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Hot Docs Reviews: United We Fan, Behind the Curve, 306 Hollywood, Bathtubs Over Broadway, Minding the Gap, Bachman

May 5, 2018

By John Corrado

The 25th edition of the Hot Docs Film Festival is on until May 6th in Toronto.  More information on tickets and showtimes can be found through the links in the film titles.  Enjoy!

United We Fan – ★★½ (out of 4) The dedicated fans who have put together letter writing campaigns and started online petitions in order save their favourite TV shows from getting cancelled are given the spotlight in United We Fan.  The film introduces to a wide range of fans, including Bjo and John Trimble who are credited with spearheading the letter-writing campaign that helped save the original Star Trek; Dorothy Swanson who started the group Viewers for Quality Television after her own successful campaign to get Cagney and Lacey renewed; as well as a young woman who more recently was fighting to keep Person of Interest on the air, and was drawn to the show because of its queer representation.  Directed by Michael Sparaga, United We Fan is a fairly entertaining look at these different campaigns by fans over the years, many of which were actually quite influential in saving the shows.  It feels somewhat overlong at 97 minutes, but this is still a decent and enjoyable film, that anyone who has ever been a hardcore fan of something can probably relate to.

Saturday, April 28th – 5:30 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 4
Monday, April 30th – 3:00 PM at Hart House Theatre
Thursday, May 3rd – 12:15 PM at Hart House Theatre

Behind the Curve – ★★★ (out of 4) An increasing number of people believe that we have been lied to for the last few centuries, and the Earth is actually a flat disk surrounded by a giant dome, as opposed to the globe that we have been taught it is through the education system.  Two of the rising stars of this modern movement are YouTubers Mark Sargent and Patricia Steere, and they are the main subjects of the documentary Behind the Curve, with the camera following them as they prepare for a Flat Earth convention in North Carolina.  Directed by Daniel J. Clark, this is an entertaining and surprisingly even-handed introduction to the growing Flat Earth movement, that gently questions but never mocks their beliefs.  Many of them trade in other conspiracy theories as well, believing that NASA is behind this whole globe theory, and that they don’t want us to know that our planet is actually flat.  The most interesting thing is that many of these Flat Earthers started out as skeptics of the movement, but changed their minds after doing their own research, and some of them are even conducting their own experiments, with varied results.  Regardless of whether you believe them or not, the film is lots of fun to watch.  It ultimately serves as an interesting look at why people believe what they do, and what draws some towards alternative viewpoints.

Monday, April 30th – 9:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Wednesday, May 2nd – 1:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Sunday, May 6th – 8:30 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

306 Hollywood – ★★½ (out of 4) After their grandmother died, siblings Elan and Jonathan Bogarín were tasked with helping their mother clean out her New Jersey home, so that the family can put it on the market.  A fashion designer by trade, their grandmother left behind a collection of dresses that she made and were worthy of preservation, but also a lot of random objects and junk that she had collected over the years, that they had to sort through and figure out what to do with.  So they decided to catalogue everything in the house, both as a way to get back in touch with who their grandmother was, and to make it easier for them to let go of the physical objects.  This process provdes the basis of the film 306 Hollywood, a unique and artistically fresh look at the objects people leave behind after they die, and the memories that these items are able to hold.  Playing with a magical realist feel, some of the stylistic choices in the film were a little too quirky for me, but I enjoyed it overall.

Monday, April 30th – 9:15 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Wednesday, May 2nd – 4:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Saturday, May 5th – 3:30 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 13

Bathtubs Over Broadway – ★★★½ (out of 4) A longtime comedy writer for David Letterman, Steve Young is also the foremost expert on the secret world of industrial musicals, elaborate shows that were put on by corporations to encourage their employees to sell products, and were never meant for public consumption.  But many of these shows have been immortalized by souvenir recordings, that still show up at used record shops from time to time.  At first, Steve started hunting for these records so that they could be featured on the show as part of Dave’s Record Collection, but he quickly became hooked on the often absurd recordings such as The Bathrooms Are Coming, an entire musical devoted to the wonders of indoor plumbing, and has spent years trying to find out more information about them.

Mainly happening from the 1950s to about the 1980s, these corporate musicals harken back to a time of booming economic development in America, with many of them boasting huge production budgets and even featuring stars such as Martin Short and Chita Rivera, but it’s a style of advertising that has largely fallen by the wayside ever since then.  Directed by Dava Whisenant, Bathtubs Over Broadway is an entertaining, funny, and surprisingly touching look at this lost chapter in American history.  There is a real sense of joy in the way that Steve talks excitedly about shows such as the Johnson & Johnson musical of ’78, and you might just leave the theatre with songs from The Bathrooms Are Coming running through your head.  It’s pure bliss from start to finish, and one of the most purely enjoyable films at the festival.

Tuesday, May 1st – 9:30 PM at Hart House Theatre
Thursday, May 3rd – 9:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Saturday, May 5th – 3:45 PM at Isabel Bader Theatre

Minding the Gap – ★★★★ (out of 4) Filmmaker Bing Lau returns to his hometown of Rockford, Illinois in Minding the Gap, to tell the stories of himself and two other young guys who all grew up together skateboarding around the city.  Zack Mulligan is struggling to come to terms with being an adult, especially after having his own son, leading to an increasingly toxic relationship with his girlfriend Nina.  Kiere Johnson is trying to get a good job so that he can hopefully move out of the city, while also navigating his place in society as a young black man.  Their stories weave together, sharing common traits of absent or abusive fathers, and the film becomes a way for Bing to come to terms with his own past.  The result is a powerful and beautifully filmed portrait of young men who use skateboarding as an outlet to escape the pain of their lives, set against the modern American backdrop of a once booming industrial town that is now very working class and economically depressed.  The film plays with echoes of Hoop Dreams, touching on grand themes of fathers and sons, the fear of growing up, and trying to break cycles of abuse.  As we become more invested in the lives of the subjects, the film is very moving to watch, leading to the bittersweet but hopeful final moments.

Wednesday, May 2nd – 8:15 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 3
Thursday, May 3rd – 3:30 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Sunday, May 6th – 6:15 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Bachman – ★★★½ (out of 4) The creative force behind such hits as “American Woman,” “These Eyes,” “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” and “Takin’ Care of Business,” Randy Bachman is one of the foremost figures of the Canadian rock scene, and his story is told in director John Barnard’s aptly titled documentary Bachman.  The film touches on his early childhood growing up in Winnipeg, and takes us through his lengthy musical career, from his big break alongside Burton Cummings in the Guess Who, to the inevitable breakup of that band, which led to his collaborations with Fred Turner and the forming of Bachman-Turner Overdrive.  Randy Bachman is also unique among rock stars from his time in that he chose to live a clean life, especially after getting married young and converting to Mormonism, avoiding the sex and drugs part of the rock ‘n’ roll equation and just focusing on the music.  Which was rare, especially for the 1970s.

Through interviews with fellow musicians Neil Young, Fred Turner and Peter Frampton, as well as his kids Lorelei and Tal Bachman, the film gives us a sense of the hard work ethic that he still has into his seventies and his genuine passion for music, whether he is seen rocking out on stage at more recent shows or excitedly showing off his substantial collection of guitars.  The film does leave out certain aspects of his life, but many of these things have already been covered by other sources, and Bachman is as much of a biography of him as it is a portrait of where he is now.  The film uses the recording of his By George album, an excellent collection of reimagined George Harrison songs that just got released, as a sort of narrative backdrop, showing footage of him in the recording studio.  This is an excellent and very entertaining biography of the Canadian rock legend, that is set to a soundtrack of some of our country’s greatest songs.

Wednesday, May 2nd – 9:30 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Thursday, May 3rd – 3:15 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Friday, May 4th – 6:30 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2


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