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As originally appearing on: dorkshelf.com

Struggling to find a seat in the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema’s packed auditorium, it wasn’t a total shock that so many people showed up to see Kevin Macdonald’s Bob Marley docu-bio Marley. Like most others in attendance, I’ve grown up in what I like to call the Marley A.D. age: a time when the red, green, and yellow Rastafarian colours have become synonymous with Marley status as a cultural icon. I’m speaking about the rebellious, yet deeply soulful essence, which Marley’s music carries; the unique mood which becomes a rite of passage for many young and posthumous fans like me. I’m speaking about the reggae phase (a close cousin of the emotional-teen Beetles obsession) in which blasting Marley’s “We Don’t Need No More Trouble” every morning becomes the norm. Haven’t we all felt the spliff smoking Marley poster a necessity for the christening of a dorm room at some time in our lives?

As I sat in this theatre filled with families, senior citizens, and every ethnicity known to the streets of Toronto, Marley’s legacy had never become more realized to me than at that moment- a feeling I was delighted to see beautifully mirrored in Marley. Weaving through the grassy hills of Jamaica, Macdonald gently sets us down in Bob’s quaint and rural birthplace, the village of Nine Mile in Saint Ann Parish. Giving first hand and utterly authentic information from Bob’s family, friends, teachers, and lovers Macdonald gets unabashedly close and personal to this fallen reggae folk icon and before long Marley bridges the same irreplicable intimacy that Bob’s music maintains with listeners all over the globe.

Eventually leading us to the poverty stricken slums of Kingston Jamaica, Macdonald bases us in the utter reality of Bob’s earliest beginnings and in doing so the legend of Bob Nesta Marley is comfortably deconstructed showing who Bob really was: an outsider. We learn that Bob, son to an absentee white Royal Marines officer and his native Jamaican mother Cedella Marley- Booker, was an outcast in his own community because of his mixed heritage. Seeing Marley in the vulnerable state which spurned Bob’s great desire to share the message of liberty and love with the world, Macdonald offers a rare position of this fallen legend. Following Bob so closely, we too sleep only 4 hours each night, travel on dingy tour buses, and get paid next to nothing for our work. Marley’s greatest asset is that it allows us to watch Marley’s creative gears turn; to witness the exhausting and unrelenting attitude that is the price of really creating revolution.

Marley includes a lot of rare and quite honestly priceless footage of Bob performing with other Reggae legends like Peter Tosh, and it’s because of candid instances like this that Macdonald is capable of bringing us closer than ever to this spiritual artiste. Above all else that this film explains about Bob’s legacy, Marley is magnificent because it doesn’t simply show what Reggae music did for Bob Marley, but much rather what Bob Marley did for Reggae music. Unfolding the state of Reggae before Bob became involved, Marley  shows the striking and surprising contrasts of Bob’s political, soul and folk fused undertones- his passionate drive towards delivering  the message of an oppressed people. An instructional in Rastafarianism, a tribute to Bob’s life, a portrait of an artist and icon whose image will endure for ever- all these perspectives of Bob’s intricate being are delicately weaved together by Macdonald and are precisely the reason why Marely is hands down the documentary experience of the year.

Originally Appearing on: dorkshelf.com
 

Scarlet Road

Director: Catherine Scott

Program: Differently-Abled

Running Time: 70 Minutes

Recommended?: Yes. The recent controversy about brothels being legalized in Toronto makes this documentary relevant, but the federal governments desperate attempts to appeal this decision make Scarlet Road a must see for any Torontonian.

Sporting a red t-shirt with whore unapologetically sprawled on the front, it’s obvious that Australian sex worker Rachel Wotton is anything but reserved when it comes to discussing sex. Wotton, now in her mid 30s, has spent the last 17 years involved in the sex trade industry in an Australian state where prostitution is legal and regulated. Wotton created Touching Base: an organization developed to educate and break taboos about sex work as well as instruct other sex workers about the proper protocol and procedures for servicing disabled persons, a largely unrecognized group who contribute to the sex trade and are proud of it.

While Director Catherine Scott entertains with Rachel’s sensual and seductive testimonies, it is really the incredible compassion Wotton has for others that echoes the loudest. In an time where Marijuana legalization and compassion clinics are hot topics in the media, it is a surprise that governments don’t look as kindly upon the sexual healing that Wotton and her affiliates bring their disabled customers. Its clients like John, whose 26 year long bout of multiple sclerosis has confined him to a wheel chair and restricts the use of his limbs, whose genuine affection and great appreciation for Wonton validate everything “Touching Base” strives to do.

Visit the Touching Base website here:

Dylan

Director: Ania Winiarska

Running Time: 27 Minutes

Recommended? Yes! Especially if you are a metal head

Wearing an oversized army jacket adorned with Megadeath and Slayer patches, Dylan, subject of Ania Winiarska’s Dylan, looks and acts like many characters we’ve already seen on the silver screen. It may be the break neck snippets of heavy metal and shots of Dylan goofing around with his other metal head buddies that gives Dylan a certain FUBAR feel to it, or watching the 15 year old aimlessly wander through Belfast’s exposed brick streets that is playfully reminiscent of a scene from any Jay and Silent Bob film. Still, in a city where people kill for religion, Dylan’s declaration that he wants to stop being a protestant and instead follow the religion of Heavy Metal  sets the cheerful tone of this comical, rambunctious, and incredibly sincere documentary.

Dylan isn’t a boy of many words, but when he’s not busy throwing bricks through windows of dilapidated buildings or chain smoking stolen cigarettes on park benches, Dylan’s often abstract thoughts show that he is at integral stage in his young adult life. Soberly standing alongside older boys as they get drunk on cheap wine and confronted with violence stemming from Protestant and Catholic conflict in Belfast, Dylan only needs to take one wrong turn to become an unfortunate product of his environment. It is Dylan’s undeniable innocence that echoes the loudest in the calamitous and unforgiving world he inhabits.

Breath

Director: Kullar Viimne

Program: Families & Family Relationships

Running Time: 59 Minutes

Recommended? Yes, not strongly

Kullar Vimne’s Breath takes place in Estonia and its direct English translation is Estonia is BreathingBreath follows chimney sweep Frencesko, the only female chimney sweep in Estonia, as she races up and down highways on her way to clean all different kinds of chimneys.  Always clad in her all black chimney sweep uniform, Frencesko looks like an Estonian ninja with her tools strapped to her back as she fearlessly balances unsupported on steep tin roofs. Francesko, always sporting a smile and a cigarette, performs this dangerous task with so much grace that it’s easy to forget that the slightest misstep could cost her life. Estonian women flock touch Francesko’s garments for good luck (an Estonian custom), but their looks of affection and comradery  show that Francesko exists as more than just a chimney sweep, but rather an icon of good will.

Breath isn’t all about Francesko’s work though, as Vimne uses the documentary as a means of exploring the nature of meditation in Estonia, and how people have managed to find spirituality in the least religious state in the world. It is Vimne’s astute eye for contrast that allows Breath to speak volumes, as seeing Francesko in civilian clothes is a shocking reminder that underneath this remarkably respectful and charismatic woman who seems to be forever covered in soot, exists a delicate and even dainty lady. Breath is probably the only crash course you’ll ever get in Zen chimney sweeping.

Originally appearing on: dorkshelf.com

You’ll probably never see anything quite like Toronto natives Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math’s penis-mentary The FInal Member. Bekhor and Math travel to the Icelandic Phallological Museum, the only penis museum on the planet. If the idea of a documentary all about penises is not far out enough, just wait until you meet the delightfully eclectic creator and curator of this unique penis shaped gem of a museum Sigurdur ‘Siggy’ Hjartarson. Siggy is responsible for gathering and preserving the wide array of specimens at the museum, a 35 year long undertaking that has allowed him to preserve every mammalian penis on the planet.

One of the great things about The Final Member is the documentary continually introduces us to unique personalities. The soft spoken American Tom (who names his penis “Elmo”) and the senior lethario playboy Páll become are fascinating enigmas all on their own once they both offer to donate their penises. While Bekhor and Math gracefully unfold the story of Siggy’s spiritual ambitions in his journey in the pursuit of penis happiness, The Final Member makes a bold statement about the nature of penis education and the international cultural stigma that has made its discussion unnecessarily taboo. Dork Shelf sat down with Bekhor and Math to discuss their breath taking Icelandic footage, watching penises get tattooed, and Icelandic folklore.

BB: Brandon Bastaldo

JB: Jonah Bekhor

ZM: Zach Math

BB: This film looks super crisp and is obviously in high definition. Although this is considered to be industry standard now, is there a reason you wanted the visuals of the film to looks so pristine?

ZM: When we’re talking about the story, there is a quest element. A kind of epic quest, and also the beautiful epic scenery in Iceland just kind of lends itself to some really amazing photography and it just kind of mirrored the quest theme and story of the land.

JB: It’s a cinematic land. It’s almost Middle Earth.

BB: Yeah it definitely had a Lord of the Rings feel to it.

JB: Yeah, it’s volcanic and fiords and ice and mountains. I mean, it lends itself a cinematic feel but certainly that’s the way we approached it, we approached it in a very cinematic way.

BB: This film is kind of a far out, I mean it’s a man trying to find a human penis to put it in his penis museum-

JB: But is it really a far out idea?

BB: Well how did this all start?

ZM: As the story goes, I’m driving in Los Angeles one evening in the summer of 2007 and I’m listening to As it Happens and Carol Off is interviewing the curator of the museum – the only penis museum in the world- in Iceland and he’s telling the story about his thirty seven year collection of all Mammalian penises, except he’s missing this one penis and two guys who have stepped forward to donate their penises. I can’t believe what I’m hearing, I pull over to the side of the road and I’m trying to find a piece of paper to take notes, this is before Iphones, 2007 you know? I have dinner with Jonah a few nights later and I’m like “this just completely blew my mind”. We download the CBC interview and his mind is blown.

JB: Maybe like a day later we get Sigurdur on the phone, and then three weeks later we’re in Iceland. To investigate, to see what’s going on over there. It just went on from there.

BB: So when did this idea start becoming real then?

ZM: It’s pretty real when you get on a plane and go to Iceland, haha.

JB: The idea of it as inspiration, it’s fascinating. I mean this penis museum and this guy searching for a human specimen. The spark is one thing, that’s what really got us interested. But it wasn’t until we met and spoke with these guys that we realized that there is this incredible human story unfolding and it’s really worthy of telling. That’s really the process, I mean you get inspiration and you think: is there a story here that never was?

BB: Potential American penis donor Tom and Siggy can’t seem to see eye to eye. Who do you think is in the right?

JB: It’s such an interesting thing because clearly he [Tom] was just bombarding Siggy with emails. Tom’s point was: “this is a huge deal, I’m giving someone my penis” I mean it can’t get bigger than that. Doesn’t that deserve some type of recognition and nurturing in the process? Where Siggy is like “listen I’ll gladly receive it [the Penis], but I don’t want to be enabling him in any way”. So, you can understand both their points of view.

BB: What was it like watching Tom get his penis tattooed?

ZM: It’s psyche scaring for sure. I mean, we both were cringing-

JB: Our DP was like “Stay one the penis! Stay on the penis!”

ZM: It’s this weird juxtaposition between being freaked out and probably reacting like most normal, well adjusted human beings would react, and then juxtaposed with Tom who’s just cool as a cucumber just receiving. It’s just another step in accomplishing his dream for ‘Elmo’, planting it in the museum.

JB: What’s interesting about Siggy’s museum is that in a way, and actually quite deliberately, it’s like this social science experiment. It’s so scientifically laid out, but when people come in he wants to challenge them to look at the penis. What is so strange about this thing? What about this thing that is so essential to human life that is so taboo? Through his exhibition and through his subtle use of humour, he wants people to come in and look at things slightly differently and question that idea of what is taboo.

ZM: Part of his genius and what attracted us to him as a character was this sort of ingenious use of humour. This line that he drew where he could be so serious and, at the time, so self possessed and the obsessive nature of his collecting would come out, and yet also be self aware about the tension and the humour he was using in the museum and the power of humour, if its done very cleverly, to force people to see things from different perspective.

BB: There were many scenes where penises are being boiled or unloaded from containers-0 I can only imagine the smell. Were there any scenes that were hard to film?

JB: I think when he’s in preparation it definitely smells. When you’re dealing with formaldehyde and its all fresh and your preparing a specimen, at certain point its not quite as powerful. Really, it all just subsides. But in the process of actually working with the specimens and preserving the specimens, it’s powerful.

ZM: When he was boiling that penis, it was bad. It was so bad! That was the one thing that we were like “thank god that in cinema you can’t smell stuff!”

JB: He told us this story that early on in his process: he used to take his wife’s pots to prepare the specimens. I guess he was doing it at the house that day and the smell was so bad, and it wafted up the stairs, that his wife Jona was just marathon vomiting.

BB: What is the strangest looking penis you guys saw in this museum?

ZM: One of the specimens that didn’t factor into our story, but does show his [Siggy’s] sense of humour and also is an interesting window into the folklore of Iceland is the ‘hidden man’s’ penis that he has in the folklore section of the museum.

JB: Yeah, Siggy has a folklore section in the museum.

ZM: The folklore culture in Iceland is very present. What’s funny about it that only women can see the ‘hidden man’s penis’.

The Final Member

Director: Jonah Bekhor, Zach Math

Program: Technology and Science

Running Time: 75 Minutes

Recommended? Yes, Strongly- Just on an empty stomach.

Torontonian filmmakers Jonah Bekhor and ad man turned director Zach Math’s The Final Member is all about penises, but there’s certainly no dicking around here. Sigurdur “Siggy” Hjartson is a sweet old man from the northern Icelandic town of Husavik who is creator and curator of the Icelandic Phallogical Museum (the only penis museum in the world). For Siggy, his dedication to collecting and educating about penises is a lifestyle too as he continually works to break worldwide phallus taboos. Nearing the end of his penis career, Siggy must acquire only one last type of penis to put an end to his forty year odyssey- the Homo Sapiens.

This may sound silly, but every moment of Bekhor and Math’s pristine footage amounts to the most dazzling symphonic voyage that unapologetically all about wangs. When a penis obsessed American who dubs his member ‘Elmo’, competes with an ageing Icelandic playboy to be the museum’s first human specimen the race to be The Final Member is on.

Welcome to the Machine

Director: Avi Weider

Program: Technology and Science

Running Time: 86 Minutes

Recommended? Yes, just don’t take any psychedelics before this one- it might make your head implode

As one of many technological theorists in Avi Weider’s Welcome to the Machine meekly asks us to “imagine if Beethoven was born in a time with no instruments?”, the weight of Weider’s documentary sinks in. Contemplative and at times frustratingly erudite, Welcome to the Machine makes us hyper aware of how our evolution as a species which has become intrinsically linked to its technological progress.

A blind gentleman undergoing experimental retina stimulation, USMC UAV operators, and even transcripts between Weider and technologically driven terrorist Ted Kacynski are all incorporated to shed light on the undeniable benefits and consequences which have, and could, come about because of rapid technological advancement.

Weider gets personal when he includes his wife’s struggle to give birth to triplets and their fight to raise this small army. When we find out the triplets were conceived through in vitro fertilization, Welcome to the Machine becomes a lyrical caution and praise for our species’ innate technological potential.

Where Heaven Meets Hell

Director: Sasha Friedlander

Program: Poverty

Running Time: 80 Minutes

Recommended?: Yes, Strongly

“Everybody who comes here says ‘oh it looks like hell!’, and I think to myself ‘but, this is my life”, says Indonesian sulphur miner Anto. Anto is just one of the hundreds of miners who trek up and down steep hills to get to Kawah Ijen, and active volcano in Indonesia. They lug hefty crates of sulphur on their shoulders, making barely enough money to support their families and loved ones living in surrounding rural villages. Director Sasha Friedlander’s Where Heaven Meets Hell intimately connects the thoughts of these miners who risk their lives for their families every day, and we find out these fearless men and women laugh and cry for many of the same reasons as us.

Often obscured by beaten up t-shirts and rags used in place of proper masks, the miners struggle to protect their lungs from the toxic clouds of sulphur smoke which have been especially bad in the last year. As we hear firsthand accounts from wives, daughters, and children of miners it becomes clear that many of them are still only boys and that sulphur mining’s low wages and dangerous environment  is not helping to better the lives of their young families. Where Heaven Meets Hell is a touching portrayal of endurance and hope; an investigation of how far people will go to give the ones they love a better chance.

 

El Huaso

Director: Carlo Guillermo Proto

Program: Canadian Spectrum

Running Time: 80 Minutes

Recommended? Strongly, especially if you’re having a bad day- kinda has a Chicken Soup for the Chilean Soul feel

Death comes as a surprise for many, but in Carlo Guillermo Proto’s El Huaso, Proto’s father Gustavo feels like he knows exactly when it will arrive. Gustavo is a beloved husband, father, and grandfather and yet he prepares his wife and now adult children for his suicide which he feels is the only option to avoid an inescapable fate. Gustavo moved with his family from Chile to Toronto years ago, but at 58 years of age Gustavo is haunted by memories of his father’s depression and suicide, and his mother’s deterioration from Alzheimer’s. In a documentary accented by truly stunning imagery, Carlo engages us in taboo topics like death and mental illness and asks heavy questions about the responsibilities of a parent, the morality of suicide, and the value of life.

Carlo accompanies Gustavo on many visits to doctors and specialists, and we see Gustavo desperately fight to gain control and insight on his beliefs of his own mental degeneration. With loving testimonies and footage of Gustavo’s compassionate family, El Huaso surprisingly acts more like a celebration of Gustavo’s reasons to live. It is by giving us access to Gustavo’s most candid thoughts and moments that Carlo involves us in the Proto’s toughest question of all: does Gustavo really have the right to choose when he dies?

Crimes Without Honour

Director: Raymonde Provencher

Program: Activism & Protest

Running TIme: 69 Minutes

Recommended? Yes, and strongly because this problem is both rampant in and relevant to Torontonians

Director Raymonde Provencher captures the brave stories behind the scars that many female survivors of honour crimes have to live with everyday; astoundingly, women from many different backgrounds and cultures. Honour crimes are brutal acts committed when a female shames the patriarch of a family, and much of the violence carried out against these shameful women is exacted by hierarchal sub-societies similar the systematized nature of organized crime.

Provencher gets testimonies from both female and male honour crimes victims and it becomes clear that many men are also very uncomfortable with arranged marriage and these abusive cultural laws. A large part of putting an end to this hushed up epidemic is linked to creating communities where this abuse is no longer tolerated ,but as we see honour crimes victims drink Tim Horton’s coffee and walk past TTC streetcars we are sadly reminded that this problem is much closer to home then we may think

Finding North

Director: Kristi Jacobson, Lori Silverbush

Program: Canadian Spectrum

Running Time: 84 Minutes

Recommended? Yes, Strongly

Since the 80’s, American’s have been promised an end to starvation. However, directing duo Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush’s Finding North shows that 49 million Americans are waist deep in this highly unpublicized famine that attacks the nations’ very foundations: its youth.

Focusing on the stories of numerous hungry Americans, Finding Northalso closely follows what an adolescent girl and a young mother of 2 goes through to keep their families from starving. As it becomes clear that America’s obesity epidemic is systemically linked to the same tiresome cycle of malnourishment that troubles so many American’s, Finding North hits home with its sobering plea to a government that has shown it will not feed the impoverished.

Featuring an uplifting soundtrack by T-Bone Burnett and The Civil Wars, Finding Northis all about the hope that people in the toughest of situations battle to hold on to.

When the Trumpet Sounds

Director: Pablo Alvarez-Mesa

Program: Canadian Spectrum

Running Time: 16 Minutes

Recomended?: Yes. It is short, sweet and simple.

After watching Columbian native Pablo Alvarez-Mesa’ s When the Trumpet Sounds it is easy to forget that this documentary runs only 16 minutes. Following in the footsteps of sixteen-year-old aspiring bullfighter Alejandro, Alvarez-Mesa puts us in the arena as Alejandro trains to perfect this centuries old tradition. As Alejandro and other boys putter around the ring watching the slender veteran bullfighters narrowly dodge bulls, Alvarez-Mesa’s documentary acts like a meditation on bullfighting.

Dimly lit stands filled with patrons holding candles stand by in quiet contemplation as a small float adorned with wreaths, candles, and a polished porcelain figure glides into the centre of the arena.  We get firsthand experience of the sanctity of this spiritual ceremony, and with the film title alluding to the Corinthians 15:52 verse “the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible”, there is no doubt Alvarez- Mesa’s vision has much to say about the transcendental state and rigorous mental training that is essential to bullfighting. Alejandro tells us that “the Virgin of Macarena watches over all bullfighters”, and When the Trumpet Sounds makes sure to includes us in this incorporeal rite of passage where he and his friends transform from clumsy teenagers into nimble, cultural figures of grace.

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