AUX roundup: the best of what we saw at this year's Hot Docs documentary festival

by AUX staff

May 7, 2012

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There’s never enough time to see all of the docs we want to catch at Hot Docs, a stand out among Toronto’s many, many film festivals, but we managed to catch most of what we intended to. Check out a few words about the best of what we saw below.

Shut Up And Play The Hits
(Directors: Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern)
Parting is such sweet sorrow. Though James Murphy seemed confident in his decision to disband his hugely, accidentally influential LCD Soundsystem project after a decade, the candid interview with writer Chuck Klosterman in this farewell concert film revealed some doubts and fears. I could have done with more interview audio cut to some of the live tracks, as it was with “Losing My Edge,” but those live versions were downright triumphant on their own (aurally as well as visually—and the crowd as much as, if not more, than the stage). Of course anyone who has paid any attention to Murphy’s immediately post-LCD DJ gigs knows, but even watching him in this, it was clear he wouldn’t stay still for long. Excellent job capturing Murphy the next day, as he carried on but was clearly frozen, and special shoutout to scene stealer Petunia, Murphy’s French bulldog. (Nicole Villeneuve)
Beware of Mr. Baker
(Director: Jay Bulger)
Ginger Baker possesses the kind of cantankerous personality and wild past that would make it hard to really mess up documenting. The legendary drummer is a true nutter and a man apart, but Jay Bulger’s directorial debut handles him in a way that humanizes and sympathizes without simply reveling in his madness. That the film opens with the co-founding member of Cream smashing Bulger in the nose with his cane is indicative of the approach taken by Beware of Mr. Baker, an unflinching and intimate look at a great, wounded creative mind sprung from a period of time in which the director effectively moved in to the drummer’s fortified South African compound. That someone as keen as Bulger made this film is fortunate. (Sam Sutherland)
Tchoupitoulas
(Directors: Bill Ross, Turner Ross)
In this dreamy, experimental portrait of the city of New Orleans, brothers Bill and Turner Ross have crafted a film that unfolds as much like a piece of music as a conventional movie. Seen through the eyes of three young boys out for the night in the midst of the parades and performances, the Ross brothers’ focus intensely on the sounds of the city. From rooftop jazz to streetside flautists to raunchy cabaret, sound designer Lawrence Everson creates an absorbing and immersive experience that showcases all the nooks and crannies of a city defined by its music. Tchoupitoulas is a tricky film to fully explain, but as it unfolds, it reveals New Orleans in all its strangeness and beauty. (Sam Sutherland)
Big Easy Express
(Director: Emmett Malloy)
If you can’t be charmed by this movie, you have a cold, black heart. There are some easy criticisms to splash around – far too much attention is paid early on to how on earth the bands (Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Old Crow Medicine Show) will make it through this wild and crazy cross-continental tour, which is actually just six shows between California and Louisiana. The initial field performances feel too much like the tired Take Away Shows format that has been done to death eighteen times over, and watching musicians play the part of poor, dirty hippies while their major label pals shoulder the massive cost of operating an old-timey train and staging shows in stockyards is kind of goofy. But then the bands are so genuinely good, the visuals are so truly breathtaking, and the performances so honest and unique, you have to just shut up and enjoy it. It’s not the Festival Express, but it’s a fun trip. And watching “The Cave” performed with the Austin High Marching Band, juxtaposing a gymnasium rehearsal with the explosive on-stage finale, will just crush you dead. (Sam Sutherland)
Only the Young
(Directors: Elizabeth Mims, Jason Tippet)
Maybe this is only a music film because there are more ’80s hardcore t-shirts on display here than actually existed in the ’80s, but this charming look at two teenage skaters was a highlight of the festival. Set in a nondescript, half-decaying Californian desert town, Only the Young unfolds like a real life version of “1979,” capturing scenes both candid, hilarious, and truly heartbreaking. Shot over a year and half, there is something instantly relatable about watching these kids talk about their crushes, their plans to turn an abandoned house into a punk venue and skate park, and where they’re going to move when the bank forecloses on their grandparents’ homes. Dealing with self-harm and Christianity and fireworks and skate competitions and prison and the importance of a good beard in a Gandalf costume with the utmost respect for its subjects, Only the Young couldn’t have been better if Elizabeth Mims and Jason Tippet tried to write it. Be prepared to be supremely motivated to buy a Crass backpatch after. (Sam Sutherland)

Tags: Music, Lists, News, Big Easy Express, blind faith, crass, Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, hot docs, James Murphy, LCD Soundsystem

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