The Imposter

This documentary was originally reviewed after screening at Canada’s Hot Docs 2012.

Impossible, improbable, imposter – ★★★★★

The Imposter is one of those films that is best enjoyed the less you know about it going in. If you’ve managed to escape the story of 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay’s missing persons case, then do your best not to google things. In a story that you wouldn’t believe if it were fiction, “Barclay” who went missing from his home in Texas in 1994, shows up four years later in Spain. I’m not ruining anything by using those little inverted commas as the title of the film tells you everything may not be as it seems.

Read More

Looking ahead to Toronto’s Hot Docs 2012

Hot Docs 2012 runs from April 26th to May 6th

So living in Toronto has some huge advantages for film fans. And now I’m not talking about the civilised, intelligent audiences, but instead the city’s phenomenal festival offerings!

Leading the charge is the world’s biggest film festival, TIFF, which burns through the city every September. But in second place is the world’s preeminent documentary festival, Hot Docs. I was lucky enough to get to my first Hot Docs last year (and wrote a little about it here and here) and it’s a fantastic festival which excels with the small things like ticket sales, line-ups and Q&As.

Read More

A real handy-man

/film just highlighted this rather excellent documentary short Ryan Palmieri’s The Hands of Hollywood.

The true story of the meteoric rise and fall of Steve Hershon, Hollywood’s go to hand insert model.



Emotional blackmail – ★★½

It’s kinda hard to find a connection between The Bully Project, a small-scale documentary that went around the festival circuit last year (including showings at Toronto’s Hot Docs 2011), and the media juggernaut that is Bully, which received its North American general release last week amidst a flurry of publicity.

Read More

David Lynch’s daughter seems a bit mad

So Toronto’s Hot Docs festival runs next month from April 26th to May 6th. It’s the world’s leading documentary festival and I’m still trawling through the extensive program working out what looks worthwhile.

Read More

Raccoon Nation

TUESDAY FUN FACT - There are 50 times more raccoons in Toronto than in the rural areas surrounding it.

So this documentary is a little out of nowhere but this site was never going to be the place you went to see the Super Bowl half-time trailers…

Considering the Canadian half of the Spooool team is surrounded by raccoooons (Páraic just has to deal with the scangers in Dublin) we can’t not post a link to Odie Henderson’s preview of the PBS feature-length documentary Raccoon Nation, which comes out on DVD and Blu-ray this side of the pond on March 13th. Check out the piece in question from the Chicago Sun-Times here – Raccoon Nation: The hep cats of the ‘hood.

Read More

Senna will not win an oscar // Thoughts on the 15 film documentary shortlist

No Oscar love for Ayrton.

Once again the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences have baffled me. Over the weekend they released their shortlist of the 15 features which will be vying for the oscar for Best Documentary Feature. They are…

Battle for Brooklyn
Bill Cunningham New York
Hell and Back Again
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Jane’s Journey
The Loving Story
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Project Nim
Semper Fi: Always Faithful
Sing Your Song
Under Fire: Journalists in Combat
We Were Here

Now first of all, I am absolutely thrilled to see Hell and Back Again in there. It was the best film I saw at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival last spring, and the film-maker Danfung Dennis was a true gent as well as an incredibly talented man. Dennis is a stills photographer who shot Hell and Back Again on a Canon 5D Mark II with a custom-built rig (see his twitpic), creating the most immersive shots I’ve ever seen be they in a feature film, documentary or computer game. It’s well worth watching the trailer if you have a minute to spare.

While I’m sad to see Werner Herzog’s Into the Abyss, Susan Saladoff’s Hot Coffee and Constance Marks and Philip Shane’s Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey ommited from the list, there is no omission more glaring than that of Asif Kapadia’s Senna.

The movie tells the story of Formula One driver Ayrton Senna’s life from Sao Paolo to his fatal crash in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Whether you’re a fan of Formula One or not, this is an absolutely flawless documentary with more heart and emotion than any scripted movie. Its “characters”, “plot” and structure could have made for a really solid biopic, but the wealth of archive footage and interviews available meant there was no need. If you haven’t seen this, then see it. Laugh at his ladies. Boo the Frenchman. Marvel at his driving. Cry at the crash.

It did well at the box office and scored incredibly well with the critics and yet it looks like once again this has no bearing on the Academy’s choices. There had even been talk of Senna receiving a nod in other categories like editing and sound, but this now seems unlikely after its omission from the list for documentaries

It has happened before, with Grizzly Man, Hoop Dreams, Why We Fight and King of Kong all being notable examples that have failed to find any traction.

Now and again a film like Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop, Murderball or Supersize Me sneaks in there, but nowadays it seems they like to have this as Oscar night’s “ISSUES” category. Last year alongside Banksy’s film we saw films about war (Restrepo), the environment (Waste Land and Gasland) and the economic crisis (Inside Job).

This longlist of 15 comes from a longer list of 124 entrants which the Academy’s documentary branch screening committee then whittle down. We’ll find out which five make the nominations list on January 24th.

We’ll complain about that too.

Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey

Alternative Ulster - ★★★★★

In 1969 at the age of 21 Bernadette was elected to Westminster Parliament on the Unity ticket thus beginning her political journey that would bring her from Co. Tyrone to New York, prison and the Battle of the Bogside.

Lelia Doolan presents us with the roller coaster ride that is Bernadette’s political career and does an amazing job. No bells or whistles are present or needed as the strength of her story provides all the drama, intrigue and emotion any film could ever need. The film cuts between interviews recorded with Bernadette and footage of her “speechifing” at different civil rights movements and her time in Parliament and it is the footage of the civil rights movement that gives the film it’s strength and emotional core. She was campaigning for affordable social housing for Catholics which would hopefully lead to an end of Gerrymandering something the Unionist and British establishment were not in favour of  as this would equate to Catholic votes in turn letting them into government.

One of the most interesting aspects is her trip to New York to raise money for an emergency fund to help the dispossessed in Northern Ireland and the efforts of the Rev. Ian Pasley and others to discredit her. They portray her as a Marxist and “Castro in a miniskirt” to try and tap into the American fear of Communism. Upon returning home she was arrested and tried for her involvement in the Battle of the Bogside which lands her in Armagh womens jail for six months. It was clear she was being singled out and made an example of to the people of Northern Ireland.

While it is clear that Doolan is a fan of Bernadette she does not shy away from the violence of the north and examines her role in the stoking of the politcal fires and how Bernadette was living in the shadow of a gunman. The questions are answered honestly and she can not say if she would have taken up arms as she tells us that there was always someone else who already had.

Groucho Marx said he would never be part of any club that would have him as a member and this could be true of Bernadette as she refused to join the old boys club of parliament and  throughout her political life she has joined, formed and left many organisations. Her most costly involvement with politics was her support of the Smash the H Block Campaign in 1981 which nearly took her life. The UDA’s assassination tempt failing where it had been successfully against three of her colleagues.

The documentary shows how the attempt on her life and the sheer enormity of the death of the ten men on hunger strike took on her life causing her to retreat from the limelight. She was and is a socialist at heart and her closing comments about the state of Northern Ireland at present, the need for a removal of sectarianism and the parties that play so keenly on it are refreshing. She wonders was anything really gained through the struggle or has Britain simply just let us join the club?

 Lelia Doolan  /  88 min  /  Documentary  /  Currently showing in Dublin’s IFI cinema

Herzog goes Into the Abyss

The trailer for Werner Herzog’s latest documentary is now online.

I saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and took a lot from it. It’s always going to be hard to find balance and humour when capital punishment is your subject matter and you’ve to talk to killers and victim’s families, but Herzog does a magnificent job.

Since TIFF the film has played at a number of festivals, including a recent screening at the London Film Festival. It will receive a limited release in North America from November 11th before being shown on Investigation Discovery – the Discovery Channel were the film’s financiers so get first dibs.

A full spooool review is forthcoming. But in the meantime here’s a lovely chat Werner did with The Guardian at TIFF.