VIFF Adds M/A/D Docs

Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story


By Pat Mullen

The Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) announced additional documentary selections for its 2016 today. The M/A/D stream highlighting music, art, and design features 16 documentaries this year covering a range of subjects from the world of art and culture. The line-up includes the Canadian co-productions Don’t Blink: Robert Frank about photographer/filmmaker Robert Frank and Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt, Ada Ushpiz’s powerful portrait of the influential philosopher. Fans of film on film may enjoy the sweet romance Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story and a doc on this year’s Palme d’Or winner Ken Loach, while music fans can tap their feet to Gimme Danger and I Called Him Morgan. The programme also includes the new Parker Posey comedy The Architect for fans looking to add a little drama.

Docs screening at M/A/D are:

BANG! The Bert Berns Story
Dirs. Bob Sarles, Brett Berns | USA
Called the “most important 1960s songwriter that you’ve never heard of,” Bert Berns was responsible for such hits as “Twist & Shout,” “Piece of My Heart” and “Hang on, Sloopy,” among others. A noted producer as well, he was also intimately familiar with the Mafia… Bob Sarles and Brett Berns (Bert’s son) take us on a fascinating and hugely entertaining tour of the man’s life and work that features interviews with music legends Solomon Burke, Cissy Houston, Paul McCartney, Van Morrison and many others.

Burden
Dir. Tim Marrianan, Richard Dewey | USA
The “burn out vs. fade-away” debate will likely be restoked by this account of the rise and reinvention of late performance artist/sculptor Chris Burden. An incendiary art scene figure notorious for self-punishment (including being shot and crucified) in the ’70s, Burden seemed an unlikely candidate to spend his later years crafting colourful models and bonafide tourist attractions. Such surprising twists in his trajectory make Timothy Marrinan and Richard Dewey’s profile all the more transfixing.

The Chinese Lives of Uli Sigg
Dir. Michael Schindhelm | Switzerland
A power broker who forged ties between the West and Communist China… An art collector with a staggering 2,200 pieces in his collection… A mentor to revolutionary artists like Ai Weiwei, Zeng Fanzhi and Cao Fei… Influential, imposing and mysterious, Uli Sigg is an exceptional subject for a documentary and Michael Schindhelm’s telling of his story is suitably compelling. This isn’t just a portrait of an extraordinary figure: it’s an eye-opening peek into the intrigue and splendour of the art world.

Don’t Blink: Robert Frank
Dir. Laura Israel | USA/Canada
Photographer, filmmaker and Beat Generation icon Robert Frank is the subject of Laura Israel’s long-overdue examination of one of the 20th century’s most protean artists. Roving from New York to Frank’s summer home in Mabou, Nova Scotia, Israel captures the 91-year-old Frank at his most intimate and candid. “This compact, fast-moving portrait of the artist proceeds through a flurry of images… You leave with a vivid sense of the man’s living presence… This is an impressive achievement.”—The New York Times

Franca: Chaos and Creation
Dir. Francesco Carrozzini | USA/Italy
When fashion insiders want to visit the territory where fashion, art and provocation meet, they pick up Vogue Italia, considered the world’s most important fashion magazine. Since 1988, it has been under the editorship of the formidable Franca Sozzani, whose life, times and flashing intelligence are on display in Francesco Carrozzini’s documentary. Featuring interviews with (among others) Baz Luhrmann, Courtney Love, Jeff Koons, Karl Lagerfeld, Naomi Campbell, Peter Lindbergh and the grand dame herself.

Gimme Danger
Dir. Jim Jarmusch | USA
The Stooges are the greatest rock and roll band ever. Try and argue that assertion with Jim Jarmusch and he’ll counter with this documentary that makes its persuasive case by cranking the volume for archival footage and imparting anecdotes with as many hooks as “Search and Destroy.” Engaging Iggy Pop as an iconoclastic equal, Jarmusch illustrates these glamorous degenerates’ influence on music and the maverick director’s own filmmaking. “One of the great rock documentaries of recent times.”—Sight & Sound
—>Check back for a POV review during TIFF!

Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story
Dir. Daniel Raim | USA
Francis Ford Coppola, Mel Brooks, Danny DeVito and others testify to the remarkable lives of storyboard artist Harold Michelson, who worked with, among others, Hitchcock, and his film-researcher wife Lillian Michelson, who once wanted to travel to South America to study drug kingpins in order to enhance Al Pacino’s role in Scarface. “The [Hollywood-insider] stuff walks hand in hand with a great romance, and this movie winds up being a rather wonderful paradox: an educational tearjerker.”—Vanity Fair
—>Read the POV review here!

Harry Benson: Shoot First
Dir. Matthew Miele, Justin Bare | USA
A Zelig like character who’s witnessed every major cultural and political event of the last 50 years, Scottish photographer Harry Benson, now 86 and still working, tells his story in Matthew Miele and Justin Bare’s fascinating doc. Photographer of the last 11 US presidents, chronicler of the Beatles’ 1964 American tour and the man standing next to Bobby Kennedy on the night he was shot, Benson—who took intimate portraits of everyone from Winston Churchill to Sharon Stone—is truly one for the ages.

I Called Him Morgan
Dir. Kasper Collin | Sweden/USA
Jazz fans know Lee Morgan for his 1964 hit “The Sidewinder” and his work with Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, et al. But you don’t have to dig bebop to appreciate the tragic ironies that make this such a sucker punch of a crime story, delivered here with palpable love and respect… and bittersweet regret. Tracing how a good woman saved Morgan’s life only to put him in the grave, Kasper Collin’s poignant and evocative documentary shines new light on Morgan’s rise, fall, resurrection and ultimate demise.

Playing Lecuona
Dirs. Juan Manuel Villar Betancort, Pavel Giroud | Spain/Cuba
Juan Manuel Villar Betancort and Pavel Giroud’s doc will thrill casual fans of Cuban music, while aficionados will be in seventh heaven. That’s because this is one of those comparatively rare films that isn’t content to be just a performance piece, but which holds the music up to the light and explores each silvery note. Three contemporary Cuban piano stars—Chucho Valdés, Michel Camilo and Gonzalo Rubalcaba—take turns paying homage to Ernesto Lecuona, the acknowledged inventor of the Cuban sound.

Reset
Dirs. Thierry Demaizière, Alban Teurlai | France
Just as Benjamin Millepied’s dynamic choreography for Black Swan immersed us in the emotional tumult of a ballerina facing her breaking point, this documentary imbeds us in the creative chaos surrounding Millepied’s greatest trial: his debut as the Paris Opera Ballet’s director. “Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai’s vibrant account of the run up to Millepied’s first gala presentation reflects the [dancer’s] energetic, assured, occasionally anarchic approach… It is electrifying viewing…”—Screen

Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach
Dir. Louise Armond | UK
Emerging from retirement to claim the Palme d’Or at Cannes for I, Daniel Blake, 79-year-old Ken Loach served notice that he remains amongst the elite directors and that his brand of socially engaged, deeply humanist filmmaking strikes a resounding chord in these tumultuous socioeconomic times. Delving into Loach’s uncompromising oeuvre, Louise Osmond (Dark Horse) fashions “a fitting tribute to a director who has made a career out of telling the stories that most urgently need to be told.”—Observer

Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt
Dir. Ada Ushpiz | Israel/Canada
One of recent history’s most profound and provocative thinkers gets the rigorous, fair-minded documentary she deserves. Everyone knows Hannah Arendt’s memorable phrase “the banality of evil,” but her ideas about the Holocaust were just one aspect of a complex and evolving political philosophy and an intellectual life that drew from, but transcended, her experiences as a German Jew, refugee, academic and woman. Ada Ushpiz illuminates these ideas through archival footage, interviews and Arendt’s own words.
—>Read the POV review here!

We Are X
Dir. Stephen Kijak | UK/USA/Japan
Watch this documentary and be rocketed into the outer realms of rock ‘n’ roll extravagance as you meet X, the Japanese band that’s captivated audiences worldwide with their operatic musical stylings, outlandish costumes and over-the-top theatrics. The backstage story explores some darker territory, but Stephen Kijack’s film remains a riveting, often inspiring movie. “Bound to become a favorite among fans and to persuade others to join the ranks of those under the loud spell of X.”—IndieWire

Yarn
Dir. Una Lorenzen | Iceland
Your preconceptions about knit and crochet are about to get yarn bombed! Gone are the days when the only controversies associated with these pursuits were unsightly Christmas sweaters. This daring documentary introduces us to the artists and provocateurs who are pushing the boundaries of modern art with stunning work that encompasses everything from wool graffiti to conceptual needlework to textile playgrounds. Una Lorenzen crafts a film loaded with visual curiosities and pointed opinions.

Yohji Yamamoto: Dressmaker
Dir. The Chau Ngo | Germany
An intimate portrait of the life and work of one of the most influential and enigmatic fashion designers of the last 40 years, Ngo The Chau’s insightful film uncovers the many layers of this visionary 73-year-old artist. Yamamoto confesses his most private and intimate thoughts while shedding light on his artistic approach and contrasting it with today’s fashion industry. Interviews with key figures in his life—family, friends and confidants—round out this fascinating study of a fashion legend.

VIFF runs Sept. 29 – Oct. 14.
Please visit viff.org for more information.