Two shorts at Hot Docs this year provided significant tales of performers mastering the art of self-representation. Director Chrisann Hessing’s Turning Tables is a handsome profile of Anishinaabe DJ/techno artist Classic Roots (né Joshua De Perry) as he returns home and explores the roots that inspire his electro beats. Director Jamie Miller’s Prince’s Tale, which deservedly won the jury prize for Best Canadian Short Doc and the Audience Award for Best Short Doc, offers a lyrical and poetic portrait of burn survivor Prince Amponsah as he rises from the ashes of a horrible fire renewed with confidence, destined to reclaim the spotlight of which the accident stripped him. Turing Tables and Prince’s Tale illustrate the power of self-representation as the artists find unique modes for expressing their experiences and inspire others in the process.
One of the few Indigenous stories on the Canadian front at Hot Docs this year, Turning Tables redefines the power of the Indigenous voice post-Canada 150. Fans of A Tribe Called Red are bound to be awestruck by the awesome beats of Classic Roots as he mixes heritage and tradition with the most contemporary form of music. Turning Tables delves into the artist’s backstory, too, as he returns home and uses music to inspire the children of his community and walk viewers through the roads, such as addiction and alcoholism, which inspired him to live again through the pulse of the turntable’s beats. The film features the artist turning tables and dropping beats in full powwow regalia, and the spectacularly cinematic sight of Classic Roots’ performance is an exciting fusion of the old and the new as tribal meets techno.
Among the most evocative and poetic Canadian films at the festival this year, whether of short or feature length, Prince’s Tale finds a lyrical and empowering tale in the story of Prince Amponsah. The actor recalls in interviews a tragic night in 2012 in which flames engulfed his Toronto apartment. The accident left him severely scarred with burns all over his face and body, and he lost both hands in the fire. This experience would be devastating for anyone, but Miller’s portrait of Amponsah focuses not on the pain or the fires that scarred him, but on the flame that still burns within him. Prince’s Tale omits archival news footage of the fire or B-roll inferno shots and instead offers the smoky clouds of Toronto’s grey skies as Prince looks for the light to break in his story.
Prince’s Tale celebrates the passion of its artist by letting Amponsah reclaim the stage. The doc compliments Amponsah’s testimony with strikingly shot dance sequences in which the star becomes empowered by the spotlight and the rush of performing again. Miller bathes the dancer in ashen Julie Taymor-esque make-up as his scars and burns redefine the image of a star, rather than act as concealer, while his amputated arms challenge audiences’ perceptions of what a differently abled performer may achieve. Prince’s Tale soars as its star finds his voice again.