Hot Docs 2013 Capsule Review: Dragon Girls

Dragon Girls

When I was seven my parents put me in a karate class at our local community centre and immediately quit after the first day. My breaking point? Push ups on my knuckles. I was a pussy then and I’m a pussy now and I wouldn’t last a second at the Shaolin Tagu Kung Fu school.

Director Inigo Westemeier’s ‘Dragon Girls’ follows a group of hardworking tweens who’ve dedicated their childhood to learning Kung Fu as a point of personal and national pride. In exchange for a strong body and strong will, they’re sacrificing a good chunk of their childhood thanks to long hours of intensive martial arts training. The whole ordeal makes Michael Jackson’s lost years in the Jackson 5 look like Disneyland (or Neverland, in his case). The meaning of Kung Fu is discussed throughout the film and while the masters loosely definite it as “Energy gained by hard work in the course of time”, the more telling answer comes from one of the young students who says “Kung Fu means to train and train and train again.”

The film starts with some stunning imagery of symmetrical martial arts routines performed with terrifying accuracy by an army of teenage girls who seem primed to take over a small country. While the dedication to the art and the extreme level of physical precision is initially impressive and inspirational, the oppressive work schedule and borderline abusive training regiment loses its charm pretty quickly. At one point in the film a group of girls compare battle scars, many of which are extremely impressive. It’s like a little girl version of the crew of the Orca exchanging war stories.

As much fun as tournament style docs can be, Dragon Girls’ more lyrical, contemplative approach was quite refreshing. It’s beautifully shot and edited and makes some interesting cultural observations that aren’t that far off from western ideals. China has the Shaolin Tagu Kung Fu school while we have toddlers in tiara’s and soccer Mom’s. — Jay C.


Tchoupitoulas & Only the Young DVD Giveaway

Tchoupitoulas and Only the Young DVD

Two great films from last year — Tchoupitoulas and Only the Young — have just hit DVD via Oscilloscope Laboratories and we’ve got THREE copies for giveaway here at The Documentary Blog!

The interesting thing about this release is it’s actually a double bill. Yes, both films are contained in one DVD package, along with an array of special features. Tchoupitoulas was one of my favourite films of 2012 so obviously this release is a must own. For those unfamiliar with these films, here’s some info:

TCHOUPITOULAS is a lyrical documentary that follows three adolescent brothers as they journey through one night in New Orleans, encountering a vibrant kaleidoscope of dancers, musicians, hustlers, and revelers parading through the lamplit streets. The filmmakers fully immerse us into the New Orleans night, passing through many lively and luminous locations and introducing us to the people who make the city their home.

ONLY THE YOUNG follows the story of three teenagers that live in a small desert town in Southern California – a town dominated by foreclosed homes and underpasses, unfilled swimming pools and skate parks. These kids must find things to do in a place that offers nothing – yet in the course of observing their day-to-day lives, we see them discover friendship, first love, heartbreak, and what it means to be young. Tippet and Mims’ delicate, ethereal filmmaking and ONLY THE YOUNG’s innocent yet rebellious subjects collectively embody the very essence of adolescence.

For a chance to win a copy of Tchoupitoulas and Only the Young on DVD, simply send me an email here with ‘TCHOUP’ in the subject line. Be sure to include your full name and mailing address and I will announce the winners sometime next week.

Tchoupitoulas and Only the Young are now available on DVD.

‘Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries & Mentors of Ricky Jay’ Official Trailer

What perfect timing! I JUST watched David Mamet’s ‘House of Games’ for the first time two days ago. As a casual fan of magic and a big fan of Ricky Jay himself, I have high hopes for directors Molly Bernstein and Alan Edelstein’s ‘Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries & Mentors of Ricky Jay’. Here’s they synopsis:

What happens when documentary filmmakers—whose mission is to probe, explore, and Reveal—take as their subject one of the world’s greatest living magicians, whose life and art are basically off limits to probing, exploration and revelation? More than a decade in the making, Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay is the captivating result of this curious conundrum: a mesmerizing journey into the world of modern magic and the small circle of eccentric geniuses who mastered it.

At its center is the multitalented Ricky Jay, a best-selling author and historian, an acclaimed actor, a leading collector of antiquarian books and artifacts, but above all a conjurer capable of creating a profound sense of wonder and disbelief in even the most jaded of audiences. In his extraordinary—and extraordinarily popular—one-man shows, Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants and Ricky Jay: On the Stem, he proved himself to be the contemporary embodiment of an elite lineage, offering audiences not only exhilarating entertainment, but also a rare glimpse of a secret, lost world.

Kino Lorber has picked up ‘Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries & Mentors of Ricky Jay’ for distribution and it looks like it will be hitting limited theatres starting in May. For more information, head over to the film’s official website.

Source: Row Three

Morgan White’s ‘The Rep’ Hits Theatres Via a Unique New Distribution Model

Toronto filmmaker Morgan White has come up with a unique way of distributing his new film ‘The Rep’, which will have its Canadian theatrical debut this month at the Winnipeg Cinematheque. ‘The Rep’ is a love letter to repertory cinemas, focusing mainly on the story of the now defunct Toronto Underground. So, in an attempt to support independent cinemas struggling to compete with the big chain multiplexes, Morgan has offered up his film for free to those who are interested in programming it. Not only that, the theatre will keep 100% of the profit! Here’s what he has to say:

Are you a programmer of an independent theater, or maybe a film fan who loves the theatrical experience? I need your help!

At it’s core, The Rep is about the preservation of repertory and independent theatres, and the cinematic experiences one can have sitting in a darkened theatre with a group of people. That experience is something that I value greatly, and it was the driving force behind the creation of The Rep. I want to see these theatres survive.

And so, it is with that sentiment in mind that I’m offering The Rep to any theatre who’d like to play it, letting them keep 100% of the profits to put back in to their business. Maybe they could put the money in to programming an awesome rep flick, or put it towards upgrades to their theatre. What ever they see fit is A-Ok with me!

This distribution model certainly isn’t for everyone and I don’t see it catching on any time soon, but it’s a great addendum to the film itself and will hopefully inspire others to go out of their way to patronize and support their local independent cinemas.

If you’re a programmer and want to enquire about screening ‘The Rep’ at your cinema, head over to the film’s official website for more information.

Tragically Underrated: Peter Kuran’s ‘Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie’

Film fans might recognize the name Peter Kuran thanks to his visual effects work on blockbusters like Star Wars, Robocop, and Drop Dead Fred. What some might not realize is he actually helmed a series of documentary films in the 90’s focusing on the history of nuclear weapons testing throughout the 40’s and 50’s. The first of his trilogy, ‘Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie’ was released in 1995 and had a huge impact on me. I remember seeing it multiple times on PBS (I think?), and was completely astonished by the ambitiously cinematic presentation and Kuran’s operatic use of music, stock footage, and CG recreations. It also didn’t hurt that William Shatner appears in ‘Rescue 911′ mode, narrating the picture. Seeing as Kuran comes from an effects background, there was a lot of care taken in restoring the previously classified footage featured in the film. This additional attention to the visuals makes for a vibrant and visceral experience that is both awesome and terrifying.

‘Trinity and Beyond’ spawned two lesser sequels, ‘Nukes in Space’ and ‘Atomic Journeys: Welcome to Ground Zero’, but it’s his original film that’s worth checking out. I never hear this film mentioned amongst some of the great contemporary documentaries, which is too bad. ‘Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie’ is personally an influential piece of filmmaking that presents its historical subject matter in an accessible and cinematic fashion. It’s one of the first documentaries I’d seen that truly felt like a “movie”. You can check it out in full at the top of this post or better yet, order the blu ray, which is totally worth your hard earned money.

‘Bending Steel’ Official Trailer

Have a look at this beautiful brand new trailer for director Dave Carroll’s ‘Bending Steel’. The film follows strong man Chris Schoeck as he trains in New York City to become a professional strongman. Now I’m even more excited to check this film out next month at the Hot Docs Film Festival where it will have its international premiere. Here’s the synopsis:

Bending Steel, a deeply moving and inspiring documentary from filmmakers Dave Carroll and Ryan Scafuro, explores the life of 43 year-old Chris Schoeck, a Queens, NY native who is training to become a professional Oldetime Strongman. The story follows Chris’ journey from his early days training in a small basement storage unit, to his very first performance on the big stage at New York’s historic Coney Island. Alongside his trainer Chris Rider, he meets living legends and heroes within the community. For the first time ever he gets a taste of acceptance, something that since his early childhood has always felt just out of reach. Suddenly Chris sees an opportunity to finally stand out, to make a name for himself, to find his place in life.

If you’re in Toronto next month, be sure to fit ‘Bending Steel’ into your Hot Docs schedule. Meanwhile, head over to the film’s website and find out how you can see this film.