Birth of the Living Dead

Directed by Rob Kuhns

U.S.A. 2013

November 23 9:15 p.m.

As fetishized apocalypses go the zombie takeover has far eclipsed nuclear holocausts in the eye of the culture-consuming public. For that we have George A. Romero to thank as his debut film Night of the Living Dead invented the modern zombie — those relentless brain-scarfing ghouls that roam in mindless packs. Rob Kuhn’s documentary dives deep into the genesis of the beloved film. He traces its DIY roots with Romero’s upstart production company the Latent Image. He explains the film’s subtle subversion — it featured a black hero paired with a white woman a rarity in the late ’60s — and ties it contextually to the sociopolitical climate of the era juxtaposing Living Dead with the emergence of racialized ghettos the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. And he traces the film’s ascension from the low-budget grindhouse circuit to the arthouse eventually settling into global cultural dominance.

Of course Living Dead as with so many horror films was allowed to be subversive — at face value few took it seriously. (Horror films of the era were often thought of as children’s fare.) Yet Kuhns thanks to the liberal access he had to the director establishes Romero’s work as perhaps the first truly postmodern horror film — it was self-aware its violence was extreme and with the film’s victors mirroring lynch mobs its plot was morally ambiguous at best. Birth of the Living Dead is occasionally inconsistent — especially its opening stanza which establishes the film’s principal participants in long-winded fashion — but for fans of modern horror Kuhns’ documentary successfully makes its point: Romero established the rules of the zombie that still exist today.

MARK TEO

Cutie and the Boxer

Directed by Zachary Heinzerling

U.S.A. 2013

November 23 7 p.m.

Like its title Cutie and the Boxer is at once adorable and jarring. The film follows Ushio and Noriko Shinohara a pair of Japanese-American artists who’ve also been married for 40 years.

While standard documentary etiquette would suggest these two are being featured for their fame the story’s actually more tumultuous. Moving to New York in 1969 Ushio’s attempt to make a splash in the art world was stifled by his extreme alcoholism a fact that forced Noriko to abandon her own work and become a caretaker of sorts. Now all these years later Noriko’s getting some attention for her own work.

Rounded out by animations the often stylish story of ups and downs is at once heartbreaking and hilarious — any married couple that hasn’t strangled each other 40 years in makes for a fascinating watch. Add in art and alcoholism not to mention a stab at redemption and Cutie and the Boxer is a compelling tale.

JOSIAH HUGHES

Exposed

Directed by Beth B

U.S.A. 2013

November 22 11:45 p.m.

From the get-go Beth B’s Exposed makes it strikingly clear just how different burlesque and a strip club peel-off can be.

Exploring America’s alternative burlesque scene the documentary shines a light on a motley cast of men and women ranging from disabled British performance artist Mat Fraser and the gender-challenging World Famous *Bob* to the aquatics-oriented Bambi the Mermaid and transexually charged Rose Wood. But no matter the performer they all effectively call into question what society loves to call “normal” challenging traditional notions of body gender and sexuality often by confronting their own perceived flaws in the process.

Exposed is not for the faint of heart however as many of the acts captured in the film bring on the nudity — full frontal and otherwise — good and thick — whether it be via a manic Southern belle breakdown full of electrical tape violently applied lipstick and a knife in the most unwelcome of places or an over-the-top Hasidic rabbi number that’s impossible to unsee. But as performer Bunny Love puts it: “There’s freedom in vulgarity.”

Though the world of “new burlesque” with undoubtedly be foreign to many at its core Exposed carries a surprisingly universal theme of acceptance both within the world and yourself.

Brock Thiessen

Finding Vivian Maier

Directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel

U.S.A. 2013

November 21 7 p.m.

Though you’ve likely never heard of Vivian Maier there’s no one more deserving of a feature-length documentary on their life. A reclusive nanny with a penchant for hoarding the supposedly French (that’s debated here) maid was secretive in her life. Then when she passed away co-director John Maloof discovered a chest containing hundreds of thousands of undeveloped film rolls at a flea market. It soon became clear that she was an accomplished street photographer considered by many to be on par with American icons like Diane Arbus.

At one point in Finding Vivian Maier a photography expert offers that he only wishes he had found the negatives and not Maloof and I can’t help but agree a little. Though he does a bang-up job of attempting to uncover facts about Maier’s past Maloof seems more obsessed with her admittedly interesting back story than he does her place in American photography.

Then again Maier the photographer has already been researched plenty elsewhere so it’s an easy fix — familiarize yourself with her vast catalogue before the screening then sit back and enjoy the hard-to-believe story.

JOSIAH HUGHES

The Kill Team

Directed by Dan Krauss

U.S.A. 2013

November 23 4:30 p.m.

If you’re searching for a chilling piece of real-life horror look no further than Dan Krauss’ The Kill Team a powerfully raw look at a U.S. infantry platoon that got tangled up in a worldwide controversy involving the intentional murder of Afghan civilians.

Adopting a traditional but ultimately tense and engaging documentary style the film explores the emotional and legal fallout surrounding Adam Winfield a young private who was tied to one of several incidents where “peacekeepers” intentionally killed those they were there to protect. Under the guidance of the film’s clear villain the bone-collecting Sgt. Calvin Gibbs the “kill team” covered their tracks by planting weapons on the bodies they left behind all the while taking grisly trophy shots with their victims (some may be familiar as they were discovered by the media and pasted all over the nightly news).

Rather than look to legal experts and commentators Krauss sticks entirely to talking-head-style interviews with Winfield his devastated family and squadmates giving the film a more personal feel as well as an intriguing psychological look at how so many seemingly “normal” young men could get wrapped up in something so horrifying.

As Cpl. Jeremy Morlock puts it in the film “It was impossible not to surrender to the insanity of it all” — something that can also be said of the film itself.

Brock Thiessen

My Prairie Home

Directed by Chelsea McMullan

Canada 2013

November 22 7 p.m.

It’s tough to shake the creeping fear that My Prairie Home might only be viewed by fans of Rae Spoon; it is after all an odd biographical-ish film complete with narration from the subject and returns to old haunts for some b-roll. It’d be a shame if the film didn’t find a wider audience however as it is about so very much more than a simple biography. My Prairie Home is ultimately what would happen if Wes Anderson made a trippy musical about a transgender folk/electronic/country singer who grew up in an abusive home environment with parents who fervently believe in the Rapture.

While featuring occasional conventions of the documentary genre — interview clips of Spoon sitting on a hotel bed somewhere on tour for example — it’s far more often occupied by Guy Maddin-esque creations blending fact and fiction to create something visually sonically and intellectually enthralling.

In fact Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg is an apt comparison. Both films are entirely about origin: bizarre fragmented histories but ones — through clever gorgeous cinematography — that can speak to the most average of lives. Maddin and Spoon (via the talented Chelsea McMullan and ever-impressive National Film Board crew) tell some of the most universal of prairie tales. Especially the one of Spoon playing “This Used to Be the Bottom of an Ocean” on ukulele amidst dinosaur skeletons at the Royal Tyrrell Museum. That segment alone makes the film worthwhile.

JAMES WILT

Narco Cultura

Directed by Shaul Schwarz

U.S.A. 2013

November 22 9:15 p.m.

While the late great Breaking Bad was over-the-top at times it did highlight some frightening realties especially those involving the exceptionally bloody Mexican drug war. In Narco Cultura director Shaul Schwarz zeroes in on the disturbing but all too real issues surrounding the tens of thousands of people who have died at the hands of Mexico’s drug cartels and more specifically the musicians who glorify it all.

During its run time Narco Cultura explores the rising culture of narcocorridos — drug ballads that worship the cartels’ gruesome exploits — both in Mexico and surprisingly the U.S. Hoping to “become the next hip-hop” the polka-like genre has its fair share of superstars including 27-year-old Mexican-American Edgar Quintero who while never having stepped on Mexican soil brings these crime stories across the U.S. with his band Buknas de Culiacan — often with a (hopefully fake) bazooka in tow.

All this hero worship is juxtaposed with investigator Richi Soto who patrols the bloody streets of Mexican border town Ciudad Juárez. However Soto gets little respect as he’s met with crime scene after crime scene as well as a long list of unsolved murders and assassinated colleagues.

Narco Cultura is an important film but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to watch.

Brock Thiessen

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