The Keepers: More Brave Filmmaking from Netflix

I used to look down on true crime stories as they seemed sensationalistic and lacking of any real respect for the victims and their families. They seemed like nothing more than tasteless entertainment. That changed for me with the Netflix produced Making a Murderer which was created by filmmakers who seemed genuinely concerned with injustice in the American legal system. The public responded by binge watching the series and since its release it has arguably had a real impact on the much maligned system. After the success of Making a Murderer it was hard to imagine that Netflix would wait very long before delving back into the realm of true crime. I can say quite honestly that The Keepers has all the well-meaning and quality of Making a Murderer (in fact, maybe a little bit more of both).

We’re in a really interesting time for documentary filmmakers. For a genre that has prided itself on making unbiased/non-intrusive/non-manipulative storytelling, we are certainly seeing a lot of filmic devices being used by documentarians these days. The Keepers uses music, camera work, and the opinion of those behind the camera to great emotional effect for the viewer. These techniques used to be viewed as cheating in the documentary world, but I think viewers are better amateur psychologists these days, and are better able to understand our own biases and influences. With our phones we are also all amateur moviemakers and have used some of these techniques ourselves. And with so much of our entertainment being one blurry mess of fiction and reality, I think it’s only fair that documentarians be allowed to reach out of their usual bag of tools and embrace techniques normally reserved by Hollywood for theatrical fare.

The Keepers also has a cast of incredible characters, some will feel very real to the viewer, while others (Bud Roemer comes to mind) will feel like they were yanked out of of a Hollywood classic. The story is deftly presented by the filmmakers and unfolds more interestingly than most contemporary fictional works.

Finally, I feel like I learned more about life, death, and everything in between from The Keepers than I have from recent fictional dramas. When dealing with real people, and real injustice, it’s hard not to moved, to learn, to change – and that’s what filmmaking is supposed to do for us. Sure, entertainment is great, but I want to come out of a viewing experience a different person, not completely changed, just privy to a different perspective on life than my own. Judging by the initial reception of The Keepers it seems like others would agree with me. Maybe that’s why Netflix is keeping their viewing numbers so close to their chest. Maybe we’re looking for a different type of entertainment and they’ve plugged into it while the competition stays with the tried and true formula.

It feels like the search for justice has gone mainstream. What a welcome development.

Hot Docs 2013: I Am Breathing Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

I Am Breathing

Featuring Neil Platt, Louise Platt and Oscar Platt

Directed by Morag McKinnon and Emma Davie


Let me talk about I Am Breathing’s obsession with visuals, which seems like a grim thing to consider while discussing a movie about a man with Motor Neurone Disease. The movie uses many close-ups – computer screens, feet sinking to and rising from a summer beach, Neil Platt’s face as his nose is attached to a breathing device, a digital clock projected on his bedroom ceiling. For one, the camera’s distance to its subjects imitates our eyes’ tendency to focus on specific things. Besides, these heightened senses are what Neil experiences because of his paralysis.

But there’s still this closer scope even when directors Morag McKinnon and Emma Davie incorporate footage of Neil when he was a virile man (in a way, he still has this vigour even in his new state). There’s this shot of him in front of rapids and a waterfall. There are others with him walking the streets of London and Edinborough, unaware that he’s on camera. Showing these settings would have created a different dynamic, but there’s this power in the intimate depiction of the sights and sounds of Neil’s life. It creates this impressionable character of this handsome, happy, cheeky man that we both celebrate and mourn with the people who have actually been in his life.

Neil lives in a healthy culture that constantly videotapes. Neil and his wife Louise are on the cusp of the Facebook generation, both having graduated from architecture school during 2003. This instinct to record accelerates when he wife Louise and son Oscar has come into his life. Neil and Louise address the camera as Oscar, these videos intended for the child who also personifies the couple’s idea of the future. This instinct becomes more poignant during the realization that Neil’s paralysis eventually leads to his mortality. But even with abundant recorded memories that they have, there’s this gnawing feeling that he expresses, thinking about which images and objects he must leave for his child, what context should they belong?

This quest to leave a legacy for his child shows a resilience, a quality that most documentary subjects have. His goal, other than hoping that his child remembers him, is to raise awareness for his disease that take five people a day in the UK. Technology and his body fails him, yet he exceeds most people in his perseverance in retaining a voice with humour and honesty, one that can relate to his audience. We also get a glimpse of his caring wife, adorable son and a supporting family. The documentary world is lucky to have seen such a frank, great person and we feel this emptiness when he has to go.


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Hot Docs 2013: Future My Love Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

Future My Love

Featuring Maja Borg and Jacques Fresco

Directed by Maja Borg

A text can simply show the facts, which, at best make us feel like we’re soaring, exceeding our human, intellectual potential. Or it focuses on the consequences, making us feel weighed down and ambivalent. The latter is the riskier method and that’s the one that director Maja Borg uses in her new documentary, Future My Love.


Future My Love portrays two journeys. One shows Borg hitchhiking through the Western world to discuss futurism with some of its theorists. The most prominent one lives in Venus, Florida – 95-year old Jacques Fresco, who once explained his ideas in a local version of The Larry King show. As a sociology major, my tendency is to compartmentalize what kind of sociological movement to which he belongs. At first, he seems like a post-Marxist, forecasting the breakdown of traditional capitalism (not problematic). Then he also exclaimed about the elimination of Negro problems and race problems (problematic) into a melting pot of problems that everyone in the collapsed economy will face. But there’s also Durkhemian elements to his theories, that after the collapse comes an amalgamated society in which waste-less technology will mimic the human body in providing for every need. There are also other scientists in this documentary who agree about the technology part, that technology will end manual labour, which makes people resort to culture (I resent the truth in this). Borg agrees with Fresco and the other theorists although of course having her own objections.

What Future My Love also does is portray and talk to ‘regular people’ in Venus, somehow making them seem more credible and sympathetic than the theorists. She’s showing that both groups, especially the former, have their own experiences and contributions to the current economic model.

The second plot line reinterprets that journey as that of a woman following the lover who introduced her to all those ideas. The movie, then, becomes a love letter, frustrated at her beloved’s zealotry while deconstructing the nature of love. It also shows industrial destruction and decay and shows the dysfunction within the quest for traditional marriage. It could be the less interesting thread but it is also emotionally titanic, simply because it doesn’t make us question and poke holes the way we do in a conventional, idea-filled doc.

Yes, Future My Love begins and sticks with Borg’s narration that’s reminiscent of Malickian ‘pretentiousness.’ But we have to be emphatic towards her intentions – which are successfully executed. Form and content give an emotional depth to futurism as a sociological theory, a perspective that the latter badly needs. Besides, as she says, these theories aren’t just there to explain how we should live, they intend to show how we should care for each other.

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Alex Winter uploads his thoughts on ‘Downloaded’ (Interview)

Downloaded_4.470x264 AlexAlex Winter uploads his thoughts on ‘Downloaded

With his new documentary “Downloaded” having it’s Hot Docs debut tonight, Alex Winter has finally graduated from being Bill from “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” into a seriously talented documentarian with a sharp eye for story and humor. The film is a rousing crowd pleaser and one of the most sought after tickets from this year’s fest. I got to sit down with Mr. Winter for a brief Q&A about the film.

Movie Junkie TO (MJ) -Thanks for taking some timeout to speak with me today Alex. I got to see the film the other day and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the film. I was working in a music store when the Napster thing exploded so I had a very personal relationship to what I was seeing. What was your introduction to the story and how did you get involved in telling this story?

Alex Winter (AW) – Thanks, I guess we all have a way to relate with the Napster story. I was really interested in the early day s of the net, back in the early 90’s I was fascinated by the idea of the internet being this potential repository for global community.  I got online in the early 90s, checking out the internet BBS (Bulletin Board systems for the younger crowd) groups and newsgroups, and was really fascinated in where that was going potentially. Of course it was all very cumbersome to use the internet in those ways back in the early days but we did it anyway because it allowed us to communicate with people all over the world.  Then sure enough Napster appeared in 1999 and blew everyone away because  during the clunky and slow dial up era here was this really robust, speedy and very versatile global community that had showed up. Frankly that was my entry into it, well that and being a big Napster user myself.

(MJ) – I think everyone was at one point in time especially considering how revolutionary it was. So this is the first feature length documentary you’ve directed, what was the big difference between directing doc and fiction for you?

(AW) – I originally wrote the movie as a narrative, I was originally going to do it as a dramatic feature, then realised that after toying with it for a while it worked better as a documentary. I wasn’t overly concerned with changing it, I know docs very well as I have done a lot of documentary oriented advertising in the commercial work I’ve done.  And I think Napster lends itself very much to that style of storytelling cause there are many fascinating details and so many cool ways to come at the story that were fact based. It also has a very clear cut beginning middle and end; we know what happened to Napster (laughs). So I didn’t feel I was going to get lost at sea with the story.

(MJ) – The access you had to the Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning is pretty all encompassing, history in many cases has been pretty brutal to the pair, even outright vilifying them at times, but you manage to portray them more humanely than most. How were you able to achieve such access with the pair?

(AW) –Well I have known them for ten years, I had originally met them a decade ago to tell their story, so certainly the benefit of time helped.  They knew me well enough to know I was interested in telling a story that was a well-rounded examination of events, something that wouldn’t be one sided for or against them, and I was going to try and look at all sides and get as clear a picture as possible. That was really my agenda, they knew that going in, and that I knew the story really well. I guess there is certain level of trust there, though it probably wasn’t until the SXSW premiere that they realized exactly what I was doing. It was a big relief to show them the movie there and get that question out of the way.

downloaded_large(MJ) – Considering the film is very much about music and the evolution of it, can you talk about the music for the film and did you have music that gave you any trouble getting clearance rights for?

(AW) – Well all the music is cleared; the movie is done and coming out soon. Most of the music is score, an original score by DJ spooky, that makes 99% of the music in the movie ours anyways, so it’s a lot easier to clear your own music.

(MJ) – (laughs) Yes I imagine that would make the whole process a bit easier. So now that the film is finished what are the plans for the film going forward?

(AW) –  We’re going to do a small theatrical run, though most of our energy is focused on the digital release. In the summer we’re going to start a rollout over several months with theatrical, I Tunes and other digital streaming. We have some really interesting plans for the digital side of things because that’s really where this film lives. I can’t go into too much detail about that because they aren’t announced yet but it’s really cool there a lot of interesting ways to release movies now using new technology.

(MJ) – Absolutely, and I’m sure with all their history and their new internet endeavours that Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning might be able to provide some fun marketing ideas of their own.

(AW) – (laughs) I’ m Sure they would. They have stayed comfortably out of this whole process.  It’s been fun for them to watch from a distance and not have to suffer through any more Napster related grief ever again.

(MJ) – So what’s up next for you? What do you have in the works on either the directing or even the acting side?

(AW) – Well I stopped acting professionally 20 years ago and put all my energy in to writing and directing, that’s where my focus goes. I act very rarely but I did jump into a movie that a really great Spanish director was doing with Elijah Wood and John Cusack recently (research shows that film is “Grand Piano”) that’s coming out later this year. But normally most of my work these days is in the writing/directing space.  I’m currently writing 2 different televisions shows for cable and I’m prepping my next film. I’m going make another documentary, not technology or music related though; it’s definitely related to a very topical and somewhat provocative American story. So I am focusing on getting that going right now

(MJ) – I’m assuming that’s all we’re going to get out of you about that right now?

(AW) – (Laughs) For now, yeah.

(MJ) – Thanks again for your time today Alex.

(AW) – No, thank you.  I’m really glad you enjoyed the movie and happy you got a chance to check it out.

Screening times for Downloaded

Sat, Apr 27 9:00 PM
Isabel Bader Theatre
Rush Tickets
Sun, Apr 28 3:30 PM
Scotiabank 3
Buy Tickets
Fri, May 3 9:30 PM
Fox Theatre
Buy Tickets


Netflix: The Imposter Review (Matt Hodgson)


The Imposter (2012)

Starring Adam O’Brian, Frédéric Bourdin, and Carey Gibson

Directed by Bart Layton

In between unsolicited screenwriting and job hunting (some of the hardest and yet most rewarding work I’ve ever done vs. the Maslovian requirements of food and shelter and the currency exchanged for them) I’ve been spending a lot of time with the slowly improving Canadian Netflix. While I still hear tales about the oasis that is American Netflix, the great white north version now boasts dozens of films and no less than ten different TV shows that I have earmarked for my own personal consumption. Today, based on a recommendation that my partner Heather received from a co-worker, we decided to check out The Imposter: a documentary that was promised to leave our heads spinning.

The Imposter 1

While not necessarily a true documentary (more on this later) The Imposter is about real-life events, specifically, the disappearance of a 13-year old boy named Nicholas Barclay and the person who tried to take his place. After Nicholas had been missing for over three years, his family received a phone call saying that he had been found in Spain. Spain! Minds reeling, they followed the necessary steps to return Nicholas to Texas and reunite with the now 16-year old boy. Almost immediately we learn that this wasn’t Nicholas, but rather an adult male posing as a child. This immediately made me think of a recent horror movie that starts with ‘Or’ and ends with ‘phan’. However this unsettling revelation is only the first of many that will leave the viewer shaking their heads, for better or worse.

The Imposter 2

While the subject matter of The Imposter is very real, the filmmakers chose a style that is somewhere between documentary and theatrical crime thriller. I understand the choice as it makes the movie a much more entertaining experience with the high-quality re-enactments, but I can’t help but feel that it was a decision that was unjust to both the viewers and the people in the film alike given the terrifyingly real story of Nicholas and the man who tried to take his place. I have always found true crime stories off-putting as they are essentially the misfortunes of some turned into entertainment for others. Also frustrating is the information temporarily withheld by the filmmakers and only used when it provides the ultimate shock value. These revelations would immediately flip how I felt about specific characters and caused be to groan as I realized I was being strung along like a puppet throughout the narrative.

The Imposter 3

Criticisms aside, The Imposter is a remarkable experience for the absurdity of the events that took place after the disappearance of Nicholas, and as a piece of entertainment the film is incredible. However, it was impossible to forget that at the heart of this two-hour thrill was one of the most unfortunate accidents or horrendous crimes: the disappearance of a child. I’ll never feel comfortable with this subject matter as entertainment.

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