Hot Docs film fest takes over Cinematheque this weekend

It’s all about documentaries this week at Cinematheque, like ChristCORE, a rough and ready documentary by Regina-raised filmmaker Justin Ludwig that takes a baffled but open-minded look at the growing phenomenon of Christian hardcore.

Cinematheque featres a variety of documentaries

ChristCORE plays at Cinematheque. (courtesy Cinematheque)

It’s all about documentaries this week at Cinematheque.

ChristCORE (October 2, 7:00 p.m. and October 3, 9:30 p.m.): In this rough and ready documentary, Regina-raised filmmaker and atheist punk rocker Justin Ludwig takes a baffled but open-minded look at the growing phenomenon of Christian hardcore.

As a young man, Ludwig took the standard rock 'n’ roll route — getting into head-banging music as a way to rebel against school, church and family. He’s initially flummoxed by a movement that uses screaming vocals, driving guitar and stage diving to praise Jesus.

While Ludwig’s first youthful reaction was to record a song called F*** Christian Hardcore, he later decided to head down to America’s Bible Belt and “start a dialogue.”

The resulting film isn’t a definitive overview of Christian hardcore but a personal, oddly quiet exploration of the scene.

Ludwig goes on the road with Messengers, some hardscrabble kids from Texas hoping for a break, and evangelical superstars Sleeping Giants. He attends events like the Scream the Prayer Tour, where Christian hardcore bands minister to kids who wear “I mosh for Jesus” T-shirts, starting with music and ending with prayer meetings, mass baptisms, maybe even some informal faith healing.

There are moments when ChristCORE could easily slide over into a Christian version of Spinal Tap, but Ludwig scrupulously holds back from satirizing his incredibly earnest subjects. With a sincere wish to figure out what these musicians are trying to do, Ludwig ends up, maybe a bit to his surprise, finding common ground.

Hedonistic sinner or Christian saint, it seems everyone just wants to connect with the audience, exorcise some demons onstage, and have a good time.

Ludwig’s filmmaking is raggedy and low-budget and he has a frustrating lack of interest in bigger questions. But the film’s central subject will probably engage hardcore fans, no matter what side of the faith line they’re on.

This weekend, Cinematheque also screens The Best of Hot Docs, a sampling of documentaries from the annual Toronto-based film festival, presented by the National Screen Institute. Here are a few to consider:

Blood Brother (Saturday, October 5, 4:00 p.m.): American filmmaker Steve Hoover follows his childhood friend, Rocky Braat, as he makes the life-transforming decision to work with HIV-positive orphans in India.

This is a profoundly moving picture of a place where life is both fragile and precious. Moments of terrible suffering and great joy are captured by Hoover’s camera with a hushed, strange beauty.

Without in any sense being cynical, Blood Brother also looks at the issue of Westerners who are trying to do good in the developing world. Hoover gently explores what Rocky is looking for and what he ends up finding, along with the difficult questions that his experience raises.

Last Woman Standing (Sunday, October 6th, 4:00 p.m.): Filmmakers Lorraine Price and Juliet Lammers follow two young Canadian boxers, Ariane Fortin and Mary Spencer, as they prepare for the 2012 Olympics.

For years, the two women trained and fought side by side in different weight classes, but their relationship is tested when they find out that only one of them will get an Olympic spot.

This well-constructed doc is as suspenseful as any scripted sports drama. And, without making any direct comment, Last Woman Standing raises important, intriguing questions about female friendship, female competition and the double standards often applied to female athletes.

Greenwich Village: The Music that Defined a Generation (Sunday, October 6th, 7:00 p.m.):  Laura Archibald takes a very affectionate look at the folk scene in Greenwich Village in the 1960s, mixing up archival material with often touching interviews with the now grey-haired musicians who were there, including Judy Collins, John Sebastian, Carly Simon, Peter Yarrow, Arlo Guthrie, Don McLean and Richie Havens.

One historical highlight is the day the police tried to ban singing in Washington Square Park. (I mean, how silly does that look, especially when the young protesters start singing The Star-Spangled Banner?) These moments hold an undeniable charm, but ultimately the film lacks focus and runs on about 30 minutes too long, with way too much uncritical, we-changed-the-world boomer nostalgia. 

ChristCORE plays at Cinematheque on Oct. 2-3 and Best of Hot Docs runs Oct. 4-6.


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