On April 26, Hot Docs makes its return to the city of Toronto, celebrating 19 years as the biggest documentary film festival in North America. Last year, the schedule boasted great flicks like Michael Rapaport’s Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest and Canuck indie-forest dream National Parks Project, but Hot Docs’ programmers seem to have outdone themselves again, with an even bigger slate of musical-minded films running throughout the festival’s 11 nights.
If you happen to be in town for the festival, full scheduling, ticket, and film information can be found on the Hot Docs website. If you won’t be, consider this a sneak peek before the wider release of some of these films.
Picks by Nicole Villeneuve and Sam Sutherland
Beware of Mr. Baker (Director: Jay Bulger): It’s hard to sell this movie, a portrait of rock and roll legend and total nutter Ginger Baker, better than the film’s own summery. The drummer for Cream and Blind Faith, Beware of Mr. Baker travels to the musician’s fortified South African compound home (yes), where he promptly punches Jay Bulger, the film’s director, in the face. “Chain-smoking and ingesting copious amounts of morphine, he’s living with his 29-year-old internet bride and 39 polo ponies.” Great. Bolstered by interviews with Baker’s peers like Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Charlie Watts, and more, Bulger’s film promises an intriguing look at one of rock and roll’s last living legends of bygone era.
The Punk Syndrome (Directors: Jukka Kärkkäinen and J-P Passi): Most descriptions of this movie (it’s about a Finnish punk band!) seem to dance around what is the story’s naturally curious hook – every member of the band is developmentally challenged. Led by Pertti Kurikka, The Punk Syndrome follows the band Name Day through the usual trials and tribulations of a struggling group, but one with songs expressing sentiments like “I don’t want to live in a group home / I don’t want to live in an institution.” There are a lot of promising concepts and unique ideas floating around here. Could be interesting.
Big Easy Express (Director: Emmett Malloy): Like a modern day Festival Express (but hopefully less of an abject financial failure), Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Mumford and Sons take a train from Oakland to New Orleans. They play sold out shows and spend their late nights collaborating on a vintage train rumbling across America. And Emmett Malloy filmed the whole thing to make this movie that will probably be too charming to be snarky about.
Shut Up and Play the Hits (Directors: Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern): After ten years and only three full-length albums, James Murphy decided to put LCD Soundsystem to rest, marking the end of a New York City era. LCD Soundsystem (through the music and through Murphy’s DFA label)
are to blame helped popularize the now ubiquitous dance-pop sound of indie rock, and their yearning, introspective anthems of youth and cities and terrible parties got sent out in style with rooms full of the people to whom the songs meant everything. Shut Up and Play the Hits—a line reportedly yelled by Arcade Fire’s Win Butler at one of the shows—follows Murphy in the moments leading up to his farewell.
She Said Boom: The Story of Fifth Column (Director: Kevin Hegge): Who’s Fifth Column? I know, no one really knows the art/punk trio of (most recently) G.B. Jones, Caroline Azar, and Beverly Breckenridge, despite the fact that they were one of the earliest ‘collectives’ in Toronto’s indie history and more or less the progenitors of what came to be known as queercore, not to mention K Records recordees and early relatives of Riot Grrrl. Fans of Toronto or music or independent culture or queer history don’t want to miss this. (No trailer available; “Like This” video directed by Bruce LaBruce)
Charles Bradley: Soul Of America (Director: Poull Brien) Before releasing his heralded debut album at age 62 in 2011, Charles Bradley was best known as Black Velvet, a James Brown impersonator who held down odd jobs by day. The soul/R&B singer has struggled with homelessness, illness, supporting his family, and the death of his brother; this film following him to the release of his debut album is heartbreaking and utterly inspiring.