Arts and Letters
Cinema can convey the power of the other arts—architecture, dance, painting and music, especially music—in astonishing ways. Big-screen sound and image facilitate a special kind of intimacy and quality of encounter that is unique. This extremely popular subsection of Nonfiction Features highlights great performances and in-depth visits with some of our greatest artistic talents.
Come see. Come hear.
Films in this Series
Prompted by Ari Seth Cohen’s wildly popular blog (itself indebted to Bill Cunningham’s guerrilla fashion photography), Lina Plioplyte’s inspiring documentary profiles seven New York women—aged “between 50 and death”—whose eccentric approaches to style and glamour reflect their inextinguishable vitality. “They reject the youth-culture diktat that age makes you invisible, and offer us all an example of self-acceptance.”—Globe & Mail
This is the incredible story of art forger Mark Landis who, using coloured pencils, frames from Walmart and simple stain techniques, has replicated the works of masters and then donated them to 46 US museums—duping dozens of scrupulous curators along the way. Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman’s fascinating film is "in the tradition of Crumb and the early films of Errol Morris…"—Variety
Cinematographer/director Jody Lee Lipes slips us inside The New York City Ballet’s storied confines and observes Justin Peck’s creation of the company’s 422nd original piece. Punctuated by instances of divine inspiration and profound frustration, the film celebrates movement while illustrating how arduous creativity can sometimes be. “A delight for balletophiles, the film [represents] a beautifully crafted entree into the intricacies of collective endeavor.”—Variety
It’s closing night for popular Belgian cabaret Gardenia and its gay and trans stars face reintroduction into reality. Mixing avant-garde choreography with confessional interviews, Thomas Wallner offers “an endearing recollection of life as an outsider, a sincere exploration of queer identity, and a stunning celebration of the communion we achieve in art.”—Indiewire. Winner, Special Jury Prize: Canadian Feature, Hot Docs 2014.
“A government without a sense of humour isn’t democratic.” This caption from a Venezuelan cartoon speaks volumes about satire’s power to test the establishment in political hotspots. Stéphanie Valloatto’s stirring, funny documentary profiles a dissident profession’s leading practitioners. “Just like the best political cartoons, the documentary… manages to synthesize a vast subject in ways both insightful and, at times, frightfully funny.”—Hollywood Reporter
The sexy story of the iconic British artist David Hockney, who is adamant about living life in the now.
Legendary accordionist, composer and singer José Domingos de Morais—better known as Dominguinhos—died last year, but not before participating in Joaquim Castro, Eduardo Nazarian and Mariana Aydar’s celebration of his life and music. With his wide smile and prodigious talent, Dominguinhos and his unique mix of bossa nova, jazz and pop, all anchored by his baião rhythms, will leave you delighted.
Legendary Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer and political dissident Fela Kuti is brought to life in Oscar-winner Alex Gibney’s (Taxi to the Dark Side) stirring evocation of the man and his music. Mixing archival concert footage from the 70s and 80s, present-day interviews and behind-the-scenes documentation of the 2009 Broadway musical Fela!, Gibney’s kaleidoscopic film is as protean and rousing as Kuti himself was.
Singer and legendary guitarist Glen Campbell is so much more than just the purveyor of great tunes like "Wichita Lineman." When Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, director James Keach was given unfettered access to the singer during his farewell tour; the result is a remarkably musical testament to courage and determination that serves as the lead-in to VIFF’s "Gentle on My Mind" sidebar. Winner, Grand Jury Prize, Nashville 2014.
Generally considered the most important living Russian artists, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov cooperated fully on this documentary by Amei Wallach (Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine). More than 20 years after fleeing Russia, the Kabakovs return to install six walk-through installations in venues throughout Moscow. "Dynamically shot… conveying the emotional urgency of the Kabakovs’ work."—The New York Times
It’s always a pleasure to present VIFF favourite Phil Grabsky’s (In Search of Mozart, In Search of Beethoven) latest beautifully made, exquisite-sounding inquiry into the life and music of one of classical music’s great composers. Now it is the Polish maestro’s turn… "Grabsky has astutely woven together an indelible portrait, offering us a rich and personal insight into Chopin the man and his music."—Urban Cinefile
Seamlessly blending nine decades of film and photographs, this is a story of the process of aging told through dance.
"An excellent, intelligent, and unfussily traditional documentary about a gifted artist who photographed many key 20th-century figures, including Mick Jagger, John Betjeman, Queen Elizabeth and Samuel Beckett. Now 89, a frail and lucid Bown reflects on her life… Others pay homage… and speak insightfully about aesthetics, technique, and the context of Bown’s work. Directors Luke Dodd and Michael Whyte’s austere filmmaking eminently suits the material…"—Guardian
Argentina’s Mercedes Sosa (1935-2009) was one of the most talented and politically engaged singers of the 20th century. Known as "the voice of the voiceless ones," she was a mainstay of the nueva canción folk movement, dazzled audiences worldwide and won numerous Grammy awards. Rodgrigo H. Vila’s loving portrait melds archival concert footage and contemporary interviews to breathtaking effect. Winner, Audience Award, Panama 2013.
Legendary teacher Martha Hill made a colossal impact on the North American dance scene that few others can lay claim to. A colleague of Martha Graham, Hill became Juilliard’s first Director of Dance, where she pioneered a mix of classical ballet and modern dance forms. Sprinkled with archival footage and anecdotes from dance luminaries, Greg Vander Veer’s lively and inspiring biography celebrates this singular heroine.
Twenty years ago, Nas released Illmatic and redefined the sound of hip-hop with the album’s intricate jazz-infused rhythms and blunt-force rhymes. In his directorial debut, graffiti artist One9 looks back at the seminal record’s creation, as well as the environment and experiences that contributed to it. “It’s impossible not to get swept up in the energy of the era.”—Indiewire
Master documentarian Frederick Wiseman continues his supremely intelligent examinations of institutions with this probing, beautifully made look at one of the west’s great bastions of culture—Britain’s National Gallery. Key staff and ongoing problems and controversies are all quietly examined, and the result is "a truly inspiring piece of filmmaking [that is] universally recognisable as a great, great film."—Telegraph
Almost two decades after “Common People” dominated the UK charts, beloved Britpop stars Pulp return to their unlikely industrial hometown of Sheffield to play one last gig. Florian Habicht commemorates the occasion by sharing Jarvis Cocker’s musings (he equates fame to a nut allergy), high-concept vignettes (a seniors’ choir sings “Help the Aged”) and footage of the epochal concert. “The live performances are electrifying…”—Observer
VIFF favourite Doris Dörrie (Cherry Blossoms) immerses us in the mayhem of Mexico City’s bustling Plaza Garibaldi and introduces us to the female Mariachis—still a rare breed—who perform there. While their passionate voices suggest indomitable spirits, moving confessional interviews reveal the discrimination and personal doubts they must contend with on a daily basis. "The female performers are dynamite… Inspiring."—NOW Toronto
"This portrait of the influential writer and public intellectual somehow manages to do justice to both the breadth of her work… as well as the ins and outs of her personal life… That director Nancy Kates manages to hit so many important pivot points in Sontag’s life and career in a cinematically engaging way feels like a small miracle."—Vulture.com. Winner, Special Jury Mention, Tribeca 2014.
Acclaimed filmmaker Thomas Burstyn (This Way of Life) turns his inquisitive camera on his aunt and uncle: Yolanda Sonnabend, a London artist who resides in decaying splendor, and Joseph Sonnabend, an esteemed AIDS physician who’s returned to a house he hates and sister he can’t relate to. The enthralling result is a film about family relations, fractured sibling love, gender, art, science, diaspora and legacy—and the uncomfortable role of the filmmaker as voyeur, confidant, family.
Secreting us inside the storied Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Johannes Holzhausen’s unobtrusive documentary not only offers glimpses of works by Raphael, Rembrandt, Vermeer and Bruegel but also shares fascinating insights into the people and processes that ensure their preservation and continued cultural relevance. Thanks to Holzhausen, masterpieces are suddenly seen in a whole new light. “As all-enveloping and elegant as the establishment itself.”—Variety
Having spent most of his career in Jerry Garcia’s shadow, Bob Weir assumes the spotlight in this affectionate tribute to The Grateful Dead’s influential rhythm guitarist and resident heartthrob. Mike Fleiss’ rollicking documentary reveals a man every bit as unique and complex as his inimitable playing style. “A well-deserved tribute to a musician whose stature belies the film’s title.”—Hollywood Reporter
As Of Montreal’s madcap leader, Kevin Barnes’ creativity stems from chaos, be it outlandish stage shows, revolving bandmates or hairpin turns of musical direction. Recognizing that a definitive portrait of an artist so mercurial simply isn’t possible, Jason Miller instead “evokes the frantic consciousness of Barnes, his compulsion to create and move on to the next thing… It’s a spiraling kaleidoscope…”—Boston Globe
As both Orange Juice frontman and a solo artist, Edwyn Collins had a way with words. Then, two debilitating strokes reduced his vocabulary to his wife’s name and the phrase “the possibilities are endless.” Documentarians James Hall and Edward Lovelace “immerse us in the experience… Their take on accident and recovery is romantic and terrifying, lush but insular. They dig beauty out of tragedy…”—Guardian
Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado’s magnetic portrait of photographer Sebastião Salgado, is "illuminating and uplifting… [It moves] from his early years growing up on a Brazilian farm… through to his increasingly large-scale photographic projects that took him to many of the world’s most hostile and dangerous conflict zones… A moving tribute to a peerless talent."—Guardian. Winner, Special Jury Prize, Un Certain Regard, Cannes 2014.
Mixing awe and irreverence, this cinephile’s delight explores the legendary Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman’s home, life, films and legacy through interviews with luminaries like Michael Haneke, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, John Landis, Claire Denis, Ang Lee, Zhang Yimou and Lars von Trier (as quotable as ever). Their insights will inspire an intense desire to view (or re-view) Bergman’s classics.