Culture / Global
The films, books and bands keeping us entertained this month.
Director of programming, Hot Docs
Last year, 180,000 people attended Toronto’s Hot Docs to watch documentaries from Canada and around the world. Charlotte Cook has been director of programming since 2011, having studied at various UK institutions – including London’s Royal Holloway – and held the position of head of documentary programming at London’s Frontline Club.
Q: What sets Hot Docs apart from other film festivals?
A: Although Hot Docs is the second largest documentary festival in the world, and the largest in North America, it still belongs very much to the community because we are committed to local filmmakers. Out of 2,500 submissions we screen about 150 feature-length films and 50 shorts – 25 per cent of these are Canadian films.
Q: What’s the latest trend in documentary filmmaking?
A: Documentary is not a genre; it’s a way of telling a story. For the past five or six years social issues films dominated but recently there’s been a growing group of filmmakers who are really making far more artistic works. The lines between reality and fiction are getting blurred. This is the highest calibre of films I’m seeing on screen. It’s a tide that is truly turning right now and I cannot wait to see what’s going to happen from this.
Q: What’s one name to look out for this year?
A: We are doing a small retrospective on BBC filmmaker Adam Curtis who is receiving this year’s outstanding achievement award. He is in his own league because he gets free reign to make the work he wants to make. We located his stuff in the BBC archives, which the public can’t see normally, and are excited to show them at this year’s festival.
24 April-4 May, 2014
What we're tuning in for
Singing talent contests such as The X Factor and various Idols may have been huge successes around the world but Killer Karaoke adds a twist of mischief and danger.
Contestants must perform karaoke while being subjected to distracting challenges including being bitten by guard dogs, dunked in fish guts and maggots, and undergoing shock treatment.
Now hosted by Mark McGrath, frontman of rock band Sugar Ray, who replaced original host, Jackass mainstay Steve-O. Australian model and actress Tara Beaulieu is the announcer.
Airs Thursday at 23.00 on US cable network truTV. Set for remakes in India, Egypt and Kazakhstan.
Top picks from the art world
FESTIVAL: Typo Berlin
15-17 May, at the House of World Cultures, John-Foster-Dulles-Allee 10
Typo’s successful and ever-expanding series bill themselves as “international design talks”, a rather coquettish way of hiding their bright and varied lights under a bushel. In effect, Typo’s gatherings have become talking-shops where the commercial and philosophical engage with culture, technology, publishing and the finer points of running creative industries. This year’s event is called “Roots” – expect riffs on provenance, exports, and national and local identity.
FILM: 8 Apellidos Vascos (8 Basque Surnames)
Apart from raking it in at the box office, this film has been making quite a few social waves too. Billed as a rom-com about a Sevillian man who pretends to be Basque to score the girl, it has a serious side too – breaking various taboos by touching on Spain’s checkered past with the Basque Country. Suddenly, the nation has found itself asking whether it’s finally OK to laugh about separatism and terrorism. “Our intuition told us that people were ready,” says director Emilio Martínez-Lázaro.
“In Spain, black comedy has always worked as a form of catharsis,” adds co-writer Borja Cobeaga. It’s proved a winning formula – a sequel is already in the works.
Art & Ecology Now
Consciously or not artists are the natural friends of ecologists; by depicting the world they show where others can only say. Andrew Brown’s survey corralls the work of artists whose subtle invocations to look at the changing world are beautiful, surprising and witty. A timely and elegant book.
The key set-piece of this wry dynastic epic is an explosion in a fireworks factory – a nice metaphor for Buwalda’s book itself. The Dutch novelist’s bold prose, primary-coloured characters and rollercoaster plot twists ensure a literary novel that goes off like a thriller.
The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden
A toilet cleaner in Soweto, born into apartheid-torn South Africa, comes into possession of an atomic bomb while kidnapped with the king and prime minister of Sweden. Jonasson tells his latest tale with fast pace and humorous rhetoric.
History of the Rain
“My book has in it all the books my father read, and in that way his spirit survives, as mine does.” This is the story of Ruth Swain, the bedridden protagonist and narrator of Niall Williams’ latest novel. Swain’s quest is to find her father in his books and as she reads, so she writes her own novel. Williams’ poetic prose meanders from page to page and becomes one with her voice in a poignant story about family, identity, love and loss, pain, faith and hope.
Ripe for reissue after nearly 80 years on the top shelf of American literature, this searing depression-era tale of a glum New York newspaper columnist is a tragicomic treat. With a new dust jacket courtesy of illustrator Darren Wall, West’s timely work has been handsomely updated by London publisher Daunt Books.
What price success?
Richard Hamilton’s retrospective at Tate Modern is a bracing reminder of the artists who favour progress and diversity over the stultifying effects of success.
A few weeks ago, thanks to the curator Mark Godfrey, I got an expert tour of the Richard Hamilton retrospective running at Tate Modern.
The show, with which Hamilton collaborated at the planning stage before his death in 2011, takes a largely chronological path through the work of the progenitor of pop art; the importer of and tinkerer with bright and commercial American symbolism; the inventor of artist-as-brand and, as a fan of Dieter Rams’ work for Braun, the originator of dropping household products into works – a toaster here, a radio there and an electric toothbrush right up front, hogging the foreground.
Hamilton was an artist of firsts who also made definitive statements within the styles he created but perhaps his greatest and most confounding quality was the spectrum-spanning variety of his work. No two rooms of this show, no two decades of his career are the same. Hamilton’s retrospective is a variety show: painting, sculpture, collage, photography, installation; they could all have been made by different magpie-minded artists. Hamilton’s work is less easy to “spot” than that of his other pop practitioners. And others whom his work and practice inspired, such as Damien Hirst, have a handful of signature styles that perhaps aren’t fused solely on commercial lines but are eminently shiftable because they are so recognisable.
Is variety bad for business? You can easily find commercially successful artists, writers and singers that become stringently risk-averse after they settle on the right risk to pursue until it becomes a safe and successful trademark. The punk becomes a pop star, the protester a conservative. Every blockbuster plays to the gallery. Every rich actor is happily typecast.
What is it like to be an artist on the cusp of commercial success? It must be tempting to take the money and run. The legend goes that you work all night shivering in your garret and then one day a Medici spots your work and makes you a name and a fortune. We haven’t got time to go into the drink, syphilis and madness here but you know the form. Should you avert the crisis of success by changing tack and start painting nudes instead of landscapes, make sculptures out of dung instead of clay or just run off to Tahiti and… oh no, that’s been done.
Hamilton was of course successful in his lifetime and had far too bright a mind not to realise that he could have made more cash if he’d embraced less variety in his work. But he possessed the selfless mind of the artist; he was a man who retained the desire to discover and to make anew that is so often bred out of artists by that old devil, success.
Damon Albarn, that titan and innovator of contemporary music, whom you would file reluctantly under “pop”, finally comes to his first solo album pushing a snowball from the peak of his long and lauded career. Everyday Robots rolls along picking up the influences and motifs that Albarn’s been scribbling down and working with all these years alongside Mali Music, Africa Express, Gorillaz and Blur itself. Yet this is a new, freshly intimate thing. While spiky North African vim decorates some songs, much of the work follows the spirit and structure of the title track; a wide-eyed wondering on modernity set to a loose groove that takes the shape of an irresistible song. Albarn’s elegant, effortless gifts with hook and melody are redefined on this personal, exquisite record.
Sohn is something of an under-the-radar super-producer, who’s kept his eye on the dials and faders for much-fancied electro acts Banks and Kwabs while remixing Disclosure and Lana del Rey and working on this, his solo debut. Tremors is a gem of a discovery: a stunning electro-pop record that sounds like it was made in an artist’s studio in the dawn-washed early hours rather than a Pro Tools laboratory. On the evidence of this, the Vienna-based Englishman is a young master in making timeless yet very contemporary blue-eyed soul out of the debris of deep house and dance music. As icy minimalism meets warm synths, Sohn sings sweetly of natural phenomena as experience and emotion: waves, tempests, tremors.
Just try looking away
67-year-old entertainer and ballroom dance teacher Ye Futai (aka Hotstepper Uncle); Taipei, Taiwan.
Ye first hit sudden fame in 2010 when a YouTube video of a performance went viral online. Celebrated as ‘Hotstepper Uncle’ by internet fans, Ye is now a household name and an alternative pop icon who is frequently impersonated by young Taiwanese entertainers. Ye regularly performs on Taiwanese variety shows and has recently released two albums.
“Cha, cha, cha cha cha,” Hotstepper Uncle is known for his eccentric song and dance sets that combine aerobic dance moves with ballroom dancing. His performances demonstrate a strong local flavour of humour that gracefully mishmashes Western dance culture and Taiwanese interpretations by free association.
Hotstepper Uncle flaunts a quasi-afro hairdo that is carefully blow-dried into a square-shape. He typically wears slim ballroom dance clothing that accentuates his great body shape.
After a three-decade struggle for popularity, Ye Futai’s career as a pop star has just begun. With his joyous attitude and signature style, he is adored among fans of all ages and could easily become a bona fide Asian superstar.