Scene from Force Majeure

Force Majeure’s recent Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film gave Swedish director Ruben Östlund a well-deserved higher profile and a touring program of his four feature films and two shorts. TIFF Bell Lightbox is hosting this retrospective from April 9 to 14 with one showing of each.

Anyone familiar with Östlund’s surgically precise and unfailingly perceptive detailing of the breakdown of family dynamics in Force Majeure (showing April 14), a caustic moral tale worthy of Eric Rohmer, may be interested in the evolution of its director’s art.

Author: Paul Ennis
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In the enchanting fable Kumiko The Treasure Hunter, an alienated 29-year-old Japanese Office Lady (a kind of corporate executive assistant) becomes obsessed with finding an attaché case filled with money that she believes is buried near Fargo, North Dakota. Her information has come from a VHS tape of the Coen brothers’ film Fargo which she believes is based on real events. (She found the tape while treasure hunting in a cave near the ocean.) On her company’s credit card she flies to Minneapolis in the middle of winter to pursue her dream. Ignoring the sage advice of helpful strangers she meets along the way, she eventually finds herself face to face with her Fargo reverie.

Director David Zellner’s direction, Sean Porter’s artful einematography and Rinko Kikuchi’s characterization are equally rigorous. Kikuchi, nominated for an Oscar in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel, combines a naive charm with quiet determination as she pursues her particular version of the American dream.

Rinko Kikuchi

Author: Paul Ennis
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The 22nd incarnation of the Canadian international documentary festival known as Hot Docs runs from April 23 through May 3 at various locations in Toronto. If you look carefully in Section E: The ETCeteras, beginning elsewhere on this page, you will find an entry for it in the Screenings section. Here are details on many of Hot Docs’ 17 music-centric films.

Around the World in 50 Concerts: Definitely one to look forward to. Dutch filmmaker Heddy Honigmann’s keen eye followed the Concertgebouw Orchestra from Buenos Aires to Soweto to St. Petersburg as the acclaimed orchestra celebrated its 125th anniversary by playing 50 concerts in six continents. The Hollywood Reporter’s Neil Young enthused about the mutually beneficial relationship between the musicians and their audiences that forms the film’s core. April 24, 23, May 1, 3

Music Lessons: Hot Docs head honcho Brett Hendrie writes that filmmaker Michael Mabbot uses this 20-minute film to take us behind the scenes at Sistema Toronto “to see firsthand how [José Antonio Abreu’s] program is helping to build both community and a new generation of talent.” The world premiere screening will be followed by a live performance by the Sistema Toronto Yorkwoods Orchestra and a special in-conversation session at the Isabel Bader Theatre April 28 at 6:30 pm.

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They Will Have to Kill Us First(above): Award-winning American-born, UK-based filmmaker Johanna Schwartz tells the tale of Malian musicians who were forced to flee or go into hiding after Jihadists took control of the North of their country a few years ago and instituted extreme sharia law. They cannot imagine life without music, so they continue to play despite the risk. It’s the documentary counterpart to Abderrahmane Sissako’s memorable 2015 Oscar-nominated Timbuktu. April 26, 28, 30

What Happened, Miss Simone?: Oscar-nominated director Liz Garbus (Bobby Fischer Against the World) weaves together rare archival footage and interviews with Nina Simone’s closest confidantes and collaborators to paint a picture of an extraordinary musical talent who had a lot of personal and political issues. Using previously unreleased audio recordings, Garbus enables Simone to tell her story in her own words. It’s a story I can’t wait to experience.April 29, May 1, 2, 3

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Lowdown Tracks: According to programmer Alex Rogalski, filmmaker Shelley Saywell and singer and activist Lorraine Segato of The Parachute Club, inspired by depression-era recordings of early American folk songs, set out to document a new catalogue of songs and stories from five of Toronto’s modern troubadours, unknown buskers whose songs fill subway platforms and street corners and whose personal histories vary as much as their voices. A soundtrack evolves from the island ferry docks and freeway underpasses, rooming houses and rooftops, showing us that music is the common language in this empowering celebration of survival. April 25, 27, May 2

Sweet Micky for President: Justin Lowe wrote in the Hollywood Reporter: “When it comes to getting out the vote, music can make all the difference in an electoral campaign. In the 2010 Haitian presidential election, it was professional musicians who made the difference, however. Former Fugee’s rapper Pras Michel endorsed musician and candidate Michel ‘Sweet Micky’ Martelly, actively backing him throughout his eventful campaign. Filmmaker Ben Patterson captures the candidate and his supporters in close-up for his dynamic debut feature.” Winner of both the Audience and Jury Prizes for Best Documentary at the Slamdance Film Festival. April 29, May 3

DocX Virtual Reality Showcase – Four short films employing revolutionary technology: Take a breathtaking voyage through the Northwest Passage in Polar Sea 360°; transport yourself to the stunning landscapes of Mongolia and into the lives of nomadic yak herders in Herders. Measha Brueggergosman takes users with her on a personal voyage through Canada and Cameroon as she performs a selection of spirituals in Songs of Freedom. Strangers With Patrick Watson, an intimate and understated virtual reality project, invites users to go behind the scenes with the Montreal singer-songwriter as he works on his music at home in his studio loft. The 20-minute exhibit is free to view at the Isabel Bader Theatre from April 24 to May 1, 10:00 am to 7:00 pm.

There are many more for the intrepid doc explorer to seek out. As I AM: The Life and Times of DJ AM examines the brief life of million-dollar DJ, Adam Goldstein. Breaking a Monster looks at the price three tween boys from Brooklyn pay to satisfy the demands of the music industry. Adam Lough’s Hot Sugar’s Cold World follows beats generation superstar Nick Koenig (Hot Sugar) as he creates one-of-a-kind music made entirely out of sounds from the world around him even as his high-profile girlfriend dumps him. Judging by its Sundance critical raves, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is a fascinating portrait of the grunge icon. Finally there is no excuse to miss Mavis! a doc that chronicles the six-decade musical odyssey of the legendary gospel/soul singer Mavis Staples complete with her own memories of a life inextricably linked to civil rights.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

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Garrett Wareing

Director François Girard’s best films have revolved around music: Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould propelled him to early critical fame and The Red Violin proved to be a popular success. With Boychoir he’s back in his element with a touching, crowd-pleaser that percolates with choral music.

He’s able to put flesh on the screen despite the brittle bones of the plot.

Author: Paul Ennis
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Seymour Bernstein. Photo: Ramsey Fendall. Courtesy of Mongrel Media.

“Music is a reminder of our own potential for perfection.”
-- Seymour Bernstein

In last September’s issue of The WholeNote, in my preview of the Toronto International Film Festival, I wrote that the film I was most looking forward to was Ethan Hawke’s Seymour: An Introduction. It had been Hawke’s explanation of Bernstein’s teaching mantra (responding to Hubert Vigilia’s question on flixist.com, two years ago just as the film was taking shape) that piqued my curiosity and made the film a must on my TIFF to-do list.

Said Hawke: “He’s a very deep guy. I was touched by him, and I thought he had a lot to teach me about acting, and then I slowly realized that the way he’s talking about the piano relates to every profession.”

I was touched, charmed and inspired by Hawke’s moving documentary when I saw it at TIFF and couldn’t wait to see it again. Six months later, it’s begun an exclusive engagement at the Cineplex Varsity Cinemas. The second time I was even more moved. Be prepared to be charmed and inspired when you see it. It’s unmissable.

Hawke (Boyhood, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight) has given us a tender, warm portrait of the captivating pianist Seymour Bernstein. Among many things Hawke’s documentary does, it debunks the axiom that those who can, do and those who can’t, teach. And it does so with wall-to-wall piano music highlighted by Bernstein’s own playing of Chopin (Berceuse, Ballade No.1, Nocturne Op.37 No.2) and Beethoven (Bagatelles Op.126, Sonata Op.111, “Moonlight” Sonata) among others, as well as some of his own compositions. 

Author: Paul Ennis
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hannigan.jpgThe Toronto Symphony’s New Creations Festival is turning out to be a remarkable blend between premieres of works not heard in Canada before, including two newly commissioned pieces and an experience of breaktaking performances by Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan who was featured in the February issue of The WholeNote. With one show of the festival remaining on Saturday March 7 and the entire night devoted to a concert version of guest composer George Benjamin’s opera Written on Skin, all I can say is if you’re reading this before Saturday, you need not even think twice. It’s going to be spellbinding.

But before jumping ahead into the future, a look back at what has already transpired is in order. The two works that stood out for me at the February 28 concert were both devoted to studies of “a mind of winter,” which just happens to be the title of the work composed by Benjamin and performed by Hannigan that evening. As soon as the conductor’s baton was raised, from my close vantage point I could see Hannigan immediately begin to breathe into and with the sounds coming from the orchestra. I remembered what she had said in the interview we had for the February cover story – that when she sings she becomes fully a part of a large body making sound and breathing. She went on to say “that’s what makes singers so unique – because the voice is the most vulnerable of instruments, when you are connected with your whole body, your whole being is on display.” She so fully took the audience into this mind of winter state, that listening to the music lifted the listener far beyond the drudgery of winter into a place of stillness and exquisite beauty.

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Marc-André Hamelin CREDIT Fran Kaufman

Not since Glenn Gould has a Canadian pianist had such a global impact as Marc-André Hamelin. Just as Gould’s interpretation of Bach revolutionized the way we heard his music, Hamelin made musical sense of late 19th and early 20th century pianist-composer romantic music so fiendishly difficult it had seemed lost until he unearthed it. As the years passed, Hamelin’s repertoire broadened to embrace more traditional repertoire and his March 1 Koerner Hall recital included Debussy’s Images Book II from his recently released Hyperion Debussy CD.

Author: Paul Ennis
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Tommy Tedesco and Hal Blaine

Thirty years after they were the bricks in Phil Spector’s wall of sound, guitarist Tommy Tedesco, drummer Hal Blaine, bassist Carol Kaye and saxophonist Plas Johnson sat down to reminisce about their lives as L.A. session musicians for some of the most famous voices in the history of popular music. Those unforgettable guitar licks in Bonanza, Batman and Green Acres? That was Tedesco. The highly sought-after Kaye was the rare female in a man’s world. Her totally original bass line in The Beat Goes On is an example of why. “Nobody thought the music we cut in the 60s would last ten years,” she said.

Author: Paul Ennis
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Three compelling films have recently surfaced in Toronto., Timbuktu, Abderrahmane Sissako’s clear-eyed, moving, humanistic look at the jihadist takeover of northern Mali is in an exclusive engagement at TIFF Bell Lightbox as of February 13. Sissako brings us wholly into the lives of his well-developed characters, ordinary people who want nothing more than to make music, play soccer and, for the women, to feel the breeze on their hands without being forced to wear gloves at all times. All of these simple acts have been declared to be violations of Sharia law by thuggish Arab invaders.

Timbuktu

Author: Paul Ennis
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Looking back on the history of the early-music movement over the last 50 years, we can say that one accomplishment it made was to shift the focus of the musical canon away from Germany and Austria to other countries. It's understandable that this would happen -- German-speaking countries had a virtual monopoly on great composers from Haydn's day, but the cultural landscape in the preceding centuries was considerably more multipolar -- yet there's still a bias in early music for a few Western European countries. French, Italian and maybe a bit of English music is now de rigueur in early music circles, still there's no push to expand the canon any further, at the expense of more than a few great composers who have been lost to the ages.

fandango

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