Hot Docs Review: ‘Love and Fury’

An unconventionally anti-establishment portrait of the creative process

5 mins read

Love and Fury
(USA, 89 min.)
Dir. Sterlin Harjo
Program: Artscapes

If one sits on a toilet and farts, can said flatulence be performance art? Such a question crossed this reviewer’s mind while watching Love and Fury. This eclectic look at a year in the lives of various artists includes some curious choices. One scene, for example, sees comedian Bobby “Dues” Wilson visit an English pub, sit on the loo, and detonate a bomb of noxious gases. The Brits admittedly had it coming given that Wilson’s excretion occurs in Plymouth shortly after visiting the site of departure for the Mayflower. Love and Fury confronts artistic responses to colonialism in unexpected ways. The moments selected from this yearlong study might not present an overall unified portrait of the artistic process, but the doc works despite its eccentricities, or perhaps precisely because it rejects conventional portraiture in favour of a rogue anti-establishment impression.

Director Sterlin Harjo, a three-time jury award winner for his dramatic features at imagineNATIVE, profiles a series of Indigenous artists in various disciplines. Unlike many of the white people who write about art, Harjo defines the subjects not by their tribe, nation, or creed, but by their work and artistic impulses. This aspect of the film alone makes Love and Fury radical. It lets the artists discuss their work on their own terms without resorting to the same essentialism and pigeonholing one often sees in arts criticism. The film doesn’t even provide the artists’ names outside of one communal title card in the final credits.

Harjo’s approach is productive because it acknowledges how one’s life experience is inseparable from the art one creates. However, it also illustrates how artists forge their own paths through said experiences. It uses personal histories, sometimes painful ones, to convey how creative processes let artists navigate their identities and develop distinct voices within a wider legacy. In addition to Wilson, Harjo follows musician and composer Laura Harjo, artist and composer Raven Chacon, poet/musician/author Joy Harjo, musician Micah Hinson, and visual artist Haley Greenfeather English, among others._ Love and Fury_ observes as the artists create new work within their respective mediums and share it with audiences.

Sometimes these acts of creation are conventional, like dabbing paint on a canvas. Other moments take the artistic process off beaten paths. For example, one sequence sees several artists endeavour to make a graffiti-style mural that imagines a legend anew. The mural visualises misogynistic violence using the image of a serpentine phallus that scrawls along the wall and grabs the attention of a security guard. Other artists evoke the violence of rape culture through interpretive dance, song, or performance art. Voicing pain for the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is a recurrent theme in the work seen in Harjo’s film, as is taking the fury of cultural genocide and transforming it into an expression of love.

Love and Fury admittedly lacks focus as it skips around the field with inconsistent snippets of screen time devoted to each artist. However, what the film lacks in narrative coherence it makes up for in thematic cohesion. The potent cinematography by Harjo and Kyle Bell, Shane Brown, Jeremy Charles, and Matt Leach creates visually striking impressions of the art scene with the same passion and the same impulse to work against the grain that the subjects evoke. The standard formula for documentary has colonialism in its DNA dating back to Nanook of the North, so perhaps it’s appropriate that Love and Fury asserts its own voice—offbeat, unconventional, and invigorating.

Love and Fury screens at Hot Docs’ online festival

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival.

Update: Love and Fury screens at imagineNATIVE Oct. 24 – 26.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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