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#HotDocs15: Final Batch of Reviews

May 4, 2015

By John Corrado

Hot Docs 2015 PosterThe 22nd edition of Hot Docs has now officially come to a close, which means that it’s time to share my eighth and final batch of capsule reviews, bringing my total count up to 46.

I finished the festival with The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young last night, which provided a fun and fitting end to the busyness of the past ten days, and in all I was able to screen a total of six films over the final weekend.  My thoughts on them are below, including the standout Raiders!, which might just be my favourite film of the festival.

I was also happy to finally catch up with Unbranded yesterday morning, which was rightfully or wrongfully just announced as the recipient of this year’s Audience Award.  That honour should have gone to the superior and more culturally relevant second place finisher Lowdown Tracks, but I digress.

My previous batch of reviews can be found right here, and below I have also included my personal picks for the top fifteen films of #HotDocs15.  Although there are obviously no more showtimes coming up, more information on these films can be found through the links in the titles.  Enjoy!

The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young: With a bizarre application process and only forty participants selected every year, The Barkley Marathon is the toughest trail race on earth.  Run in a series of loops in the backwoods of Tennessee that amount to a total of 130 miles and have to be completed in under sixty hours, and inspired by the infamous prison escape of James Earl Rey, only ten winners have finished the strenuous course in its 25 year history.  Directors Timothy Kane and Annika Iltis follow a selection of competitors throughout the eventful three days, and interview the eccentric mastermind behind the race, a group of unique subjects who we find ourselves genuinely rooting for as they take part in this ludicrous competition.  Building up suspense as the final competitors struggle to reach the finish line, The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young is a super entertaining crowdpleaser that provides a weirdly inspiring testimony to pushing yourself to the limits and persevering no matter what.  The result is a fascinating and delightfully offbeat study in human resilience that’s a lot of fun to watch, regardless of whether or not you actually intend to compete in the titular race.

Playing before the film was Born to Be Mild, a wonderful short that follows various members of the Dull Men’s Club in England, a place for older eccentrics to share their special interests.  This includes the founding member of the traffic roundabout appreciation society, and a man who lives to photograph postboxes, among other captivatingly unique subjects.  It’s absolutely delightful.

Danny: Throughout his career as premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, before resigning in 2010, Danny Williams was not only a powerful political force for his previously underserved province, but also the rest of Canada.  Becoming a modern folk hero for his dogged determination in approach to government, he is perhaps most famous for demanding more action from Paul Martin to ensure that revenue from Big Oil would fairly come back to his province, and standing up to Prime Minister Stephen Harper through his popular ABC (Anybody But Conservative) campaign.  Nicely assembled, and featuring engaging interviews with the title subject and his family, Danny is an entertaining portrait of a unique political figure, that does a good job of showing his major impact on a small part of our country’s history.

Unbranded: Swayed by their love for the Old West, four friends embark on the adventure of a lifetime, adopting a dozen wild mustangs from government holding facilities, and setting out to ride the untrained horses from Mexico to the border of Canada.  The narrative is a little loose limbed, and the subjects aren’t entirely fleshed out as characters, and we are often left wanting to know more about why they set out on this adventure in the first place.  But their journey is still an engaging and thoroughly enjoyable one, that plays as a true crowdpleaser.  Set against some of the most majestically beautiful landscapes on earth, and boasting stunning cinematography every step of the way, Unbranded is a captivating and often entertaining piece of classic Americana, that speaks to the thirst for adventure in all of us.

Breaking a Monster: Malcolm Brickhouse, Alec Atkins and Jarad Dawkins are a trio of tweenaged heavy metal prodigies who found fame when a video of them performing on the streets of Brooklyn exploded on the internet.  The three friends immediately caught the attention of the music industry and were signed a huge record deal for their emerging rock band Unlocking the Truth, but this shot at fame came with a price.  Because they are still kids, as evidenced in the charming footage of them goofing off, they would often rather be skateboarding and playing video games, instead of dealing with business contracts and interviews, much to the chagrin of their strict manager.  Following the first professional year of the band, Breaking a Monster is an engaging and entertaining look at the business of fame and how the gruelling entertainment industry can be damaging to performers, especially those still in school.

Raiders!: Back in 1982, young friends Eric Zala, Chris Strompolos and Jayson Lamb became so enamoured with Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, that they embarked on creating a shot-for-shot remake, using their youthful ingenuity and limited resources to craft their own version of the cinematic classic.  The project spanned seven summers, and took them through the entire second half of their childhoods in Mississippi, providing an escape from the various hardships of their family lives.  But when a falling out happened between them, and unforeseen circumstances caused the three boys to drift apart, a single scene remained incomplete.  Now with better resources and renewed faith in their childhood dream, they are reuniting as adults to finally shoot their elaborately staged recreation of the famous airplane sequence, and finish the project once and for all.

Watching Raiders! gave me the same feeling I had seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time as a kid.  Directors Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen have crafted a behind the scenes look at the greatest fan film ever made, beautifully capturing the ups and downs of both creativity and friendship.  Filled with dramatic twists and turns, and the sheer joy of witnessing movie magic come together, their remarkable story makes for a wildly entertaining and incredibly inspirational film, that resonates with the shining power of cinema.  As a lifelong fan of Indiana Jones, I loved every second of Raiders!, and left the theatre with a huge, childish grin on my face.  This is something truly special.

Monty Python: The Meaning of Live: Dedicated to Graham Chapman, Monty Python: The Meaning of Live follows the five remaining members of the legendary comedy troupe, taking us behind the scenes of their first stage performance in over thirty years.  Through a mix of interviews that offer real insight into their process of working together then and now, and footage from the sold-out stage show which includes many of their classic sketches, this is a wholly entertaining and often very funny celebration of the group’s last act.  A real treat for fans of Monty Python.

Top Fifteen Films of #HotDocs15: #15: Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, #14: Listen to Me Marlon, #13: The Barkley Marathons, #12: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon, #11: Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi, #10: Orion: The Man Who Would Be King, #9: Welcome to Leith, #8: Radical Grace, #7: Fractured Land, #6: All the Time in the World, #5: Lowdown Tracks, #4: Sweet Mickey for President, #3: The Wolfpack, #2: Stand by for Tape Back-up and #1: Raiders!

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