Tuesday, May 26, 2009

DOXA Film Festival

I got a chance to catch three of the DOXA screenings in advance, and I just love this festival so much. Here are the reviews that appeared in WE.

Awesome sidebar: Alexey Voevoda, the Russian arm wrestler in Pulling John, will be competing in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver as part of the bobsled team. Finally, a reason to be excited about the Olympics! :)

Pulling John’s John Brzenk (right) takes on Sylvester Stallone.

Pulling John’s John Brzenk (right) takes on Sylvester Stallone.

Directed by Vassiliki Khonsari and Sevan Matossian
Mon., May 25 at Vancity Theatre, 9 p.m.

Who knew that arm wrestling, a beloved pastime between drunks perched on bar stools, is actually a legitimate global sport — a sport that receives government funding in places like Russia and Japan? In Pulling John, two men — Travis Bagent, full of American bravado; and Alexey Voevoda, a hulking and determined Russian — pursue a post-Cold War wet dream, whereby each trains to vanquish 25-year world arm-wrestling champion John Brzenk. The humble Brzenk proves to be the most compelling figure, one so focused on his craft that at 18 years old he decided to become an airplane mechanic so he could fly free to arm-wrestling competitions all over the world. Pulling John often looks amateurish, but it’s fascinating, funny, and delivers a satisfyingly tense climax when its three subjects finally collide in a brief but breathtaking battle of bulging biceps. 3 stars (out of 5) —A.W.

Directed by Niko von Glasow
Sat., May 23 at Vancity Theatre (1181 Seymour), 9 p.m.

Short or tall, fat or thin, society’s obsession with the perfect body takes on a different meaning in Nobody’s Perfect, a German doc that follows 12 people disabled in utero by the drug Thalidomide between 1957 and 1961. Director von Glasgow, who’s also disabled, sets out to interview and recruit others to pose nude for a photo book. But that bit of brave naughtiness ends up taking a backseat to a history of how Thalidomide came to Germany, and the people responsible for continuing to sell it even after it was declared lethal and dangerous in North America. In this respect, Nobody’s Perfect tries to be too many things to too many people. But, for all its flaws, the film’s subjects transcend survival, leading extraordinary lives under extraordinary circumstances. 3 stars (out of 5) —Andrea Warner

Directed by Jeremiah Zagar
Thurs., May 28 at Pacific Cinémathèque, 7 p.m.

This warts-and-all documentary about artist Isaiah Zarag, made by his filmmaker son Jeremiah, is a voyeur’s paradise. Over four decades, Isaiah has covered more than 50,000 square feet of Philadelphia with his mosaics, all with the support of his wife Julia, who has devoted her entire life to smoothing out the rougher edges of her husband’s eccentricities. In a Dream begins as an ode to his father’s art, but it takes a sharp left turn as Jeremiah digs deeper into his father’s past, unearthing abuse and mental breakdowns. He diligently sticks with the unfolding drama (much of it caused by Isaiah’s actions) even as it threatens the foundations of his family. The film never judges, nor does it condone — a testament to Jeremiah’s strength as a director. Instead, In a Dream is deeply rooted in reality, offering an interesting examination of genius versus madness, devotion versus enabling, and the handcuff-like bonds of love. 3 stars (out of 5) —A.W.

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