Editor’s Notes: The following capsule reviews are part of our coverage of the North by Northeast Festival. For more information visit http://nxne.com/ and follow NXNE on Twitter at @NXNE.
Dir. Asif Kapadia
BAFTA winning Asif Kapadia first came on the scene with his engrossing 2010 documentary Senna that elucidated the iconic status of late Formula racecar driver Ayrton Senna. He follows it up this year with Amy an in-depth look at the life of Amy Winehouse. It is a tragically tender portrayal of the artist behind the troubled sensation that exposes the reality behind the myths surrounding her.
The film is comprised of almost entirely home and phone camera footage taken by both Amy and the people around her, including her entourage, family, and friends. These provide a tender look at the singer, revealing a down to earth youngster who knew she had a talent for singing, but had not idea the potential stardom it would bring her. A big chunk of the interviews are off camera with a few revealing ones on camera, particularly those with her ex-husband Blake Fielder Civil.
Winehouse’s vulnerability and her innate affinity for the origins of her art is at the core of the film. Her talent, while widely appreciated, was vastly underrated and overlooked due to her out of control lifestyle. Jazz had always been at the core of her musical development. Although she was aware of her talent she was unaware of her musical status. A touching moment comes as she works on a duet with Tony Bennet, one of Winehouse’s heroes. Her eyes light up and she flusters at trying to get her part as perfect as possible. It’s moments like these that will catch viewers unaware and will frustrate them all at once. The damning portrayal of those that could have helped her is nothing compared to the emphatic look at a star that left the world far too soon to exhibit her true potential.
Diamond Tongues (2015)
Dir. Pavan Moondi, Brian Robertson
This is the first time feature for Moondi and Robertson and it makes a unique impact on the Toronto film scene. The story focuses on Edith (Leah Goldstein) struggling actress who’s been relatively unsuccessful. She goes about her days at auditions and failed callbacks while the people around her progress. This does very little for her confidence as an actress and Edith begins to lash out unable to parse what is missing in her life.
Goldstein is captivating to watch and deftly plays Edith with an attuned nuance. The moments where Edith displays her most awkward moments of jealously are poignant. The film succeeds because of its directors’ steady pace at keeping the narrative on track. I make this point because as quirky as Toronto film can be, those eccentricities lead to red herring tangents. Diamond Tongues manages to convey a refreshing portrayal of the many young people coping to find a purpose in life while painting Toronto nightlife in a hipster cool light.
Jonathan Demme Presents Made In Texas (2015)
Dir. Louis Black, Missy Boswell, Brian Hansen, Tom Huckabee, Ed Lowery, Lorrie Oschatz
Legend has it that director Jonathan Demme was invited by then student Louis Black to visit Austin, Texas in the eighties. The pair stayed up drinking, eating barbecue, listening to punk rock, and watching short films. Demme was so impressed with the films that he started showing them as a series for The Collective for Living Cinema.
In this curated offering Demme brings audiences a glimpse at early filmmaking techniques that many overlook in modern film and music videos. The footage is grainy, haphazard at times, and the narratives sophomoric, but their influences are undeniable. Take for example, Louis Black’s Fair Sisters. A band of women rob a house poker game in masked disguises. It’s hard not to see it and not think of the Beastie Boys Sabotage. In Neil Ruttenberg’s The Mask of Sarnath, a murderous mask takes over its wearer and terrorizes a town. The score by Throbbing Gristle is reminiscent of modern minimalist horror soundtracks.
There is much to be found in this collection for any film nerd and punk D.I.Y. enthusiast.