HOT DOCS 2012 – Despite the Gods Review (Kirk Haviland)

HOT DOCS 2012 (Toronto)

Despite the Gods

Starring Jennifer Lynch and Sydney Lynch

Directed by Penny Vozniak

Tickets are still available for May 5th, 9:30pm: CLICK HERE

Despite the Gods is the story of the filming of a overambitious Bollywood/Hollywood production Hisss, a fantasy, horror, romance, dramatic story of a female man-eating snake goddess. Jennifer Lynch, straight off her return to directing Surveillance after a 15 year absence, is tapped to direct. She packs up and moves to India with her then 12 year old daughter Sydney in order to start the production and soon realizes she has been dropped head first into another world. Jennifer proclaims India to be the noisiest place on earth, there is background noise from crowds, construction and random other places, so much so that Jennifer literally starts “conducting” the noise around her to illustrate her frustration. And this is merely during pre-production. Jennifer starts to worry if this, her 3rd film, will be doomed as her father David Lynch’s 3rd film was, the now infamous production of Dune.

Production begins and as feared everything goes awry. The production uses the most basic of elements: handmade wooden rigs, unprofessional lighting, an assistant director and cast who barely speak English providing an instant barrier between them and Lynch.  All of these issues are trivial compared to the issues between Jennifer and her producer Govind Menon. Menon is a constant presence on the set, fighting with Lynch and constantly trying to take over the production. And unfortunately most of his tirades are targeted at Sydney, who is also constantly on set and as 12 year old’s are apt to do, seems to get in Govind’s way and on his last nerve. By the end of it Lynch spends 8 months in India shooting a film Govind takes away from her in the editing room anyway.

Lynch comes off very likeable in this film. Her mounting frustration with the Indian film process that produces “too many cooks in the kitchen” eventually makes her throw up her hands and focus only on the acting performances. Unfortunately the final product that is Hisss may not even contain the same takes she fights so hard for during the filming. Lynch herself has never watched the film and still claims it as her biggest failure in the business. Her original cut of the film was destroyed and there are no more copies so it seems assured we will never see it screened, which is a shame. The true stars of Despite the Gods are Govind and Sydney. Govind’s manic attitude and paranoia permeate the production. As the film’s villain he’s well cast.  Sydney’s charm and bright smile make her instantly endearing and you empathize with her almost immediately.

As a piece of entertainment and as a warning for young filmmakers, Despite the Gods works on both fronts. A truly fascinating film from director Vozniak.

Til Next Time

Movie Junkie TO

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Hot Docs 2012 Preview – Documentary Film Festival in Toronto, April 26 – May 6 (Kirk Haviland)

Hello All,

Toronto is yet again about to plunge head first into 11 days of Documentary bliss with the 19th edition of the world renowned Hot Docs film festival starting Thursday April 26th. Staged at various venues across the city, this year the main hub of the fest will be at the newly re-branded Bloor Hot Docs cinema. Here at Entertainment Maven we will be bringing you coverage from two different sources as we welcome new writer Paolo to the fold. I will be attempting to bring as much coverage as I can during the actual festival, unfortunately the “Day Job” will limit the amount of films I can get out to see, but I will endeavor to put film in front of everything including even sleep (well maybe not sleep). For the purpose of this preview, out of this years 189 films from a record 51 countries , I will be spotlighting my 10 most anticipated on my festival schedule.


Bones Brigade: An Autobiography – Follow up to one of my favorite docs of all time, Dogtown and Z-Boys, this time director and former Z-Boy Stacy Peralta takes us back to the eighties. Peralta had moved behind the camera by then, producing skate videos and films, and had put together an elite team he dubbed the “Bones Brigade” to star in those films. The Bones brigade became international stars in the skating world and in particular one of the members would come to be known as the greatest skateboarder of all time, the one and only Tony Hawk.

Despite the Gods – A behind the scenes look at the filming of the Bollywood/Hollywood production of Hiss, about a man eating snake goddess. Bizarre,  yet the real story is the woman behind the camera. Jennifer Lynch, daughter of David, is in charge of this mess and we see how she copes with the troubling production spiraling out of control and dealing with an all Bollywood crew and stars. The documentary is staged around Jennifer herself and not the film production per say and what a strange world the life of a director can truly be.

Beware of Mr Baker – A biography of one of the most notorious characters in Rock and Roll history, drummer Ginger Baker. Now living in South Africa, desperate for cash, with a 29 year old mail order bride and a stable of polo ponies, Baker is as cantankerous as ever. With interviews from rock heavyweights like Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts and Canadian Neil Peart, Beware Mr Baker looks to be a moving account of one of music industry’s truly self made men and boldest individuals.

Ping Pong– Pensioners from across the globe all head to Mongolia for the Over 80 Table Tennis Championships. In what could very well end up being the most heart warming film of the fest, we follow the lives of 8 seniors from various parts of the world as they prepare for the tournament. We see their training regimen and lives at home all the way up the tournament itself. The stories include a woman trying to win her way out of a dementia ward and one man who has been diagnosed with one week to live yet is still determined to win at all costs.

Charles Bradley: Soul of America – Charles Bradley is determined to live his dream. The 62 year old lives in Brooklyn’s projects, scraping by during the day doing odd jobs for cash, and performing in nightclubs for limited audiences and limited cash during the evenings, desperate to be discovered. That is, until the minds behind Daptone records find him and maybe perhaps he can finally get that break. Oh and did I mention Rolling Stone named his record as one of the top 50 of 2011?

The Mechanical Bride – An expose on the thriving world of mechanical companions and the men who are devoted to their artificial “brides”. The film goes through the history of the world surrounding these men, from the early beginnings to what is hailed as the “Rolls Royce” of the industry, the Real Doll. What was fictionalized in the Ryan Gosling film Lars and the Real Girl is explored in earnest in this entry into the late night “Nightvision” section of the program.

Tchoupitoulas – We follow the story of three teenaged boys in New Orleans as they sneak out late one night to explore the legendary French Quarter and all that it holds. We see the debauchery and sketchy characters of the night all through the untainted eyes of youth as they travel through the back alleys and boisterous nightlife of the French Quarter. A unique directorial vision that allows us to go back to that time in our own lives where there was still so much to discover about our own world surrounding us.

Theo Fleury: Playing with Fire – Theo Fleury had it all, hockey superstar with an abundance of talent and the adoration of fans in Canada country wide. Then he blew it all on drugs, gambling and booze. No one knew of the demons that chased Fleury til he came out publicly and told us of the sexual abuse he faced as a child under his former coach Graham James. The movie follows Fleury as he embarks on a book media tour for his candid memoirs and includes interviews from many famous athletes.

Marley – Oscar winning Director Kevin MacDonald (One Day in September, Last King of Scotland) directs the first authorized biography on musician Bob Marley.  MacDonald is allowed unprecedented access to the Marley family and legacy with archival footage never before seen and concert footage to make even the most ardent of fans jealous. The combination of one of the most influential musicians in history along with the extremely talented director MacDonald should make this a not-miss film.

Radioman – A fixture on NYC film sets Radioman has appeared in over 100 films and calls the likes of George Clooney, Johnny Depp and Matt Damon friends. His list of cameos, impressive as it is, is not enough for Radioman though as he longs for more recognition and a leading role someday. Featuring interviews from a list of ‘who’s who’ in Hollywood, Radioman serves as a fascinating portrait of the film industry from a very unique viewpoint.

With as many films as the fest offers this year narrowing it down to 10 of course always leaves many deserving choices on the side. Other notables on my list include Indie Game: The Movie, Shut Up and Play The Hits, In the Year of Hip Hop, The Punk Syndrome, No Room for Rockstars, Beauty is Embarrassing and Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet. Of course there should be many “undiscovered gems” that will manage to sneak up and surprise during the fest as well, as they usually do.

This year marks my first full experience at Hot Docs and I must admit I am excited to experience all the fest has to offer. I certainly hope many of you readers get to do the same.

Til next time

Movie Junkie TO

follow me on twitter @moviejunkieto

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