Friday, April 24, 2015

Hot Docs 2015

Hot Docs is officially underway. The largest documentary film festival in North America, Hot Docs has been a growing success since its launch in 1992. It's a busy ten days for documentary aficionados.

Around the World in 50 Concerts

This lovely film about Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra features simply gorgeous music, interviews with members of the orchestra and a look at the logistics, including thermal packaging, of transporting all those instruments.

What makes the movie so special - besides that gorgeous music - are the stories of audience members with a passion for music. There's the Argentinian taxi driver who can't wait to get behind the wheel where he can listen to classical music in peace. The music of Mahler brings back memories and a tear to the eye of a melancholic Russian, who survived both Hitler and Stalin. Music is the sole redeeming feature in the hard life of two poor South African girls, who play in an exuberant marimba band.

Try to see this movie!

Pleasure at Her Majesty's

This film follows the preparations, and some glimpses of the final performance in a 1976 Amnesty International benefit concert organized by John Cleese. The first part of the film showing the preparations was muddled and the sound quality made it hard to understand multiple voices speaking at once. There was some payoff in the second part with routines from the final performance, including the famous dead parrot skit. But the content of this film was not enough to make up for low video resolution and poor sound quality.

Give this one a miss.

Rolling Papers

It's 2014 and Colorado has just legalized marijuana for recreational use. The Denver Post, like all newspapers in the 21st century, is struggling to stay alive. Maybe a marijuana web site can make the newspaper relevant.

I learned quite a few interesting facts about marijuana legalization, both in Colorado and Uruguay, about the need for regulation, and how marijuana reviewers can sound like wine reviewers in their rapturous descriptions of varieties of weed. And I enjoyed the wonderful pictures of different species in dazzling close-ups. But the movie didn't have a single driving theme that pulled it all together and left me pretty lukewarm, despite the delightful pun in its title. I'm sure there will be better movies than this for your schedule.

Dear Araucaria (double feature with Rolling Papers)

Some people get an obituary in a newspaper. The Guardian made this short film as a eulogy to its long-time crossword puzzle setter. When John Graham, known as Araucaria, developed terminal esophageal cancer, he broke the cardinal rule - no diseases as answers - and included words about his disease and palliative care in the answers.  Soon informed, dedicated puzzle solvers flooded him with good wishes. This is a nice short film.

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