AUX does NXNE Film: 10 movie hits, misses, and oddities

by Allan Tong

June 13, 2013






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Since its inception nearly 15 years ago, NXNE Film has grown into a vital part of the festival. In the process, they’ve also into a name on the Canadian independent film circuit, largely because their films—and there are 30 this year—cover everything from comedy, to rock docs, to historical explorations of B.B. King. Here are 10 hits, misses, and film oddities on offer at this year’s NXNE. Films are listed chronologically, in the order they screen; the full schedule and all pertinent details are available at NXNE’s website.

Authentic: Young Rival’s Journey Through Canada

NXNE films opens with Hamilton rock trio Young Rival driving across Canada in a packed mini-van, playing gigs great and small in places obscure and large.  They meet interesting characters along the way, like the bearded eccentric who runs an antique museum in middle-of-nowhere Saskatchewan,  and hit obstacles, like the idiot shattering their van window trying to steal their gear. Forget drug parties and wild groupies—welcome to life on the road. Between these vignettes, Young Rival discusses issues relevant the modern musician, like the importance of gigging and how uselessness of CDs in the age of downloading (though vinyl is cool for collectors). They’re likable fellows and they play solid rock, but not a hell of a lot happens in this 88-minute film; the speed bumps on their journey are minor, and their emergencies aren’t urgent enough to make an audience sit up and watch. So, the cops bust their gig in St. Catherines. Where’s the footage? Is this the only band in the world that never fights?  The band members seem so chummy. Authentic rolls at cruising speed when actually a sudden detour, car chase or crash would enliven the ride. Thursday, June 13 at 6:30 p.m. at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. 506 Bloor St. W.

All Out War

Most of the movies screening at NXNE are rock docs that profile an artist or a band in a flattering (i.e. hagiographical) light. Not so for All Out War; it’s a true film which follows four b-boys as they travel across North America to compete in a breakdancing championship in Toronto. The goal? To vie for The King of The Ring.

Machine, Alien Ness, Dyzee and Casper are the four young men who carry that dream, and they hail from different parts of Canada and the U.S.  One grew up in the tough housing projects of the Bronx, where desperation fuels his ambition “to be somebody”; a kid from L.A. wants to win to make up for his old man’s failed dreams of being a musician; the Torontonian b-boy escaped into dancing to break a drug habit; and the most stable b-boy teaches breakdancing in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Director Robert Pilichowski has an instinctive feel for the music and dance form, and his editing is stylized, yet disciplined. He coaxes revealing interviews out of his subjects, and the dancing is superbly shot by Christopher Romeike—and whether you’re a fan of breakdancing or not, you will enjoy All Out War.
Thursday, June 13 at 9:15 p.m. at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. 506 Bloor St. W.

B.B. King: Life of Riley

It’s amazing that no one has told B.B. King’s life story on film. Until now, that is.  The legendary bluesman gets the full treatment here, starting with Morgan Freeman’s narration, and the film includes interviews with Eric Clapton, Bono, Carlos Santana, Slash, Susan Tedeschi, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Ron Wood, and others. They celebrate King’s shimmering vibrato and honey-sweet string-bending—the stuff King’s been performing for an astonishing 64 years.

The filmmakers take us to the Mississippi cotton plantation where King toiled as a child, where we learn that the kind white plantation owner actually bought young Riley his first guitar. Interviews with King’s surviving friends trace Riley’s evolution from gospel singer to DJ at WDIA, a legendary black radio station, and finally to his emergence as the Beales Street blues boy (hence his initials). Meanwhile, British bluesmen like John Mayall, Mick Taylor and Peter Green attest to the influence King (and other black Americans) held over the English in the sixties. The heart of this film, however, lies with King himself, who tells his life story with charm and clarity, and surprisingly, he and his second wife are candid about King’s numerous infidelities. True, the film sings King’s praises a little too much—ignoring the fallow ’70s and early ’80s, when King’s music fell out of fashion—but Life of Riley is the definitive cinematic statement on Mr. Riley B. King. Friday, June 14 at 6:45 p.m. at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. 506 Bloor St. W.

If We Shout Loud Enough

Double Dagger was a punk group from Baltimore that started as a self-conscious concept band; they wrote songs about graphic design (i.e. type faces). In 2011, they called it quits and documented their final tour, which forms the basis of If We Shout Loud Enough. Band members and associates tell their story, which is set against the backdrop of the Baltimore underground music and arts scene that thrived on a DIY ethos. While there’s nothing terribly wrong this film, it likely won’t appeal to many folks outside Maryland—especially all 98 minutes of it. Friday, June 14 at 6:00 p.m. at The Drake Hotel Underground. 1150 Queen St. W.

Mistaken For Strangers

There are two pairs of brothers in The National; they’re all family, except for lead singer Matt Berninger. To remedy that, Matt invites his brother Tom, a slacker still living with his folks, to work as a roadie on a tour across the States; he also shoots behind-the-scenes footage. His camera collects a video scrapbook: a gig is delayed as roadies plug in a bass guitar, German director Werner Herzog can’t get into a show because nobody gave the box office the VIP list, and band members unglamourously cop Zs in an airport lounge. However, the real sparks fly between Matt and Tom: Tom misses the bus call, keeping everyone waiting, or Matt tears a strip off him for spilling cereal on their hotel room floor. A poignant moment comes when their mother explains how Matt always cooperated as a child, while Tom always quit things like the baseball team. These siblings moments are funny, but completely real—anyone can relate to these characters, which elevates Mistaken For Strangers above the typical rock doc. A highlight of NXNE. Friday, June 14 at 4:00 p.m. at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. 506 Bloor St. W.

Charlie is My Darling

This is a rare screening of a vintage documentary following The Rolling Stones’ tour of England and Ireland in 1965.  The film was recently released on DVD, but it’s worth seeing the young Stones (with Brian Jones) on the big screen. According to producer and then-Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, the film was named after drummer Charlie Watts because he was the most photogenic. I’m not sure about that, but here’s one thing I am certain of: Director Peter Whitehead captures the flavour of the time and a portrait of a hungry, young band about to ride to superstardom.

To put it in context: At the time, “Satisfaction” was topping the charts around the globe and the Stones are hailed as true rivals to The Beatles.  Like Beatlemania, young girls chase the Stones wherever they go, and reduce their concerts to screaming parties. Whitehead filmed the Stones just a few months after D.A. Pennebaker followed Bob Dylan around England in the classic Don’t Look Back, and the films share a fly-on-the-wall style, intercutting between interviews of young fans (girls of course, but also long-haired guys emulating their idols) and The Stones tuning backstage. It’s a treat watching Mick and Keith compose around a piano and send up Elvis, but  the film’s greatest accomplishment is capturing the Stones on the cusp of revolutionizing rock music and pop culture. P.S. Catch the charming short film preceeding Charlie, called Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?—it’s about the London crosswalk outside Abbey Road Studios that The Beatles made famous. Friday, June 14 at 9:15 p.m. at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. 506 Bloor St. W.

The Global Groove Network

The Global Groove Network is Courtney James’ love letter to DJs.  After delivering a crash course in disco/house/electronic music—starting, of course, in the ’70s—GGN lands on Toronto’s scene. MuchMusic’s Electric Circus is heralded for spreading the gospel across Canada. GGN then explores the art, craft and even the science of DJing. In one hilarious scene, electrodes are attached to the skulls of DJs, and a McMaster Univeristy neuroscience lab concludes that DJ brains are like no other, because they processs rhythm better. (Surprise!)

Next, James travels to places like Sweden and, of course, Ibiza to survey the global club scene.  GGN excels when it journeys to the Amazon rainforest to trace the roots of dance music to tribal drum music and explores how today’s internet is spreading the beat. Several DJs around the world weigh in, including Sander Kleinenberg, Donald Glaude, Arno Cost and Toronto’s Manzone & Strong. GGN is told in a chummy, first-person voice through fast, fun editing that threatens to smother the film, but nonetheless, it remains infectious. On the flipside, James inserts his personal life into the film, which is meant to add a personal touch, but is actually intrusive.  Despite its flaws, GGN is worth grooving to. Saturday, June 15 at 9:15 p.m. at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. 506 Bloor St. W.


Before Nirvana and Green Day, there were The Descendents. They rose out of the late-’70s punk scene in L.A., and stood out from the crowd with their unusually melodic songs. Band leader and drummer Bill Stevenson drove the band, which would sucessfully fuse melodies into hardcore, before lead singer Milo Aukerman decided he had enough of the rock ‘n’ roll life and retired to study biochemistry. Stevenson then turned the band into All, named after their last album. Though Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters), Mike Watt (Minutemen), Brett Gurewitz (Bad Religion) appear, FILMAGE is really told by the band whose reflections are illustrated by animation, still photos and occasional video.  The film could use other voices, but will more than please fans of the band and California punk. Saturday, June 15 at 1:00 p.m. at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. 506 Bloor St. W.

A.K.A Doc Pomus

Doc was born Jerome Felder, a Jewish kid from Brooklyn who was crippled by polio, which made him an outsider for life. That pain attracted him to the blues, which he began to sing as a teenager under the stage name Doc Pomus, and eventually led him to the Brill Building, the legendary songwriting machine of the ’50s and early ’60s. Pomus became rich and famous for writing hits for Ray Charles (“Lonely Avenue”), Ben E. King (“Save The Last Dance For Me”) and Elvis movies. This doc collects interviews with Dr. John, Ben E. King, Joan Osborne, Shawn Colvin, Dion, Leiber and Stoller, and BB King, while Lou Reed (who started in the Brill Building) reads from Doc’s diaries. They paint a portrait of a mensch who was charismatic and kind, but suffered because of his disability. All this rings true, but this portrait feels too sweet and possibly sanitized, probably because the film was co-produced by Doc’s daughter. Doc alludes to being a curmudgeon and you wonder if living apart form his wife led to infidelity. Aside from glossing over his personal life, A.K.A Doc Pomus succeeds in profiling one of pop music’s greatest songwriters. Sunday, June 16 at 1:00 p.m. at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. 506 Bloor St. W.

A Universal Language

Yuk Yuk’s comedy chain founder Mark Breslin had a good idea: Let’s do an Israeli comedy festival. So, he gathered six Canadian stand-up comics (Jews and Gentiles alike) and took them to the Holy Land. The tour would deepen the understanding among Canadians of Israel and the Middle East, but in fact it wound up being a social experiment. After all, Breslin is a champion of free speech, and he’s also taking his comics into a war zone. The problem? He and Aaron Berg, Sam Easton, Mike Khardas, Rebecca Kohler, Jean Paul, and Nikki Payne learn that you can’t say a hell of a lot in Israel. Sex jokes?  No way. Sexism (in a place where Orthodox Jews force women to sit in the back of the bus)? Risky. Politics? You gotta be kidding. Jean Paul, in fact, is slammed for making an innocuous joke (by Canadian standards) about an Israeli magician. Apparently, just mentioning the word “Israeli” is offensive.

Unfortunately the offended audience members are not interviewed in the film to explain their feelings. The audiences in Israel are dead, and so the stand-up routines in A Universal Language lack energy and bite. Instead, the film turns into a journey for the comics as they visit places such as the Wailing Wall, and deepen their own understanding of the complicated Israeli-Palestinian issue.  Unfortunately, the comics’ effect on Israelis remains a mystery in the end, since the audience is kept at a distance throughout this film. Sunday, June 16 at 6:30 p.m. at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. 506 Bloor St. W.

NXNE Film is screening 30 films at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, The Drake Underground, and the Bovine Sex Club. Full schedule details can be found at

Tags: Film + TV, News, Double Dagger, NXNE, Rolling Stones, The National






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