Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hot Docs 2013: Reviews #5

Reviews of screenings from the 2013 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, Toronto, Canada.

Salma (Dir: Kim Longinotto, 89 minutes, UK/India)

"If not today, then tomorrow. If not tomorrow, then another day. That's how life has always seemed since the dawning of memory." Even if this excellent new film from master documentarian Longinotto is more dreamy and less observational than most of her work, it follows from many of her previous themes (the power dynamics that affect the lives of girls and women) and her empathetic approach.

Here we are following Salma, who is returning to the Tamil village in southern India that she left years ago. It's a place of great sadness for her: like most girls in this Muslim community, upon reaching puberty she was pulled out of school and kept locked away from the world until she could be married off. In her case, with a wilful refusal to subordinate herself, she held out for nine years before agreeing to be married, and in the meantime, she did what she could to satisfy her desire for knowledge. Once married and in control of her in-laws, she began to secretly write poems about her experiences, which became a sensation (and a scandal) when they were published.

So, at one level, this is a triumphant story about one woman rising far beyond the shackles that were imposed on her, as her fame propelled her to the leadership of her village council and ultimately to a state-wide political position. On the other, it's an utterly tragic and heart-wrenching portrait of a social system that is very slow to change, leaving untold numbers of women still locked away and kept from control of their own lives. The women in this world smile most of the time, even when relating terrible events from their past. But when we see their wedding photos, it often looks like the saddest day of their lives.

As always, Longinotto doesn't settle for easy answers. We see here, for example, how it is the mothers-in-law and older women who are just as responsible for perpetuating the system. And beyond that, we also see how everyone's agenda is murky and conflicted when trying to apply general rules to specific persons — Salma's husband, for example, did his utmost to keep her "in her place" and stop her from expressing herself through her writing, but then would later encourage her to stand for office. Her own mother insisted on removing her from school and kept her locked up, but would later assist in smuggling her poems out of her matrimonial home. And so it goes, a complicated field of rules and exceptions.

Although the film observes this social milieu rather than calling for change, it's a strong feminist statement that's impossible to watch without feeling a powerful desire for action, and to hope that there will soon come a day that education for girls and women is no longer haram, and that marriage is choice and not an obligation.

Remaining screenings: Sunday, May 5, 3:30 PM @ ROM Theatre

Let the Fire Burn (Dir: Jason Osder, 93 minutes, USA)

In 1985, a long-simmering conflict between the Police and City of Philadelphia and a radical organization named MOVE came to a head in a confrontation that saw the police firebomb (and ultimately murder) a number of barricaded members of the group and — wittingly or not — incinerate an entire neighbourhood in the process. This shocking abuse of state power is not as widely remembered today as it might be, a situation rectified by this astounding work.

Masterful editing weaves together a wide variety of archival materials to create a vivid presentation of the 1985 incident. Recordings of a commission of inquiry held after the fact is used as the main framework here, enhanced with news footage and an account of one of the day's few survivors.

It now feels a bit strange to think that radical back-to-the-landers would establish a commune in an urban, residential environment, but the film gives us some context, tracing MOVE as an outgrowth of the black power movement of the 60's and 70's. Its particular culture was also imbued with the messianic outlook of a cult-like leader, and we see how far the group was from the mainstream of African-American culture at the time.

A fatal altercation and eviction in 1978 left the group even more frustrated an inward-looking, and they managed to alienate their new neighbours as they moved into a row house in a densely-populated working-class district. The neighbourhood's calls for action led to the city moving to evict the group, which precipitated the fatal standoff. Although MOVE comes off as severely oppositional, as the evidence mounts, it's revealed how disproportionate the police response was.

The ramifications of institutional racism and the militaristic police worldview reverberate still today, and there's layers upon layers of resonance that makes this more than an observation of a historical moment. This gripping film is completely compelling viewing, and an example of documentary film-making at its best. The best of the festival so far, this will surely be noted as one of the most important documentaries of the year.

Remaining screenings: Friday, May 3, 9:30 PM @ TIFF Lightbox 1

Live Cinema: Image/Sound Mixing Performance by Peter Mettler and Biosphere (Dir: Peter Mettler, 45 minutes, Canada/Norway)

This unique screening took part alongside the retrospective Focus On Peter Mettler programme, but it was something brand new. So new, in fact, that it was being created in front of the audiences' eyes. A collaboration between Mettler's images and Norwegian electronic musician Biosphere, the artists came to this with a rough map of how they expected the piece to proceed, but then improvised within that.

Mettler began with a quick demonstration of his visual mixing software. For someone who frequently compares his work to that of musicians, it was no surprise to see that the software was not at all unlike a musical mixing station, with four visual channels (each capable of being processed and treated) that could be mixed together in different ways.

The first sequence paired ambient tones with nature images — clouds drifting overhead which were soon mixed into images of trees and leaves. That led into a stretch with occult-y astrological images and planetary themes, and after that a space-rock-y musical response was accompanied by images of lava oozing down a mountainside. Then a more whimsical segment saw a weather forecaster (occasionally flipped over and visually doubled) pointing at a sac of dividing cells emerging through the weather map. The longest segment saw a recurring clockwork motif paired with a whirling dancer, who gave way to a variety of other dancers. This was the most absorbing visual poetry of the whole session, and after a couple more brief excursions, the whole thing ended with a comedown groove and a return to the drifting clouds from the beginning.

The extent to which this "worked" probably depends on your feelings about associational logic and dream-drift as authorial modus operandi. For those who don't buy in (and a few people bailed once they realized that's what they were getting) it can be seen as a sequence of "here's a thing, now here's another thing" moments. And there were, admittedly, a few places where this felt like a sort of high-concept Laser Floyd experience. But on the whole, this was a success, both as a technical demonstration (I couldn't have been the only one in the crowd thinking about how much fun it would be to sit down and have a go at Mettler's control panel) and as an act of artistic collaboration.

Eastern Avenue/Petropolis (Dir: Peter Mettler, 1985/2009, 55 minutes/43 minutes, Canada)

The oldest of the titles in the Mettler retrospective contained echoes of (or, more precisely, some of the seeds of) the method and aesthetic sensibility seen in the Live Cinema performance. His first attempt to wield the camera in the same way that an improvising musician would use an instrument, this is an impressionistic diary of a trip to Europe — a montage of faces, locations and visual textures.

As a record of a journey, there are many shots taken from moving cars or trains. But there is also the minutiae that build up alongside remembrances of monuments and landmarks — a concern as much with the curtains or windowframe as with what's beyond it. There was also a few instances of images being layered on top of each other in a way that prefigured the Live Cinema concept.

The music was also a key component here, as Mettler showed his images to some musician friends who improvised the accompanying soundtrack. That gives a few different sonic textures here, though a lot of it suggests the traveller's sense of dislocation. At a few places (like a trip to the Berlin Wall), it even suggests alienation, distance and loneliness.

By design, the main sensation here is one of drift. And while that's not everyone's bag, I found it to be pretty engaging stuff.

That film was intriguingly paired with another that presented a different sort of visual drift. A collaboration with Greenpeace, Petropolis is a visual spectacle that is summed up in its subtitle: "Aerial Perspectives on the Alberta Tar Sands". Taking a helicopter ride over the vast territory being transformed by the oil sands industry, this film eschews narrative or talking heads to simply act as a visual witness of a terrain that has become a central fact of our nation's economic and political discourse, but which has been seen by relatively few.

And thus, after some establishing time spent above the endless beauty of the great boreal forests, the helicopter-borne camera suddenly crosses an invisible line to what looks basically like Mordor. With stately, slow sweeps, we build a spacial map of the area. As we see industrial complexes, pit mines and tailing ponds, some sense of the enormity of the project begins to emerge. (Although it's hard to say which is more terrifying: the shots where the viewer gets a sudden sense of scale, or the ones where it seems unmeasurably immense.)

Like the large-format photography of Edward Burtynsky, there's a terrible beauty in these images of scarred earth and toxic sludge and though the film is deliberately non-didactic, the images still covey a sense of alarm and shock — all the more on having a chance to see this on the big screen where the giant scale is magnified even more.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hot Docs 2013: Reviews #4

Reviews of screenings from the 2013 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, Toronto, Canada.

Bà nội (Dir: Khoa Lê, 85 minutes, Canada)

At 93 years of age, Khoa Lê's grandma — his bà nội — is caught between two worlds. Her imprecations to pray to the ancestors are less than metaphysical, as they seem to be all around her, as is her beloved husband who died more than thirty years ago. Montréaler Lê's Lunar New Year's trip to his ancestral homeland gives us some vivid sights of Vietnam which make this intriguing on a basic level as a personal travelogue. Watching the hunt for street vendor horoscopes and familial games of chance put a bit of magic in day-to-day life, and that's expanded upon as some sequences slip into mystical dream-drifts — a night-time graveyard visit is especially effective at melding the earthly and ghostly realms.

The film was a bit slow at first, and I thought it might just be a close-up character study of his grandmother. But it slowly radiates outward, building up layers and resonances into a rich and dreamy experience. Not heavy on incident or "plot", the film succeeds in conveying a mood and sense of place.

Lê's fond portrait of his bà nội is clearly his way of honouring his beloved elder. Frail but feisty, betel-stained teeth usually busily nibbling at a snack, her not-so-veiled commands and kinder imprecations — "please get married while I'm still alive", alternated with "I just want you to be happy" — would be familiar to many grandchildren of any culture. Lê is himself caught between two worlds, and a different sort of ethereal spectre (in the form of unanswered voicemails from half a world away) give us hints at the dissociations that a younger, global generation are facing.

No remaining screenings at the festival.

Valentine Road (Dir: Marta Cunningham, 87 minutes, USA)

A playground game for Valentine's: a dare where you have to go up to the one you like and tell them you want to be their valentine. In a California schoolyard, to titters and teasing a young boy steels his resolve and publicly states that his Valentine is another boy. The next day, the second boy shoots the first dead in class. Valentine Road is a heartbreaking story of young lives destroyed, of hate and homophobia in an America still in the middle of a seismic shift in social norms towards queerness.

Cunningham's film is a biography of two boys, united in the abusive childhoods they endured, but otherwise very different. After a turbulent life, including time spent in a group home, Larry King was beginning to negotiate the complexities of his identity, both mixed race and, as he was beginning to explore, somewhere between the fixed poles of gender. In heels and makeup, King was openly challenging all sorts of norms. Brandon McInerney subcultural niche placed a higher value on various purities — not just straight-and-narrow homophobia, but also so-called "white pride". In the adolescent powderkeg with race and class and sexuality all bound up in intense wads of peer pressure, when Larry and Brandon crossed paths, the outcome was fatal. (How this situation was exacerbated by America's easy access to guns is, sadly, an issue that was not addressed in this film.)

The film is also about the ripples outward and the people affected by this tragedy. Fellow students were caught in a tug of war between factions of teachers who wanted to support Larry and those that wanted him to suppress his identity in public. One teacher, who seemed to show the most encouragement for Larry, was simply fired soon after the event.

Adding further layers to the complexity, the film also tracks Brandon's progress through the justice system, which renders him as something less than a pure villain. Is it right that a fourteen-year-old child should be tried as an adult, and consigned to jail for life? (Anyone who wants to think further on the notion of rehabilitation should check out John Kastner's NCR, also playing at this year's festival.)

This is a hard film to take. But it's also essential viewing, moving beyond lurid headlines to present this story in all its awkward and complicated dimensions. Cunningham comes at the story from several angles. Brandon, who would otherwise be reduced to a handful of stories and still photographs, is brought to life through animated sequences, while interviews with classmates, teachers, lawyers and even — strikingly — jurors from Brandon's trial gives us several different viewpoints on the story. Laws change slowly, and the social attitudes that underpin them evolve (uneasily, unevenly) at an even slower pace. We can only hope that this snapshot will someday serve as a look back at a moment where the hate and prejudice that allowed this crime to happen seems quaint and alien. But for now, this is a must-see.

Remaining screenings: Sunday, April 28, 9:00 PM @ TIFF Lightbox 1; Saturday, May 4, 8:00 PM @ Hart House Theatre

The Defector: Escape from North Korea (Dir: Ann Shin, 71 minutes, Canada)

North Korea is a place you'd want to leave. In this film, we get a few snatches of video smuggled out of the Hermit Kingdom, showing us the abject misery of daily life there — a nightmare of political repression and famine. It's no surprise that so many would feel like they have nothing to lose and would risk their lives to escape. Crossing the Tumen River into China is only the first step, however, and to make it to South Korea or elsewhere in the world then involves a second escape.

It is said that there are many routes for would-be defectors, from the northern route through the Gobi desert to a modern-day Underground Railroad sponsored by Christian churches, but this film follows a group being smuggled southward to reach Thailand via Laos. The escape is organized by the mysterious Dragon, himself a former North Korean soldier who now makes a risky living co-coordinating escapes for others. His motivations are murky, and though he talks about an ethical imperative to help others fleeing from the North, he's also very much in it for the money. In fact, more than once we see him in shakedown mode — and as someone who's entire career is steeped in illegality, it's always an open question what he might do to save his own skin if the need ever arose.

Add to this an undercover film crew documenting the journey and the elements are in place for a fairly tense roadtrip. Director Shin befriends Sook-Ja and Yong-Hee, members of the small group in Dragon's latest convoy, and they become our main window into the story. Careful planning takes place next to taking risks as the group take the long journey by train, bus and ultimately on foot over the frontier. And for context, we also spend some time with Mr. Heo, a former escapee who is now trying to make a life for his family in Toronto.

Instead of trying to tell a comprehensive story about the plight of North Koreans, or even of the entirety of the defector experience, the film smartly keeps its focus on this particular group. It's also done with some stylistic flair, with artful cuts and animations taking us seamlessly from Toronto to China to inside North Korea. There is also a lot of footage of blurred faces here — unavoidable in the circumstances — but these are alao well-rendered, making it less jarring than it might have been. For those interested in the mysteries of North Korea, this film adds a unique strand to the larger narrative.

Remaining screenings: Monday, April 29, 3:30 PM @ S---------/Paramount 3; Saturday, May 4, 6:30 PM @ The Regent

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Hot Docs 2013: Reviews #3

Reviews of screenings from the 2013 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, Toronto, Canada.

Terms And Conditions May Apply (Dir: Cullen Hoback, 79 minutes, USA)

Tracking a shocking legislative failure of consumer protection, this suggests, if not a shadowy conspiracy, that there's at least a marriage of convenience between internet businesses and the American security complex. Contemporary "social" internet usage involves the collection of large amounts of personal data, which creates unparalleled advertising opportunities for the corporate sector and a virtual panopticon for the government.

None of this is surprising to anyone that reads the news (and shame on those who don't). There is some value is having this all collected together to serve as a reminder of how much of our privacy has been chipped away so quickly. There's also an interesting approach with the documentary's angle, entering via those ubiquitous end-user licence agreements that govern our relationships with the information services we use, and that we allegedly attourn to when we click "agree" when we sign up.

Over time, these have gotten more vague and broad, removing all sorts of limitations. When information slides freely from corporation to government, the scale of potential civil rights violations balloons. Some of the more troubling stories the film relates are in the grey area of corporate disclosures (without court oversight) to governments in the case of "potential" unlawful behaviour — here we meet protesters who were pre-emptively confined for having discussed and planned protests against the British Royal wedding, raising concerns of a slide to dystopian Philip K. Dick-style "precrime" enforcement. Besides the brazen privacy violations this entails, entrusting security to data-mining algorithms leads to tragically absurd episodes where the innocent who are too careless (or clever) with their words are swept up.

There is a lot of information here, and it's presented with enough levity to keep it from being a slog. But at the end of the day, this is a talking heads doc about online behaviour. It would probably go down as well on a monitor screen as on a theatre at Hod Docs, in which case you can also keep busy checking your privacy settings in another window while you watch.

Remaining screenings: Sunday, April 28, 6:00 PM @ ROM Theatre; Friday, May 3, 2:00 PM @ Hart House Theatre

The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne (Dir: Matthew Pond/Kirk Marcolina, 73 minutes, USA)

"Diamond" Doris Payne has led an unrepentant life of crime — a fact that we are inclined to overlook somewhat, given her charming manner and advanced years. As we meet the 80-year-old, she's on trial for stealing a ring from a department store, and from here we flash back to learn her life story. Her brassy self-assurance was the ticket out of a bad marriage in the segregated South, giving her the ability to join the high-living jet set, if only through the avails of theft.

Being able to hear Payne tell her story in her own words gives this film its spark; it's less interesting in some of the surrounding material. Tossing an academic on screen to talk about how her life situates her in the tradition of trickster figures in African-American literature is interesting, but doesn't feel completely organic here. And cutting from Payne telling her story to the screenwriter working on an upcoming Hollywood fictionalization of her life moves everything from biographical progression to three act character arcs and lends the whole thing the feel of being an eventual DVD extra.

Still, I enjoyed this as a chance to spend time with Payne, as well as her most excellent longtime friend Jean Herbert, whose straight-talking manner never hid her unwavering support. I could have done with more time spent just hanging out with the pair of them.

Remaining screenings: Sunday, April 28, 4:00 PM @ ROM Theatre; Wednesday, May 1, 1:30 PM @ S---------/Paramount 4

William and the Windmill (Dir: Ben Nabors, 92 minutes, USA)

By the time he was fourteen, the economic straits of William Kamkwamba's family forced him to drop out of school. He put his curious mind to work in the village library, and upon finding a book about wind power, built a working windmill from scavenged parts, bringing electricity to his Malawian village for the first time.

It's an inspiring tale, but this is not the story of the Boy Who Built a Windmill. Instead, it's about the windmill's shadow, about what happened when his brilliance opened the doors to new opportunities beyond his village. He was "discovered" at a TED talk by Tom Rielly, who was moved to build a support system that would take Kamkwamba from his village to an elite African prep school, around the world on a book tour, and ultimately to college in the United States.

Besides all the feel-good elements here, there's a lot of themes at play in this work: how can outsiders support Africa in a manner beyond the chauvinistic colonialism of the past? Does an inventive mind in one sphere translate into others? How will Kamkwamba deal with intense pressures from being thrown into a high-flying environment while having to be the who "made it" to support his family and village?

As he grows up and becomes more sophisticated, we watch Kamkwamba soaking up everything around him. He's often a man of few words, and the film takes care not to gloss over the power dynamics in his relationship with his American mentors. Moving from dusty red dirt villages to the Ivy League, we get some hints that as much as a handyman figuring out practical solutions to problems in Africa, Kamkwamba might be becoming interested in tackling the problem of harnessing the ingenuity of other children like him who might not be getting a chance at an education. The film doesn't try to tie everything up with a pat resolution, but its open-endedness is one more part of his celebratory story. Some day soon there will be a fictionalized version that will probably come with the requisite Hollywood ending. This feels like a real life, and this is the one you should see.

Remaining screenings: Sunday, April 28, 11:00 AM @ Isabel Bader; Friday, May 3, 7:00 PM @ Fox Theatre

Friday, April 26, 2013

Hot Docs 2013: Reviews #2

Reviews of screenings from the 2013 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, Toronto, Canada.

Cloudy Mountains (Dir: Zhu Yu, 85 minutes, China)

Well, among the lessons Hot Docs has taught me was that I never want to be a Mongolian gold miner, but it looks like being a Chinese asbestos miner is no cup of tea either. I might be striking anything in the extractive industries right off my career list altogether. Zhu's observational camera give us a slice of life in Western China, where the best wages can be found at the top of what at first looks to be a fog-enshrouded mountain. It's only once we're on the ground that we realize it's an omnipresent haze of dust from the busy mine. The terrain looks like a mountainous version of a salt flat, bleached out and terrifyingly imposing in its blankness. The humans in this colourless world live in makeshift huts (the most striking architectural feature seems to be plastic sheeting) and protect themselves against the not-so-invisible death lurking in the air around them with scarves or the flimsiest of masks.

We spend some time with the workers, especially following young Binbin and his father. One might think Binbin would be feeling regrets for dropping out of school to come work at the mine, but he wants to save up a stake to get married someday and seems blithely unconcerned about working conditions.

But with time, we get hints of the wear this takes on the workers. But there are also the moments where the human spirit rises above — a phone call home, a dance on a rainy day off from work, a night of drinking or a chance to rescue an injured bird. In what might a slightly forced bit of symbolism, near the end we get a shot of a straggly flower that has managed to push its way through the inhospitable ground: life finds a way.

The pace here is fairly measured, so anyone looking for a quick thrill should pass on this. It is recommended for concerned ecologists and those who are curious about the lives and work of people a world away who can withstand its muted tones and general grimness.

The Auctioneer (Dir: Hans Olson, 58 minutes, Canada)

The quiet space under the all-encompassing prairie sky is broken up by the auctioneer's barking call in this well-observed portrait. It's also a requiem for a disappearing way of life — you don't have a farm auction if you're not selling the farm. Maybe it's that aspect that makes it unsurprising that auctioneer Dale Manzak's other job is at the local funeral home. When not running an auction, he's quiet and good-humoured, helping people through one ending process or another. As a sign of a generational shift, we watch the lead-up to one particular auction, where the son in charge of winding down the family farm is clearly comfortable with trying to get an old combine to work but seems much happier dispensing tech support over the phone.

City folk might not get it, but I remember all of this: the excitement of parade day, never-ending conversations over what's going on with a neighbour's new fence and a lawn so huge that once you finish mowing it you basically head back to the beginning to start again. This film moves at a country pace — except for when Menzak is calling out for bids at a rapid clip. It might be too slow for some people, but there's a steady accretion of telling details and little rituals revealed that make it a rewarding experience. I liked this film quite a lot.

Screens with: Packing Up the Wagon: The Last Days of Wagon Wheel Lunch (Dir: John Scoles/Mike Maryniuk, 24 minutes, Canada), another prairie requiem. Here, we see the unhappy demise of a Winnipeg institution, a classic old-school diner specializing in clubhouses with an extra-thick layer of fresh-roasted turkey. In a story perhaps too-typical of Winnipeg, the restaurant's building is being levelled to make way for a parking lot and thus we see the regulars come in to try and grab one last meal in a setting that doesn't look to have changed much in a half-century of business. Besides the testimonials of common folk and local luminaries, the film uses some animation to signify the resonances remaining after objects are lost — but it's the closing shot of ghostly diners fading away to haunt the now-empty room that registers. Although this preserves a slice of local history and asks a few questions about the value of such an institution (can a humble diner make a city a better place? Can such a unique haven be a bulwark against homogeneity?) the film arguably stretches out a few more minutes than is required.

Big Men (Dir: Rachel Boynton, 99 minutes, USA/UK/Denmark)

Reputation is currency. Everyone wants to be known as a "Big Man", and everyone wants to have a life where they can enrich themselves and their family. This is as true in the boardrooms of Wall Street and Dallas as it is on the streets of Accra. A risk-seeking Texas oil company has just made the first big discovery off the shores of Ghana. They're a small dog in the oil world, and they need to convince investors to back them while at the same time negotiating with the local government on how the revenues should be split. With close access to the inside players on all sides, Boynton lets the story unfold in a manner that feels more like a thriller than a page from the business section of the paper.

It's complicated from every angle. The people of Ghana have seen gold and cocoa leave their country for more than a century, and yet the wealth has never trickled down. After an election, the new government talks about transparency and and ending corruption, but leaders have gotten so good for so long at talking the talk it's only fair to wonder why these ones will be any different. And back in America, there's the reverberations of the financial crisis to deal with, a new struggle to find money with the pool of investors suddenly running dry. And on top of that, there's the internecine boardroom conflicts for dominance — and, oh, that pesky investigation over the bribing of foreign officials.

And against this complicated backdrop, Boynton also introduces a third narrative strand, taking us to Nigeria, where the decades-long oil boom has brought no general prosperity, and is indeed fuelling uprisings by armed militias (we spend some time with the "Deadly Underdogs") who are using sabotage to force the Big Men to give them a bigger share of the wealth.

This is a complicated story and though some narrative corners are cut (how, for example, the situation in Nigeria is exacerbated by ethnic cleavages is barely addressed, for example) Boynton does an excellent job of carrying us through. Her other clear strength is being so close to the principals involved, who are unexpectedly candid at moments of stress and crisis. She also has a gift of holding the camera on them long enough for us to witness their body language, which is extremely telling at several points. (The Texas oilmens' reactions to hearing the Norwegian oil minister tell his Ghanaian counterparts that the oil belongs to the people, and that the extractors should be taxed to the very limit of their tolerance is rather priceless.) This is a glitzy, "big" film with high production values (there's a lot of wide-angle shots, even in the interviews) but the story here justifies it.

In such a high-stakes environment, alliances are made and former friends are betrayed. There's so much money involved that the parties can go from being litigants to strange bedfellows in quick succession. In the end, the oil is flowing and someone is making a profit. Whether Ghana will be able to make itself more like Norway than Nigeria is yet to be decided.

Recording: Spires That In The Sunset Rise

Artist: Spires That In The Sunset Rise

Song: unknown*

Recorded at The White House, April 25, 2013.

Spires That In The Sunset Rise - unknown

Full review to follow. Sometimes it just so happens that I don't know the out-of-town guests that headline Burn Down the Capital's shows as much as I know the local supporting acts. But I tend to trust promoter Tad Michalak's curatorial skills, so I was curious to see what sounds Kathleen Baird and Taralie Peterson were going to wring from the many instruments they had at hand. This one used sax and flute and a bit of plunked autoharp to create a compelling soundfield, but it's only one faucet that the band revealed.

* Does anyone know the title to this one? Please leave a comment!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hot Docs 2013: Reviews #1

Reviews of screenings from the 2013 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, Toronto, Canada.

15 Reasons to Live (Dir: Alan Zweig, 83 minutes, Canada)

Had I only been told the basic gist of this — a documentary made up of stories for each of the items on a list of reasons to live — I would have avoided it, given how that sounds like the essence of feelgood Oprah-esque pap. The fact that the list was written by Ray Robertson and the film made by Alan Zweig is what got me through the door. The list (subsequently turned into a book) was made by noteworthy local author Robertson after a debilitating battle with depression. For this film, Zweig takes it in his own direction, using it as a framework to stitch together fifteen stories.

In his emergence as a documentarian (in the "mirror trilogy" of Vinyl, I, Curmudgeon and Lovable), Zweig developed a self-reflective method that would quite literally turn the camera on himself. Zweig broke out of that pattern with 2009's somewhat-tentative A Hard Name, which did reveal that his sharp self-questioning skills could be turned outward. That comes into play again in this film, where, in several spots, Zweig asks the exact question that you wanted to hear being asked. There's a much broader canvas than in any of his previous films, and this series of short inquiries gives an opportunity to mix together some different styles, but at bottom, it's the strength of the stories that give the film its power.

Ranging from a free-thinking catholic school student ("Individuality") to a music blogger ("Praise") to whale watchers who become involuntary rescuers ("Duty"), the stories that go with each reason sometimes seem tangential at first ("Love", for example, tells us about a man who decided to drop out of his life to walk around the word — and the accepting forbearance afforded him by his wife) yet each illustrates how that core attribute has been a reason to live for the storyteller. Some of the stories here (such as G20 activist Adam Nobody and rock-balancing sculptor Peter Riedel) will be passingly familiar, and there are plenty of local landmarks to be seen, all of which helps situate these stories close to us.

Maybe it's because the list includes Reasons like Humour, Solitude, and Intoxication, or maybe it's just Zweig's aversion to easy mushiness, but the film is never cheesy yet remains emotionally poignant. (I won't lie — no less than four of these made me a little misty.) The segments are sometimes a little quick (several would be worthy of full documentaries on their own merits) but if you're someone who needs a reminder of the reasons to keep going — and we all have our days where we need one — this film will do you good.

Screens: Saturday, April 27, 6:30 PM @TIFF Lightbox 1; Monday, April 29, 1:30 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre; Sunday, May 5, 1:30 PM @ TIFF Lightbox 3

Remote Area Medical (Dir: Jeff Reichert/Farihah Zaman), 79 minutes, USA

Stan Brock founded a MSF-style medical corps that was dedicated to setting up pop-up clinics in areas too remote to receive adequate regular access from medical professionals. Over time he realized, however, that there was an intense need for these same services not far from his home base. Thus, as the film opens, we see a massive operation setting up in the NASCAR stadium of Bristol, Tennessee. This beautiful and culturally-rich region is home to the crushing poverty that accompanies America's unequal distribution of wealth and many citizens simply cannot afford even the most basic medical, dental or visual care. And so we follow — mostly from the perspective of a variety of clients — the course of the weekend, from the days-long waits to be in line early enough to guarantee entry to prognosis and hopeful relief.

The film is largely observational and does a good job in conveying a sense of the place and the sudden hustle-bustle of the clinic. At one level, its strength is that it shows rather than tells, and lets the viewer realize on their own how these good people have been failed and how something has gone terribly wrong with health care in America.

I understand and respect why the film took this sort of approach, but I was left wanting more in the way of context and analysis of how this is situated in the greater American political struggle. In such a heavily Republican state, for example, is there an awareness among the clientele of how they have been voting against their own clear interests for decades? How do they feel about so-called Obamacare? Are they not in a state where they might realize that a little socialism would do them good? To operate on this level, of course, would make this a much more divisive and partisan film that could be ignored much more easily by the people who need to see it. As it stands, it a worthy and interesting film, if not, perhaps, the best on its topic. (The Waiting Room, a more accomplished film set in a more urban environment, performed a similar sort of non-didactic observation at last year's festival.)

Screens: Sunday, April 28, 9:30 PM @ The Royal; Tuesday, April 30, 11:00 AM @ Isabel Bader; Saturday, May 4, 4:00 PM @ S---------/Paramount 3

Rent a Family Inc. (Dir: Kaspar Astrup Schröder, 77 minutes, Denmark)

Ryuichi has several part-time jobs — one of which happens to be an enterprise called "I Want to Cheer You Up", where he will stand in for your father, husband or boss at weddings or other social occasions. This gives us a window to look in on the formalism and seemingly ubiquitous emotional distance built into even intimate relationships in Japan. Apparently, it's more important to have parents (even fake ones) at a wedding than to 'fess up to broken family links or other issues. This penchant for concealment (and avoidance of awkward questions from the relationship's other end) is also rather apparent in Ryuichi's home life, where his wife doesn't know what he does for a living, and he seems utterly alienated from everyone except his dog. While he dreams of that fantasy vacation to Hawaii, his life is falling apart around him as he plows ahead with his calling.

Schröder's doc has the benefit of this rather unique story, and the stoic Ryuichi is an intriguing protagonist, his life of quiet desperation masked by culturally-ingrained stoicism and obeisance to stratified patriarchal ideals. But while it constantly surprises and confounds, the film never quite takes off. If you're the type of doc-watcher who wonders over which parts are carefully-woven-in re-enactments, this film will have you on alert. (Could Ryuichi's family's TV-watching habits be so ironically on-point all the time?) But there is a lot of food for thought here in the relationship between concealment, tradition and saving face, and certainly enough to make this worth watching.

Screens: Sunday, April 28, 9:00 PM @ S---------/Paramount 4; Tuesday, April 30, 1:00 PM @ ROM; Sunday, May 5, 1:00 PM @ S---------/Paramount 3

NCR: Not Criminally Responsible (Dir: John Kastner, 95 minutes, Canada)

Sean Clifton seems like a pretty likeable guy. With his bemused expression and laconic manner, he looks like someone with a lot on his mind. He also has an illness, and once back in '99 it took hold of him and caused him to do something bad.

Director John Kastner has previously explored issues of criminality and its aftermath, but here the focus is on the related issue of mental illness and recovery. How should we treat people who do terrible things because of an illness and not an immoral choice? If they can become rehabilitated, how should we respect their right to autonomy while acknowledging they must remain subject to treatment for the good of themselves and society?

This is also a film about the terrible cost of victimhood and its relationship to healing and forgiveness. Julie Bouvier was going about her business, out shopping one night in '99 when she was viciously attacked and stabbed by Clifton, subjecting her to years of psychical pain and emotional turmoil. Certainly her and her family are right to want justice, to fear for their safety and to worry that her attacker might strike someone else.

Tracing this over several years, Kastner follows the story from both sides, interviewing both principals with his characteristic friendly sensitivity. The span of time allows us to see the changes in both — in the healing and growing strength of Bouvier and her family, and, rather strikingly, in Clifton's recovery and transformation. As he reaches a point where he understands the impact of his past actions and the power his illness hold over him we get a sense that his obligations to himself, his victim and society are best addressed by allowing him his freedom and dignity.

A powerful film, nimbly constructed to pull the viewer into the story, Kastner has allowed us to see past the terror of an awful deed to see how its echoes in time need not be fear and revenge. In a time where elements of our society want to impose an unthinking carceral regimen on any transgressors, this is a testament to a different path.

Screens: Sunday, April 28. 9:30 PM @ Isabel Bader; Tuesday, April 30, 3:30 PM @ S---------/Paramount 3; Sunday, May 5, 1:00 PM @ TIFF Lightbox 2

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Hot Docs 2013: Preview

Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival

April 25 to May 5, 2013

Hot Docs keeps getting bigger, whether you mean the fact that it now has The Bloor as its year-round base, 200+ titles being screened during the festival or its increased geographic sprawl. Every year there's a few more growth spurts and mutations, and every year there's a little bit more of a sense that you can't see more than a fraction of the titles on offer — but it's still very much a festival worth celebrating.

With the closing of The Cumberland, screenings are once more spreading out from what had been, for many years, the festival's Bloor Street/U of T hub. (Although the addition of daily screenings at Hart House does add one more spot to this cluster.) Anyone planning multiple films in a day has to be a bit more careful with factoring in getting-around time. Filling the need for more screens, the festival has expanded to the S--------- Theatre (at John and Richmond, formerly The Paramount, now quite unpleasantly named after an oligopolistic corporation). To the good, with a lot of action at the TIFF Lightbox, this does create a new "southern hub" with six screens bunched closer together. (Also new this year, "Docs at Dusk", a free outdoor screening of Brothers Hypnotic on May 2 in the Burwash Quad next to Bader Theatre.)

What to see:

  • Look beyond the big-name stuff. For one thing, a lot of those (especially the ones with popcult cachet) are going to become the backbone for the programming at The Bloor over the next year, so you'll have your chances. And some of the other stuff, especially in the World Showcase, might not make its way here again. Done right, Hot Docs is a trip around the world. Don't worry about seeing the buzziest stuff — just carve out a festival that reflects what you want to see, and then on top of that, find something completely unlike that and go on an adventure.
  • Follow the masters. There are a lot of new films from directors with stellar track records that mark them as easy picks. Kim Longinotto, who received a retrospective back in 2010, is one of my all-time fave doc makers. She returns to the festival with Salma, about a woman in India fighting against patriarchal social forces with poetry. I might not have gone to see the film just based on that concept, but knowing it comes from such a masterfully sympathetic storyteller means it's among my most-anticipated. John Kastner also received the retrospective treatment last year — and his ability to reflect the humanity of wrong-doers without whitewashing their deeds will be called upon in NCR: Not Criminally Responsible. Local hero Alan Zweig carved out his own style with his caustically self-reflective docs, and that sensibility means you can count on 15 Reasons to Live to be something more than gooey sentimentalism.
  • See the retrospectives. If the above didn't make it clear, one of my favourite parts of the festival are the Retrospective series, which give a chance to take a closer look at an individual film-maker's career. These screenings tend not to get the same amount of hype as some of the splashy new releases, but they're quite often the best thing at the festival. This year's Outstanding Achievement Award retrospective comes with a sad note as recipient Les Blank passed away earlier this month, and will not be here to share his experiences. Burden of Dreams, his most famous film, isn't screening here, but the chance to see three programmes of his lesser-known works (many of which focus on regional American music cultures) should not be passed up. The mid-career "Focus On" retrospective presents the works of Peter Mettler, and is recommended to those who like a more abstract/non-linear cinematic experience. It will also include an experimental image/live soundtrack screening on April 28.
  • Also worth noting outside of the competition films are the half-dozen entries in the Redux program, which brings back docs that might not have got their due the first time 'round, especially given the later acclaim some of these film-makers have found. That's the case for River by Bill and Turner Ross (who'd move on to 45365 and last year's Tchoupitoulas) and The Burger and the King (by Man on Wire director James Marsh). These only get one screening apiece, so keep an eye out when you're putting your festival schedule together.

For list-lovers, here's a few more films that caught my eye for one reason or another. Expect reviews of these to pop up over the next few days.

Of course, what I'll end up seeing with be shifted around a bit. Do pay attention to what people are saying once the festival gets going. More than once, my favourite film at the festival's end was one that wasn't on my radar at the start.

Practical details: Tickets are available online or at the festival box office (in the lower level of Hazelton Lanes). They'll set you back $14.60 (or $6.20 for late-night screenings). There are also cheaper pass options available, plus don't forget about the free same day tickets (for screenings before 5 p.m.) for seniors and students. Keep a close eye out for which screenings have gone rush.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Images 2013: Reviews #2

Reviews of screenings from the The 26th Annual Images Festival, Toronto, Canada.

A Memory Lasts Forever: Althea Thauberger

The festival's 2013 Canadian Artist Spotlight featured the work of Vancouver-based Althea Thauberger, with this program presenting a retrospective of some of her film work. It's useful to know that Thauberger comes from a photography background, and though in the Q&A she was ambivalent about being associated with the "Vancouver School" (or, more particularly, perhaps ambivalent if there even was such a thing) it does provide context to think of her works as arising from a similar place as, say, Jeff Wall's large-format backlit photographs. In fact, most of the works in this retrospective were conceptualized as gallery installation pieces, and Thauberger's formal concerns tie in with the static nature of photography.

Primary among these is an intense interest in the cinematic idea of "the take", with most of the works subverting the traditional filmic grammar of compressing time by presenting it a linear/unedited fashion — several of these works were conceived as single-shots lasting for the length of a roll of film. Thauberger also subverts cinematic notions of authorship (or auteurship) in her insistence on collaborative practice, with the best of these works developed in tandem with their participants — which itself also challenges idea of "documentary" presentation.

That said, the first works here (conceived as student projects) didn't particularly engage me. Self-portraits not afraid to die (Dir: Althea Thauberger. Canada, 2001 Video, 6 min.) and Oh Canada (Dir: Althea Thauberger. Canada, 2001. Video, 4 min.) felt a little too slight without anything to hook them into the world outside the frame. For example the latter — showing Thauberger striding across a lecture hall, singing the national anthem, and exiting — doesn't particularly register as a commentary on post-9/11 xenophobia and colonialism unless you had some curator's notes to tell you so.

On the other hand, A Memory Lasts Forever (Dir: Althea Thauberger. Canada, 2004. Video, 31 min.), which gave the program its title, manages to create its own world to exist in. The source material here is an incident from Thauberger's own teenage years brought to life — four times — by a quartet of musical theatre students. It's the repetition that engages here, with each of the actors in the drunken, post-party group taking a turn at the lead in a telling of the story of an unexpected swimming pool discovery, and then breaking into song. The staged feeling of the visuals (again recalling those frozen-in-time too-real Vancouver School photographs) and the vacuousness of the songs gave this a heightened, stylized feeling — a hermetically-sealed moment clashing with the scene's sequential re-occurrence.

Northern (Dir: Althea Thauberger. Canada, 2005. Video, 8 min.) borrowed the most from the visual language of mainstream cinema, structured around an elaborate, continuous tracking shot. A row of collapsed bodies against the backdrop of a forest clearcut might be a metaphor for the environmental overreach of the forestry industry, but a deus ex machina provides a sense of rescue — or possibly of messianic intervention.

Zivildienst ≠ Kunstproject (Dir: Althea Thauberger. Germany, 2006. Video, 18 min.) again suggested a heightened, staged version on reality in an extended allegory. Created in collaboration with a group of conscientious objectors from compulsory military service, this hints at both modern dance (in the flowing movements) and silent film (in the use of intertitles) as the participants re-enact various outcomes of group dynamics under confinement. Set on a multi-level scaffolding in a large, ornate room, this is "abstracted" more from reality than the other pieces — and in worrying less about calling attention to its duration through that concern with "the take", felt perhaps to be the most watchable of the bunch.

Msaskok (Dir: Althea Thauberger. Canada, 2012. Video, 6 min.) is set in a theatre symbolically set on the frontier between Québec and Vermont — but the notion of the theatre's between-nations status lies uneasily with the fact that both straddle a much older contiguous territory. This piece observes a recitation in the Abenaki language by Monique Nolette-Ille, one of its last fluent speakers. She is perched on the balcony and the audience on the stage and they sit — impassive, fidgeting — as the untranslated words wash over them. This felt more like a work-in-progress, and afterwards Thauberger commented it may yet emerge as a two-screen installation work. Having these two solitudes facing each other in continuous shots would definitely heighten the feelings of spectatorship and alienation aroused here.


Curated Program: Sleight of Hand

From its outset, film was about wonderment as much as narrative, and this program featured the close observation of the mundane that the first film-makers employed — but also some amusing détourements of that reality. In that regard, Torque (Dir: Björn Kämmerer. Austria, 2013. 35mm, 7 min.) was an apt opener, feeling like both a distant descendant and the visual inversion of the arrival of the Lumières' train. A continuous shot set on a train turntable, we witness track after track extending in front of us — and a subtle tilt move means it never quite repeats as we circle round again.

The middle section could be summed up by the title of Ten Minutiae (Dir: Peter Miller. Austria, 2012. 35mm, 5 min.), each film giving us a closeup, this one to invest some beauty in the mundane. Early Figure (Dir: Brian Virostek. Canada, 2012. 35mm, 9 min.) does something similar, crashing chords adding drama to close-up shots of a piano's component parts, while Sugar Beach (Dir: Mark Loeser. Canada, 2011. 35mm, 4 min.) gave a deconstructed view of that Toronto landmark, multiple partial exposures overlapped to give the effect of a team of drunken telescope users trying to comprehend the whole of the scene that they can only see in fragments. Best of this stretch was Passage Upon the Plume (Dir: Fern Silva. USA, 2011. 16mm, 7 min.), a silent travelogue whose close-up decontextualization rendered the stately grace of passenger balloons as mysterious interlopers in the landscape.

After those, the jostling throng in Stone (Dir: Kevin Jerome Everson. USA, 2013. Video, 12 min.) felt like a welcome relief from abstraction. Situating the viewer right in the middle of a crowd, this slice of pure verité presented a quite literal sleight of hand in its observation of a hustler working a crowd with a variation of the age-old shell game. Bright, funky and energetic, this serves as a reminder that sometimes the best tricks are the simplest ones.

That did a nice job of setting up Maître-Vent (Dir: Simon Quéhiellard. France, 2012. Video, 22 min.), the longest (and best) piece in the program. An ode to wind, child-like experimentation, failure and entropy, the film presents us with a roadside figure in a Hulot-like hat setting up found-item assemblages as traffic zips by. The projects (made of cardboard boxes, tubes, plastic bags and the like) sometimes quickly collapse, leaving a sense of Wile E Coyote-ish frustration. But sometimes they work in unexpectedly elegant ways and provoke wonderment. Filled with genuine humour (and showing how simple it is to invest anthropomorphic qualities in even, say, plastic bags yearning to be free) this works as a tribute to classic silent-film slapstick. There are layers beyond this, too — the film is broken into sections named after various kinds of winds, for example, prompting us to think of a time when we were more closely tied to the various aspects of nature. Definitely worth seeking out.

After that, the brief addy CHOO (Dir: JB Mabe. USA, 2013. 16mm, 2 min.) a quick, abstract remembrance of a funeral, didn't register very strongly, but on the whole, this was a well-selected program.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Images 2013: Reviews #1

Reviews of screenings from the The 26th Annual Images Festival, Toronto, Canada.

Suitcase of Love and Shame (Dir: Jane Gillooly. USA, 2013. Video, 70 min.)

This is the story of Tom and Jeannie. Carrying on an extra-marital affair — forbidden love at the veterinarians' office — they have combined intimacy and surreptitiousness by communicating via voice-letters, recorded on reel-to-reel tapes and sent back and forth. Songs, confessions and banal quotidian details jostle elbow-to-elbow with sexy rendezvous planning sessions and private dirty talk. Through all these tawdry details the audience can slowly construct a narrative and make inferences about the lovers' identities.

Of course it's not going to end well: a man's voice, intoning, "I feel terribly about this, but there's nothing I can do about it," is the first thing we hear. From some and contextual hints in the background, like the crowning of Miss America 1965 and dispatches from the space race, we get a sense of the time and place that this is coming from — somewhere where D-I-V-O-R-C-E is spelled out in whispers. So this is a document of absence, of regrets at not being in each others' arms, of fear of being caught.

The raw material from which Gillooly has crafted this film has its own sense of mystery: a suitcase sold on eBay that was filled with the recordings, some slides and a few other mementos of the relationship. From this, the audio montage and sound design are the primary elements of this film. The images are often near-abstract (a blurry image of a reel-to-reel tape unwinding), with some pictures suggestively cut off, faces missing like in faded half-memories.

There's a thrill of mildly transgressive voyeurism in listening to this, even if this rare cache of analogue self-sharing might seem mild when compared to the obsessive self-documentation of our current age where we leave so many traces of ourselves and our links to others in the aether. But the fact that this film lingers in the mind comes from something deeper — perhaps from the hints that our sense of the past — and its lingering presence in our lives — is all but reconstructions.

Shorts Program: mmNemonic DVices

The distortion of the past in our memory was also a frequent theme in this curated program of local shorts — very effectively so in Days of Future Past (Dir: Joe Hambleton. Canada, 2012. Video, 7 min.) where a driver's POV shot becomes surreal and eerie as memories intrude upon day-to-day life. Dreamy, engaging stuff. Similar ideas were hinted at in the psychedelic playground excursion of The Timeslide (Dir: Ariana Andrei. USA, 2012. Video, 6 min.), looking at the elastic nature of time — how, when you're a kid, summers last forever, but before long whole years slip by you almost unnoticed. (Bonus: some ace heavy, psychotropic riffage in the soundtrack.) Christ Church - Saint James (Dir: Stephen Broomer. Canada, 2012. 16MM, 7 min.) (which also featured a cool electroacoustic soundtrack filled with "feedback soprano saxophone") used the gorgeous grain of vibrant 16mm projections, layered to near-abstraction, to suggest the entropic creep of time in observing the beauty of destroyed buildings and hinting at other kinds of transcendence that might have taken place in the wreckage of a burned-down church.

Music was at the centre of Oracle (Dir: Mani Mazinani. Canada, 2011. Video, 14 min.), featuring Udo Kasemets playing crashing chords slowly and ominously on a piano. The visuals were treated/reduced to flickering visual "noise", like a distant transmission not quite getting through intact. But the spaces between the notes parallel the way the visual space still manages to cohere into something we can recognize: or as hexagram 18 of the I Ching (which was included with the film's title) tells us: "proper control of decay affords progress and success."

Among the more purely visual exercises, Shadow Puppet (Dir: Yi Cui. Canada, 2010. 16MM, 5 min.) looked like the end of a roll from a spooky silent movie, all black and white abstraction with ancient scratches and blobs of light occasionally resolving into recognizable images. Ten Skies (Dir: Clint Enns. Canada, 2012. Video, 3 min.) was similarly abstract, and "skies" is struck out here quite deliberately. A condensed recut of a previous film with the "sky" removed, only the clouds remain here — though without context it's hard to tell what they are at all. This might have more of an impact on those who can compare it to the original, but an interesting brief exercise. rapidTransfer (Dir: John Creson and Adam Rosen. Canada, 2002. 35MM, 3 min.) was a similarly brief "microfilm" that looked like it was shot from the point of view of data being hurled through the internet, while the drifting smoke and slowly-dancing beam of light in Half Way There (Dir: Karen Henderson. Canada, 2012. Video, 2 min.) felt like time flowing backwards to reveal the cosmos... or maybe something that's closer at hand. You Are Here (Dir: Leslie Supnet. Canada, 2012. Video, 3 min), was a bit more grounded, with its stock footage and painted marks brought to bear by the rituals suggested by an animated pair of hands.

Separate Vacations (Dir: Cameron Moneo. Canada, 2012. Video, 8 min.) was an entirely different trip, rendering the familiar into something quite weird. "Somewhere under the domed city of Havana in 1998" was the introductory title card to this fantasia (and thank goodness, there was a bit of Logan's Run in the mix of reappropriated footage), which mixed movie clips and news footage to give an alternate version of US/Cuban relations and the Pope's visit to the island. I'm not sure if there was a political point lurking underneath the surface, but I dug it nonetheless.

Recording: Sphinxs

Artist: Sphinxs

Song: Both Die

Recorded at The Garrison – front room ("Swap & Rock" fundraiser show for Girls Rock Camp), April 21, 2013.

Sphinxs - Both Die

Full review to follow. This mellow afternoon show served as a warm haven on an unseasonably cold spring day, but was also put together for a good cause, raising funds to support this summer's edition of Girls Rock Camp. There were plenty of great role models playing (and organizing) the show, including Sphinxs' Siânteuse, who along with her bandmates quite took over the room, moving further and further out into the crowd as the set went on.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Recording: Hamid Drake & David Mott

Artist: Hamid Drake & David Mott

Songs: excerpts from a live soundtrack to Alexandra Gelis' Corredor

Recorded at At. Anne's Anglican Church, April 20, 2013.

Hamid Drake & David Mott - Corredor [opening sequence]

Hamid Drake & David Mott - Corredor [train ride]

Full review to follow. Alexandra Gelis' Corredor began as a six-screen installation piece, but was reconfigured to one for this special presentation to close this year's Images Festival. A meditation on Panama and the interventions upon it caused by the American canal quest, Drake and Mott (on drums and sax) brought a site-specific musical response, annotating the newsreel footage, soundtracking the landscapes, and occasionally prowling up and down the aisles to fill the space with sounds. A wonderful one-of-a-kind event.

Recording: Beliefs

Artist: Beliefs

Song: Catch My Breath

Recorded at Sonic Boom ("Record Store Day 2013"), April 20, 2013.

Beliefs - Catch My Breath

Full review to follow. Jesse Crowe and Josh Korody played some older and newer songs to celebrate Record Store Day, including this gem, whcih is one of the highlights on their tasty self-titled debut full-length.

Recording: Tess Parks

Artist: Tess Parks

Song: Anemone [Brian Jonestown Massacre cover]*

Recorded at Sonic Boom ("Record Store Day 2013"), April 20, 2013.

Tess Parks - Anemone

Full review to follow. Anyone that was still sleepy as the full day's worth of live music began at Sonic Boom had a chance to be nudged towards consciousness with Parks' hazy, drowsy stylings. Parks, a noted photographer whose Take Care of Your Soul exhibit just closed at Oz Studios, showed off a well-crafted group sound that fills in some of the spareness of the demos that appeared online a few months ago. I'm looking forward to hearing more of this.

* Thanks to Ami for passing along the title to this one!