Hot Docs reviews [Pt.3]
(Somewhat belated) reviews for Bones Brigade: An Autobiography, We Are Legion: The Story Of The Hacktivists, The Revisionaries and The Queen of Versailles are below. Check out all our Hot Docs 2012 coverage here.
Legendary skater Stacy Peralta gained prominence in 2001 with his documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys. The film dealt with the Zephyr skateboard team and the early days of skating culture in California. Since then Peralta has made a few more films, but none have come close to enjoying the level of success that Dogtown had.
Almost a decade later he brings us a picture about “The Bones Brigade”, the skating team that he set up in the early 1980s, who defined an era and transcended cultural boundaries, eventually resulting in the epoch moment that was their appearance in Police Academy IV.
Peralta claims he couldn’t make this film any sooner because he didn’t want to be accused of over-indulgence after featuring so prominently in Dogtown. He shouldn’t have worried as, while the parts where Peralta is interviewed by his editor Joshua Altman take a bit of getting used to, it still works better than traditional narration. You sense the real reason this film took so long to make may have been because of the personal fued between Peralta and his business partner manufacturer George Powell which lasted the best part of 15 years until they reunited and broke bread a few years ago.
Steve Caballero, Tommy Guerrero, Tony Hawk, Mike McGill, Lance Mountain and Rodney Mullen make up the core of The Bones Brigade and are the six men profiled here. All are legends in the world of skateboarding and will be well known to anyone else who got wrapped up in the Playstation-fuelled boom of the early 2000s.
The title of the film has a little addendum, “an autobiography” which means it’s really less of a document of a time and a place, as it is of a series of personal stories about awkward social outcasts who suddenly became some of the coolest people in America. Alongside the interviews with the six men there are also recollections from a series of familiar faces and colourful characters, none better than Bones Brigade creative director Craig Stecyk, a man who is the perfect combination of Seinfeld’s Cosmo Kramer and Hunter S. Thompson. A dream combo I never thought I’d see.
Peralta hasn’t allowed any populist touches in the same way Dogtown and Z-Boys did (Sean Penn narration, killer soundtrack), so this may not be for anyone. Instead this feels much more like a touching movie about his friends, for his friends. Thankfully we’re all invited to share the reunion.
USA / International Premiere / Directed By: Stacy Peralta
110min / Documentary
I’m almost a bit scared to diss this documentary about the infamous hacking group known as “Anonymous”. The group came to prominence in 2008 when they launched a series of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against the Church of Scientology’s web properties over what they considered to censorship. Since then, the group have gotten involved in a number of causes all in the name of freedom of expression and speech. These range from MPAA protests, the Arab Spring, the Ocuupy movement and wikileaks. In Ireland they made the news for supposedly tackling one of Fine Gael’s websites.
The film starts out as an interesting history lesson about the origins of the term “Anonymous”. The movement had its roots in the “/b/” image board of 4chan.org. When someone opted not to share their identity on the site they were listed as Anonymous. Over time, instead of just posting memes of cats, they realised that their collective power and knowledge could be used in different ways. One of their first “conquests” was the outing of conservative U.S. radio presenter Hal Turner as a paid FBI informant who had been supplying information about right-wing groups to federal agents.
While those early days are explored in a light-hearted fun way with all the main players happy to talk, once they move more toward the hacktivist era, things become more cloudly. Most of the current members are interviewed in V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes masks over skype (some with full-on distorted voice effect).
As things move on the film starts to feel very preachy and self-important as the disparity between the early fun-loving hackers and the political activists who simply use the moniker as a tool in their protests becomes clearer. The fact that the current incarnation of Anonymous’ evolution and goals are so ambiguous doesn’t really help to create a very focused film.
A worthy effort though. Please don’t hurt our website.
USA / International Premiere / Directed By: Brian Knappenberger
93mins / Documentary
Scott Thurman makes his feature documentary debut with The Revisionaries, a film which explores the Texas State Board of Education’s review of textbook standards, and in particular the fight between evolution and creationist content in the state’s science books. The textbooks that go into schools in the bigger states like Texas and California end up being used all across the country so their content is of prime importance because of the role it will play in shaping the ideology of the country’s future voters.
At the centre of this debate is the then head of the Texas State Board of Education Don McLeroy, a dentist who was appointed to the role by Governor Rick Perry. McLeroy is staunchly conservative and a devout Christian who is more than happy to defend his position in interviews with Thurman.
The Revisionaries seems to struggle a little with respectfully poking fun at the creationists. Some of the things that McLeroy and his cohorts say are quite out there but whether they’re worthy of derision and laughter is another thing. Personally I found an awkward giggle was probably more comforting than acknowledging the idiocy of the petty politicking that sees religion become so inter-twined with science education.
So while the film does fit in plenty of laughs (McLeroy’s assertion that Noah definitely had dinosaurs on the ark; the SBOE motion that text-book references to “hop hop music” be changed to “country music”), ultimately it lingers too much in the boardrooms and offices of the policy-makers without really venturing into the classrooms where things are actually implemented.
Credit should go to Thurman for making a relatively balanced film which doesn’t make fun of religion or push any great liberal agenda. Instead he’s happy enough to let the viewer to make up their own mind on things. If only the same opportunity could be given to the schoolchildren of the Lone Star State.
USA / International Premiere / Directed By: Scott Thurman
83min / Documentary
Jackie Siegel is The Queen of Versailles. She is a former beauty queen, current wife of time-share billionaire David Siegel and mother of their eight children. Lauren Greenfield’s documentary meets them when they are in the middle stages of construction of “America’s biggest home”, a 90,000-square-foot mansion in Florida. Unfortunately the economy goes pop and the time-share market collapses leaving the Siegel’s in big trouble with an unfinished home on their hands.
We’re probably all built to resent people like David and Jackie, a couple who represent the infamous 1%. Dozens of staff at their beck and call, with very little interest or empathy for the woes of the common man. Their own greed and ambition becomes their downfall as David is too proud to consider cutting his losses and closing his Las Vegas tower or accepting a knockdown price on their Versailles home. As things continue to collapse most self-respecting millionaires would have cut off Greenfield’s access for the fear the film would become less of a puff piece and more that of a tragic spiralling downfall, but for whatever reason we still get to play “Keeping up with the Siegels”.
Despite, or perhaps because of, David’s grumpy arrogance we as an audience really begin to empathise with Jackie. She went from the bleak environs of upstate New York and a dead-end job as an IBM engineer to becoming Mrs. Florida 1993. Her level of confidence and eccentricity (the couple’s home is plastered with tacky portraits of the couple dickied up like immortals) actually becomes quite endearing as the film goes on.
Without money David is a broken man, but you get the impression that Jackie would take as much from a life without the material comforts provided she has still has her husband, children and their menagerie of pets. She’d struggle with the dinner and the house would be a mess with dog crap all over the floor but there’d be a hell of lot of love and affection there.
In short The Queen of Versailles is a funny and touching portrayal of the trappings of wealth. While spending time in the family home can feel like a tragic parody at times (they have to let some of their house staff go meaning no one feeds the fish anymore – cue an aquarium with lots of dead fish), you still find yourself rooting for these multi-millionaires.
USA / Canadian Premiere / Directed By: Lauren Greenfield
100min / Documentary