all roughly differentiated oddballs (one collects fancy sneakers he may never wear, another sleeps in a pantry), they remain united as much by their place of employment as their contrarian leftie leanings. Their anthropology and philosophy degrees may give them the unified class consciousness that so many in the service sector lack, but it also breeds a form of adolescent hard-headedness, as they rail against frat boys, SUVs, and “trustafarians” with the sort of rage that seems to typify feelings of post-grad placelessness.
While lively (no small feat considering that, despite all its groggy proselytizing, it remains a movie about a parking lot), The Parking Lot Movie lapses too frequently into the agonizing misanthropy of its subjects, making it a more an exhausting than exultant portrait of the college-educated workingman.
Screens Thursday, May 6 at 7 p.m., appropriately, at the Citipark Cumberland Garage (148 Cumberland Street) as part of the Rooftop Docs Screening series.
All stills courtesy of Hot Docs.