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Hot Docs 2012: Five Capsule Reviews, including “Only the Young”

May 1, 2012

By John C.

The 19th annual Hot Docs Film Festival is going strong in Toronto until next Sunday.  When the festival opened last Thursday, I published capsule reviews for Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Finding North, The Queen of Versailles, Indie Game: The Movie and Detropia.

Now that we are partway through the festival, here are my thoughts on five more films that I’ve had the chance to see, four of which have at least one more screening coming up.  I hope you all find something to see over the next several days and please come back on Thursday for another set of capsule reviews.  You can get more information on the festival and purchase tickets right here.  Enjoy!

Big Easy Express:  Back in the Spring of 2011, Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros and Old Crow Medicine Show set out on a vintage train journey from San Francisco to New Orleans, performing music in six cities along the rails.  Expertly captured by director Emmet Malloy, Big Easy Express is a true crowdpleaser and a loving celebration of music at its purest form.  Highlights include Mumford & Sons performing their beautiful song “The Cave” with a local Texas high school marching band, as well as the rousing final performance of “Bound for Glory” that will tempt you to stand up in the theatre and sing right along.  At just 66 minutes, Big Easy Express is a rousing concert film that puts us on the train and up on stage with the infectious energy of these three excellent bands.

Saturday, April 28th – 9:45 PM @ The Royal Cinema

Sunday, April 29th – 1:15 PM @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Ping Pong:  Every year, hundreds of seniors from around the world go through rigorous training to compete in the over-80s table tennis championships.  Director Hugh Hartford and producer Anson Hartford do a good job of showing us the interesting stories of eight main players, before the true competition of the games begin.  Nicely edited between footage of the competition while allowing us to get invested in the backstories of the competitors, this is a charming little film about the human spirit of seniors that ends on an uplifting and inspirational note.  Playing with Ping Pong is the wonderful 28 minute documentary The Record Breaker, showing us a brief glimpse into the high energy life of Ashrita Furman and how he spends his time breaking hundreds of hilarious Guinness World Records.

Sunday, April 29th – 4:00 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre

Wednesday, May 2nd – 1:30 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre

Sunday, May 6th – 1:15 PM @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Ballroom Dancer:  Ten years after Russian dancer Slavik Kryklyvyy won the World Championship in Latin American Dance, he is on the verge of a comeback with his young partner and current lover, Anna Luenis.  But his passionate temper threatens to get in the way.  The subjects never address the camera making it hard to tell if we are witnessing truly natural moments, and the film also has distracting subtitles that even appear over the English scenes, with the wording significantly changed from what is actually being said.  There are two dance numbers near the end of the film that allow true emotion to shine through the expertly choreographed moves.  But these scenes barely elevate Ballroom Dancer above the level of an often pretentious fly on the wall documentary, that is overscored and spends far too much time on lingering shots of the dancers getting ready and Slavik brooding.

Monday, April 30th – 9:00 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre

Tuesday, May 1st – 3:00 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Wednesday, May 2nd – 11:00 AM @ Isabel Bader Theatre

The Frog Princes:  The few weeks leading up to the performance of a local Montreal theatre troupe are filled with drama, as stage fright threatens the performers and backstage emotion is flying high.  All of the actors have developmental disabilities, gaining confidence through the on stage drama, and their stories are documented in The Frog Princes.  Ray-Man is a young adult with Down Syndrome, hoping to gain further independence by moving out on his own.  Even when their caring mentor Dr. Stephen Snow is arguably a little too hard on the performers, what I really like about the film is the way that directors Omar Majeed and Ryan Mullins respectfully treat the subjects like the adults they are.  We really want the performers to succeed on the stage, and the results of The Frog Princes are suitably inspirational.  The film screens with the four minute short, Petra’s Poem.

Sunday, April 29th – 7:30 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Tuesday, May 1st – 4:45 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Saturday, May 5th – 9:45 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Only the Young:  Growing up in a small desert town, teenagers Garrison and Kevin spend their days skateboarding and hanging out at an old abandoned house.  Their friend Skye is facing foreclosure on her home, and the three teens share their dreams for a bright future.  Amidst the heartbreak of first love that comes in their last summer before graduation, Only the Young offers a candid portrait of these teenagers on the cusp of adulthood.  Young directors Jason Tippet and Elizabeth Mims have crafted a touching and beautifully shot film that allows us to care about each of the subjects, before a genuinely moving final scene.  From beginning to end, Only the Young is a documentary that is far too honest and heartfelt to feel mundane, perfectly capturing the moment in time when every teenager faces graduation and the final stretch of adolescence.

Tuesday, May 1st – 7:00 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 3

Thursday, May 3rd – 5:30 PM @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Sunday, May 6th – 4:30 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

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