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by Matt Mazur

14 Sep 2010


As I mentioned earlier, it is practically impossible to decide how best to spend one’s time when so much is being offered at this festival. Do you see the big studio movies that will be released in December or later? Do you choose foreign indies that will never play on any even remotely big screen close to where you live? Do you opt for covering round tables and press conferences where you will be privy to the same rehashed, recycled information as everyone else? Or do you accept the task of conducting private one on one interviews, should you be fortunate enough to be chosen, during the middle of screening madness?

These are all tough questions, but there is an even more pressing conundrum that we writers here at TIFF must eventually face: to walk out of a film screening or not to walk out of a film screening. This is the eternal, burning question of every film critic here whose time and energy is precious. Today’s film writer has to be a juggler, and almost impossibly flexible, but when it comes down actually deciding to get up and leave a theater before the movie is over, what you have is a knotty ethical issue. On one hand, it is incredibly disrespectful to the people involved with making the movie. On the other hand, I’ve done it myself in the past and probably should have done it a lot more often considering some of the trash I have actually sat through.

by Chris Barsanti

2 Jul 2010


The Utah border town of Colorado City is a dusty and isolated collection of homes surrounded by scrub brush and soaring desert buttes. It’s there that the fundamentalist Mormon splinter faction FLDS, headed up by the currently jailed would-be messiah and convicted sex criminal Warren Jeffs, is headquartered, and from there that a steady stream of boys have escaped or been exiled from. For the crime of going against the will of Jeffs they are termed “sons of perdition.”

For their sometimes rambling, but continually heart-tugging documentary Sons of Perdition, filmmakers Jennilyn Merten and Tyler Measom (former Mormons themselves) followed what happened to three teenaged boys who left “The Crick” once they couldn’t stand the polygamist cult atmosphere any longer. Although the three boys run the gamut of personality, they share both a fierce independence as well as a drifting sense of being lost in the world.

by Chris Barsanti

30 Jun 2010


The invisible hand behind the camera was very prevalent in two of the most touching films at Silverdocs; whether or not this was an issue depends on how you like to take your nonfiction filmmaking. Both Steam of Life and Familia were gripping works that maybe had little in common besides their potent emotionality and Scandinavian directors (Finnish in the former, Swedish the latter), but it was hard to escape the sense that the stories being offered up had been shaped all too readily for the viewers.

Mika Hotakainen and Joonas Berghäll’s comic Steam of Life is less a documentary than it is a dry comic rumination on the pains and pleasures (mostly the former) of life, all set within the Finnish saunas where a succession of naked and sweating men tell stories in between beers. The locations are as different as the men themselves, from the functional municipal saunas where two seemingly homeless men grouse about their lives to the jerry-rigged one fashioned out of a rustbucket trailer in the backwoods. One man even fashions a sweat chamber out of a glass phone booth at a country crossroads.

by Chris Barsanti

29 Jun 2010


It’s a love-hate relationship, this thing that Star Wars fans have with the father / creator of so many of their space opera fantasies, and one that director Alexandre O. Phillippe deftly explores in his winning documentary on the subject. The crowd at Silverdocs’ East Coast premiere of the film was suitably keyed up for a film whose makers reportedly screened over 600 hours’ worth of fan-created Star Wars videos, remixes, remakes, and animations.

Fortunately, instead of simply playing to the series’ constituency and parsing the differences between, say, a fan film that utilized Lego stop-motion animation or lo-fi live-action reshoots, Phillippe delves into what it is about Lucas that drives his followers so insane and how much he should care. In between the choice nuggets of YouTube-culled videos that constitute the film’s mosaic background, Phillippe intersperses interviews with a gallery of people holding strong opinions on the subject, from nerdcore rappers to fantasy authors like Neil Gaiman to obsessive toy collectors (a particularly cursed fan subset) and everyday fans who still can’t handle the existence of Jar Jar Binks, or really any of Lucas’s second trilogy of films.

by Chris Barsanti

16 Jun 2010


The final entry in the ambitious twelve-part television documentary series How Democracy Works is a much more pragmatically delivered thing than its overly idealistic title might suggest. The last best chance refers to the late Senator Edward Kennedy’s fight in 2006 to pull together a “grand bargain” between the Democrats and Republicans to craft a solution to the country’s roiling immigration debate. Everyone knows that it failed, the drama in Michael Camerini and Shari Robertson’s film (which began the story in part two of the series, Mountains and Clouds) comes from watching how the bargain falls apart.

In a word: politics. Although revered as the grey eminence of the Democratic party, and somebody with great pro-immigration bona fides from his landmark 1965 legislation that got rid of many of the old racial quotas, Kennedy was either unlucky or just critically mistaken to have pushed this through in a mid-term election year. The cameras spend most of their time hanging around Kennedy’s offices as his team pushes and pulls to first craft a compromise bill that will placate both conservatives and pro-immigration activists.

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