A few of the best bets for the documentary festival's closing weekend.
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—an engaging story of an art forger and his nemesis, a playful portrait of an actress, and a probing examination of four violent patients in a mental health clinic—will be among the highlights of the festival’s final three days of screenings.
Art and Craft
Directed by Jennifer Grausman and Sam Cullman
Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor Street West)
Revue Cinema (400 Roncesvalles Avenue)
“Nothing’s original under the sun,” Mark Landis insists early in Art and Craft, a buoyant look at the work of a consummate forger. As the film opens, the wily Virginia native, who has carefully copied hundreds of significant artworks and donated them to dozens of unsuspecting museums under the cover of any number of aliases, is the subject of an art world manhunt by Cincinnati Art Museum collector Matt Leininger—an obsessive-compulsive sort whose pathological attention to detail rivals Landis’s own.
The tension between the two men—the bluffer and the authenticity-hound—gives a nice innate structure to Jennifer Grausman and Sam Cullman’s profile, which increasingly inches toward the men’s moment of reckoning at the first exhibition of Landis’s work, curated by his own nemesis. But it’s the directors’ deft sense of pacing and deep characterization of these men and their relationships to both their crafts and mental illnesses that make Art and Craft so good. Without having to reach for significance, they’ve managed to create a smart and incisive essay on what we mean when we talk about artfulness, craft, and originality in what Walter Benjamin called the age of mechanical reproduction.
Directed by Robert Greene
Program: International Spectrum
Hart House Theatre (7 Hart House Circle)
Brandy Burre has kept a low profile since her turn as campaign fixer Terry D’Agostino in the critically acclaimed HBO series The Wire. In some ways, that obscurity makes her the ideal subject for Robert Greene’s Actress, a playful, richly photographed, and expertly cut genre hybrid that explores what it means to be a performer, whether in one’s professional or personal life.
The funny and overtly theatrical Burre is an integral collaborator if not an unofficial co-director here. Her experiences—both as a mother and spouse going through a separation from her long-term partner and as a professional re-integrating herself into the working world she’d left behind—is self-consciously and somewhat archly offered up as the material for Greene’s examination of the various performances that make up our identity. Not that the film creates some kind of false dichotomy between the domestic space and the workplace; indeed, it insistently reveals that any line drawn between those two spheres will be blurred and inexact—and that makes Actress as vital as it is aesthetically well-realized.
Out of Mind, Out of Sight
Directed by John Kastner
Program: Canadian Spectrum
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
When Emmy-winner John Kastner was last at Hot Docs in 2013, he debuted NCR: Not Criminally Responsible, a look at a man recently released from a psychiatric hospital after being deemed criminally inculpable of a violent attack committed in a delusional state. While his previous film looked at the challenges of coming back to society after such an episode, Kastner’s newest examines the rehabilitative process involved in getting previously violent patients to the point of reintegration, returning to the Brockville Mental Health Centre to profile four patients in various stages of treatment.
Out of Mind, Out of Sight goes wide where NCR went deep: it looks at a cast of characters, including a mild-mannered but haunted man who killed his mother in a paranoid state and who is now struggling to establish relationships with his forgiving siblings. Not the least of the film’s accomplishments is its absorbing profile of how the workers at these institutions interact with their patients. The frankness of the interviews with patients is disarming: one woman, for example, gives an impromptu poetic retelling of the Pinocchio story as she explains her intense love for a stuffed animal she turns to for comfort. At times, though, one wishes it would shed some of its redemptive tone—the last image is a freeze frame of a patient smiling in the outside world—in favour of a more critical assessment of its subjects, especially considering many of the male patients profiled have committed violent acts against women.