Category Archives: Documentary

Jim & Andy: the Great Beyond – the story of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman with a very special, contractually obligated mention of Tony Clifton – Director, Chris Smith


This film, also called just Jim and Andy, is a behind the scenes documentary about the making of the film Man on the Moon in which Jim Carey played Andy Kaufman, one of the truly weird comics of all time but also hugely popular. Kaufman tragically died in his 30’s of lung cancer but in a short career made a big mark on comedy of his time. Carey was challenged to take on his character for the movie and did an amazing character acting job. To accomplish it he took on the personality of Kaufman and his comic style and literally lost himself in the process. This documentary of the making of the film is based almost entirely on the video Carey took during the filming. The rest of the film is a long interview with Carey himself years after making the Man on the Moon and reflecting on Kaufman, his own career and the risks and benefits of taking on a personality not your own. The documentary is wonderful and gives great insight into Carey as an actor and a person. The film has been taken on by Netflix so will be available soon for general viewing. We were also lucky to have the director and Jim Carey present for a Q and A. Carey was funny, warm, and very generous with his time. Unlike the bio film about Eric Clapton which had me lose respect for him, this film and the Q and A made me gain great respect for Carey as and actor and a person. I highly recommend the movie and also encourage you to look up Andy Kaufman videos on YouTube.

Eric Clapton: A Life in 12 Bars – Director, Lili Fini Zanuck


I was really looking forward to this movie and seeing Eric Clapton live although without a guitar. Well… I did see Eric but sadly I left the movie early totally bored and a little pissed off. The film is not very much about his music and much more about his messed-up life which I really did not need to know about. It went on and on as he bounced from one failed relationship to another including a really messed up on with the wife of his good buddy George Harrison. Also we delved into his drug and alcohol abuse until I thought it would never end. While he had a surprise in learning that his real mother abandoned him, he was actually raised very lovingly by his grandparents, was reasonably well off and after Cream dissolved, very very rich. So all this “suffering” happened at his mansion in Surrey or his friend’s homes in South Kensington, two of the wealthiest places on earth. He never suffered for lack of money and we heard lots about just hanging around the mansion with his friends and various girl friends doing cocaine and dope and ultimately heroin and then alcohol. The movie really started to drag and I left near the end thinking this guy really had no excuse for all this. Sadly this movie has spoiled Eric for me. I will take a break from listening to his music for a bit and hope it will not last because his latest stuff is very good but this demented wallowing in his so-called sorry life was just too much. If you are a big fan and love his music and his suffering for sure enjoy. However if you would rather not be bothered by that  just put on Layla (don’t worry what inspired it) and don’t let this movie spoil it for you.

The China Hustle – Director, Jed Rothstein


This movie is a documentary that will likely cause you to consider taking all your invested income and put it under your mattress for safe keeping. You may have thought the 2008 market crash was bad but you just need to see this film to see how easily money can be taken from your mutual funds and pension investments to settle in the back pockets of Chinese capitalists and North American investors who are expert in shorting stock market investments. The film is scary to the max as you learn how ordinary people have been hurt by Chinese entrepreneurs who managed to fraudulently draw major investment into fake or nearly fake Chinese companies. The money lost by investors is in the billions and the scams are still going on. They take advantage of the deregulation of the stock market and the underfunding of the agencies set up to protect investors. This is an important film that deserves more attention but may very well not get it. Nonetheless it was interesting to see and the audience present for the screening were not just lefties like me but clearly many more well to do investors. The Q and A afterwards included the star of the film, an American investment company CEO who has lobbied hard to increase regulation but who freely admitted that he currently shorts these stocks and benefits from the lack of regulation. His opening line in the film is: “All the people in this film are evil…. Including me.”

Great stuff.

Ex Libris: The New York Public Library – Director, Frederick Wiseman


Frederick Wiseman is an 87-year-old documentary director who has been making films for over 50 years and in that time produced 45 features. In the early days his films were political and in some cases banned. More recently his films are more descriptive and focussed on community life such as Brooklyn and Berkeley, artistic groups like the ballet and institutions like the National Gallery in London and this film about the New York Public Library. These later films are very long so if you choose to see them I recommend renting them and have the ability to pause and return. This is by no means to suggest they are boring. Wiseman has no script or apparent agenda. In this case of Ex Libris we are taken on a tour of the main branch on 5th Ave. and visits to other branches throughout the city. He filmed visitors, staff meetings, board meetings, meeting of local community groups, librarians, library workers and many scenes of life in the library. In doing so he illustrates the central role of this library and libraries in general as they provide resources and nurture for the communities they serve. We saw a great interview with Elvis Costello, meetings of teachers in black communities, got educated about the nature of racism in the US, and many other events. We also learned about the problems of loaning e-books, convincing city councils to provide funding and how do deal with the homeless who use the sites for shelter. It was a fascinating look at one of society’s  most important institutions and specifically in New York City. An excellent film. Sadly Wiseman was not here for a Q and A but that is because he is in the process of making another film. I can hardly wait. I have a review of the National Gallery documentary in an earlier blog post – 2014. Enjoy.

Oh right. If you want to see another entirely different picture of the main branch of the New York Public Library check out The Day After Tomorrow, a sci-fi film about apocalyptic climate change starring Jake Gyllenhaal. LOL—the-new-york-public-library/

Ukiyo-e Heroes, Director – Toru Tokikawa

This was one of my favourite films and damn it – also Japanese. However in this case it focusses on a Canadian artist and immigrant to Japan. David Bull is the artist who became intrigued with the ancient art of Japanese woodcuts or Ukiyo-e. This is a complex but beautiful art form that is in decline as modern techniques have changed how artists work around the world. Bull is one of a very few remaining woodcut artists in Japan and he is looking for ways to increase interest in the art form and maintain its traditions. As part of this he partners with a younger American artist who also had an interest in the techniques. Jed Henry is the American living in Utah and two communicate primarily through Skype. Jed is an artist interested in creating images of comic book heroes and works with manga and anime styles common to Japan. He creates the images and David Bull creates the woodcuts to reproduce them in the traditional style. While following their story we learn much about woodcutting style, its limits and its qualities. We also see how these two artists have created a successful market for this traditional Japanese art form blending it with modern popular images. You can find their work and order it if you like at their website:

I recommend a visit – it’s a great site and the images are beautiful.

Tokyo Idols, Director – Kyoko Miyake

Hmm another Japanese film. There appears to be a pattern at the film festival or at least my film selection. Tokyo Idols is about a strange but growing cult of entertainers and their fans in Japan. Idols are young girls, often very young girls who are part of popular music groups and dancers who dress provocatively and attract an audience of middle aged men, knows as otaku, who literally worship them. The idols can be as young as ten years old and by the time they reach late teenage their careers are over. The hope they have is that they will attract a growing fan base that will lead to a singing career but this is not something many will achieve. The film follows one of these “aging” idols and one of her fans – a 43 year old man. He literally worships her and spends most of his money to follow her and join her for meet and greets where he is allowed a handshake and a brief conversation. He has given up real relationships to live this fantasy life. A very strange subculture and to be honest I felt a wee bit uncomfortable watching the movie as if I was part of this group of men who might be attracted to this kind of entertainment. Creepy would describe my reaction but the whole thing was fascinating nonetheless. All this is not entirely impossible to understand given the culture that guides male and female relationships in Japanese culture and the working conditions in which men in particular are often forced to live. An escape is often desired and needed. A fascinating look at a cultural phenomenon that is very different from what we might find here but not so far away from modern cultural obsession with youth and celebrity.

Recruiting for Jihad, Directors – Adel Khan Farooq and Ulrick Imtiaz Rolfson

Another example of verité documentary style. This time we are in Norway of all places and following a Syrian immigrant who is recruiting volunteers to fight for ISIS. He is very comfortable with his tactics and approach and invites the directors to follow him as he talks to members of the Muslim community in Norway, holds meetings to promote Islam and recruits young people to join the struggle. He is careful not to break laws but his activity is clear. One of the directors is also a Syrian immigrant living in Norway which likely helped him gain the confidence of the recruiter. The film makers followed this extremist over three years gaining greater insight into his ideology and work. The information gathered became more and more incriminating resulting the film footage being seized by police as evidence in cases against the recruiter and some of his recruits. The film was ultimately released but also raised issues about how the fight against terrorism can lead to threats against freedom of speech and the press. An excellent look into a dark world.

Ramen Heads, Director – Koki Shigeno

Another Japanese film and Japanese director. Not sure how this happened but I was not disappointed in any of them. This time a documentary about food, really good food. Ramen is a noodle based food that might be called the poutine of Japan. We are introduced to the current leading Ramen chef in Japan, Osamu Tomita. He has one the top prize for ramen restaurants in Japan four years in a row. We are taken into his kitchen and restaurant to learn the secrets of great ramen. We learn that this is a blending of carefully prepared noodles with just the right texture and flavourful stocks made from a variety of different ingredients. Trust me, you don’t always want to see the ramen stock being prepared but trust me, the chefs take this very seriously and the variety of styles and flavours are critical to success. The ramen restaurants in Japan are small and the queues to get in are, in the case of Osamu Tomita’s restaurant, long and the food in great demand. The whole culture around food and ramen in Japan is unique and there is much to learn. The director was there for a Q and A which was fun but his introduction to the film was best. He told us to sit back and enjoy and if at the end we felt hungry his effort in making the film would have been worthwhile. I can tell you that many in the audience were starving and looking on line for the nearest ramen restaurant.

Pre-Crime, Directors – Mathias Heeder and Monika Hielscher

Have you ever seen the Tom Cruise film Minority Report? The movie is based on a classic Phillip Dick sci-fi story in which police have the ability to predict who will commit crimes and arrest them for a “pre-crime” and punish them. Minority Report finds Cruise caught in this web of surveillance that includes not just predicting who will commit crime but also how this kind of surveillance influences product promotion and involves a total invasion of personal privacy. What this documentary shows us is that we are not all that far from this dystopian world. The online world and computerized products is collecting unlimited information about all of us and we are willing participants as we grant permission for this kind of collection. The data can be mined for any number of purposes and this includes predicting crime even who might commit a crime and where. Police are already using this kind of information to direct their own patrols and investigations. The trouble is that the data used to guide this activity is often flawed. A simple example is when you shoo for a gift for someone on Amazon, something you would never buy for yourself, and find yourself bombarded with ads for similar products for days and weeks afterward. Not too awful but the point is that the data being used to guide ads to you is flawed and incomplete. This becomes more serious when law enforcement uses flawed data to guide its actions. Often this means targeting minority communities and individuals and ignoring other crimes and crime sites. The idea of Driving While Black is a case in point but this film points to even more devious, hidden uses of private data to control our society and our police forces. Again – scary stuff. A really interesting film worth your time.

Photon, Director – Norman Leto

I was hooked by the description of this film:

Prepare yourself for a sensory overload of epic proportions.

Nothing less than the history of the universe, the formation of the stars and planets,

the origins of matter, and the daunting post-human future that lies ahead

are explored in this mind-bending experience.

All lies. This was far and away the worst film of the week and sadly my last film on the last day which left a bad taste in my eyes. The opening of the film takes us through an animated look at the origins of the universe and right through to the appearance of life. After that however the film just collapses in boring animation, themes and incredibly bad interviews with an academic who appears to also be totally bored by the questions he is asked and becomes almost hostile to his interviewer. There is a voice over narrator who speaks in monotone and is incredibly irritating. Have I done enough to put you off this one? As I left the film I muttered irritably that if I ever meet the narrator I would have to kill him. A couple of other patrons leaving with me turned and smiled agreement. Avoid this movie.