Saturday, 19 April 2008

Hot Docs Diary: Day 2

After an enjoyable interview with Finlay Pretsell of the Scottish Documentary Institute (check out the results of their Bridging the Gap initiative, My Mother's Daughter, I Shot the Mayor and The Unbearable Whiteness of Being), I headed off to Hot Docs. A stop at Greg's Ice Cream (Spadina/Bloor) for some sweet ginger-flavoured coolness and then...

Bond. James Bond. Same name different lifestyle. While super spy 007 is known for beating up bad guys, loving the ladies and sipping martinis in evening clothes, projectionist James Bond (he was born and named before Dr. No) is known for his work as a projectionist. Make that unknown since, as one projectionist points out in Behind the Glass (dir. Gabriel Rhodes) the audience only notices you when things go wrong. "Unknown" James Bond (see b/w photo) and his ilk have a passion for film that sometimes borders on obsession, but when you hear them speak you can't help but be impacted by their dedication to making your viewing experience the best it can be. In the early days of film, when projecting film was dangerous business if the nitrate film caught fire and exploded, projectionists were entrusted with delivering studio goods to the audience in the best way possible. With the advent of digital technology, and cost-cutting mandates, the projectionist is no longer king. So, if you go to a second viewing of your a film you liked and the picture doesn't seem quite

as clear as the last time you saw it, that's because there

is no one in the booth that cares about your movie-going experience beyond how much you spent at the concession stand.

Another gem of Behind the Glass is the Loews Jersey (photos on left), a movie palace built a couple of months before the stock market crashed in 1929. Check out this link (click here) to the projection booth and be sure to take the tour. The Friends of the Loew's have put in many volunteer hours to restore and continue the life of this grand old palace.

Irony of all ironies, wouldn't you know that after the projectionists in Behind the Glass advocating for their profession, the next film had to be stopped and restarted. Oops!

You may know her best as Nancy on This is Wonderland, but actress Siu Ta has produced and directed a wonderful documentary about Daddy Tran and his family. Daddy Tran in 3-D is a delightful and revealing film about a man's obsession with photography: from his days in Vietnam, to

fleeing his homeland with a wife, 3 kids and 3 cameras on a boat in the '70's, ending up in a refugee camp for 8 months in Hong Kong, and finally being sponsored by people in Calgary, Alberta. Daddy Tran thinks nothing of stopping people and showing them his 3-D photographs. And once you stop you do say "Wow!" I know. I uttered the same banal expression when he showed me his photos in the lobby of the Al Green Theatre. Some other adoring fans also uttered the same expression, too. The landscapes were amazing of course, but there was a black and white image taken a few years ago in Vietnam that blew us away, as did a slow-speed picture of a waterfall that looked like streams of cascading fishing wire.

Not without his flaws, Daddy Tran is known by his family for his short temper, but his grown children account that to his past struggles and being poor for so many years in cold Calgary. With the establishment of Vintage Visuals, a camera store for the shutterbug crowd, Tran calmed down somewhat, but as his wife says "negotiating" customers can sometimes get on his nerves which is why she prefers him out of the store and out and about with his camera. For Daddy Tran the camera is his best friend.

I am not a big Jackson Brown fan, so when Talking Guitars (dir. Claire Pijman) started with him singing I thought I was in for a world of hurt, but I stayed the course because I love watching instruments being made and I knew sooner or later (and I prayed for sooner) the film would move on to Dutch guitar master, Flip Scipio. Flip makes and restores guitars for the likes of Brown, the Buena Vistas Social Club, the Rolling Stones, and Simons Carly and Paul and many other musicians.

Flip is an intuitive craftsman. Few guitar schools were around when Flip started out in the late '70's, so he is self taught. Leni Stern confides that a guitar Flip made for her came out the way it did because the guitar told him how things should be. So if the guitar wanted a curve in a particular place on her guitar, that is what she ended up with--and with no complaints from Stern. She adores the ease with which she can play her baritone guitar--no fighting to get the sounds out. I especially loved Flip's work-in-progress guitar for Paul Simon. Flip brought the guitar to Paul, who was so impressed with the tone of the instrument that he told Flip not to do any more work because he didn't want to risk losing what had been created. I have to also confess to a tiny bit of breathlessness upon seeing Keith Richard's guitar. Watch for this one to hit the big screen in limited release or show up on your cable doc channel, but it has one more screening on Sun. April 20th, 2pm Isabel Bader, 93 Charles Street.)

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