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#HotDocs21 Review: Still Max

May 7, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2021 Hot Docs Festival is running virtually from April 29th to May 9th, all films are available to stream for audiences across Canada

Filmmaker Katherine Knight crafts an engaging portrait of acclaimed Canadian artist Max Dean in her documentary Still Max, which offers an interesting look at his unique response to being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Rather then going for chemotherapy or surgery to have his prostate removed, Dean instead opts to use the diagnosis as inspiration for his art, a process that is captured in Knight’s film.

We watch as Dean works with broken mannequins that he collected from the abandoned Wilderness Adventure Ride at Ontario Place to recreate Thomas Eakins’ classic medical painting “The Gross Clinic” at his waterfront studio nestled in the Toronto Port Lands, staging scenes of himself undergoing invasive surgery. When Dean’s partner, fellow artist Martha Fleury, is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, he starts creating a new art project built around a massive tumour, to visually show how cancer overtakes your life.

The film builds towards a nicely edited crescendo, drawing strong visual comparisons between the artist’s work, his declining health, and the redevelopment of the Toronto Port Lands. The result is both a fascinating glimpse into Dean’s unconventional artistic process, as well as a thought-provoking look at a different approach to confronting mortality and dealing with changes in your body. It’s also fitting that Knight directed Still Max, since Dean was a close personal friend of Arnaud Maggs, the subject of her earlier documentary Spring & Arnaud. This film serves as a nice companion piece to that one, which also explored how artists approach death.

Still Max is available to watch from April 29th until May 9th. It includes a Q&A. Digital tickets and more information can be found right here.

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