2024 DOXA Documentary Film Festival

When & Where May 2 - 12, 2024 | Vancouver Playhouse, VIFF Centre, The Cinematheque & SFU Goldcorp Centre + online

Reviewer John Anthony Jane

Adrianne & the Castle

Canada, 2023, Dir. Shannon Walsh, 87 minutes

The 2024 DOXA Documentary Film Festival choice of Adrianne & the Castle for their opening gala is a surprising one, considering that it barely makes it in a documentary category. It’s much closer to being a bizarre love story with the quixotic couple Alan St. George and Adrianne Blue Wakefield St. George. The castle of the title is Havencrest Castle in Savanna, Illinois, which is really a mansion. Purchased by Alan and Adrianne in 1976, they immediately set about renovating every detail of the house and garden without the services of either an architect or an interior designer.

Alan indulged every excess that Adrianne desired in “keeping with her mission of creating an example of American aristocracy.” Adrianne sadly, died of congestive heart failure in 2006 at the age fifty-five. Alan, who still owns a mascot-making business, has continued the work without ever really intending to finish it. Towards the end of the film, he is heard to say “Art is never completed, just abandoned.”

I feel that director Shannon Walsh left gaps in the storytelling. Adrianne, only seen in photographs and dreamscapes or played by an actor wearing one of her many caftans, comes across as single-dimensional. While we see glimpses of Alan’s accomplishments outside of the ‘reno’ project, we don’t see much of Adrianne’s achievements. I’m sure that with her personality, she would have been a pillar of the community.

Any Other Way: The Jackie Shane Story

Canada, 2024, Dir. Michael Mabbott & Lucah Rosenberg-Lee, 99 minutes

Jackie Shane has left the building – forever. At the height of her popularity the enigmatic trail-blazer stepped away from the Saphire Tavern, a popular Jazz club located in the Confederation Life Building in Downtown Toronto and disappeared into oblivion. There is very little video footage available of live performance, from television or any other medium – Shane had declined the opportunity t appear on both the Ed Sullivan Show and American Bandstand for her own personal reason. She did appear briefly on a 1965 episode of the television music program Night Train singing the Rufus Thomas hit “Walkin’ the Dog.”

Considering how little quality material there was to work with, Michael Mabbott and Lucah Rosenberg-Lee have put together an entertaining and heartwarming film about an incredibly talented R & B singer with remarkable vocal range who made up her own rules in terms of both her career and her life. She was non-binary before anyone had even heardf the term or knew what it meant..

Mabbott and Rosenberg-Lee’s biography also highlights Shane’s flair as a percussionist and in fact she worked in the recording studio with luminaries like Gatemouth Brown and Little Willie John. Shane was a close personal friend of Little Richard. For the narration, the filmmakers use what seem to be person-to-person telephone conversations to an unseen biographer; although, Rob Bowman is seen throughout the film in interviews and gets credit as creative consultant.

This documentary is worth seeing as much for the exceptional soundtrack as anything else.

Black Box Diaries

Japan, 2024, Dir. Shiori Ito, 103 minutes

In Japanese and English with English subtitles

Black Box Diaries is the procedural documentary version of Japanese journalist Shiori Ito’s autobiographic account of an alleged sexual assault by well known television reporter Noriyuki Yamaguchi who had a personal connection with then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In 2015, Ito was an attractive twenty-six year old intern at Thomson Reuters. Following an earlier meeting with Yamaguchi, she was allegedly taken to his hotel room in a barely conscious state. The film is a first-person perspective of Ito’s struggle for justice and Yamaguchi’s accountability.

Ito’s film, in which she is both director and protagonist, is an analysis of the systemic patriarchal system in contemporary Japan that would seem to protect a man’s honour rather than a female victim in such cases. Ito knew it was always going to be an uphill battle. She doesn’t get much encouragement from either the police or her family. There was also possible consequences to her career and reputation. There is a “shoot-the-messenger” culture in Japan that is hard to ignore. In spite of all the odds stacked against her, Ms. Ito decides to move ahead with her case and go public.

Shiori Ito is now a freelance journalist and filmmaker. Noriyuki Yamaguchi, now 58, has never admitted any liability in the case and is presumed to be now self-employed.

Red Fever

Canada, 2024, Dir. Neil Diamond & Catherine Bainbridge, 104 minutes

In English and Cree with English subtitles

this off-beat documentary, Neil Diamond (not the guy who sang ‘Sweet Caroline’) poses the question “Why is the world so fascinated with Native American culture” – he presumably includes Canadian indigenous culture in his rhetorical question. Diamond was born and raised in Waskaganish (f ormerly Fort Rupert) Quebec. He also narrates the film that he co-directs with Catherine Bainbridge, taking the audience with him as he travels across North American and European cites to explore how Indigenous cultures are being revered, romanticized and appropriated.

His documentary takes three distinct forms in the ways Indigenous people have shaped modern western culture: Fashion, Sport and Politics. In fashion there is no doubt that original native art has influenced European design. Diamond draws attention to the Inuit shaman parka as an example. Inuit people have raised objections to the exploitation of this garment due to its sacred significance. In the area of sport, the filmmakers remonstrate over the cavalier use of the branding names of sport franchises. Naming of sports teams that have Native American association has generated controversy for a number of years. Politics is perhaps the most difficult social sphere to determine positive or negative influence in either direction, but Diamond interviews political scholars to get a handle on the issue.

The film supports a very listenable soundtrack featuring native musicians like: Red River Ramblers, Tanya Tagaq and (the late) Joanne Shenandoah.

The Real Superstar

France, 2023, Dir. Cédric Dupire, 69 minutes

In Hindi with English subtitles

“The biggest star in the biggest film industry in the world” is how an anonymous speaker describes Amitabh Bachchan in Cédric Dupire’s documentary. It would be a bold statement if it weren’t probably true. There is likely more film footage of the legendary Bollywood actor than any other actor on the plane – with very little ending up on the cutting room floor. Bachchan has been prolific, now eighty-one, he has been making three or more films a year since the early seventies; however, he has slowed down recently to a single film a year.

When I found that this film was being directed by young French director Cédric Dupire and was all about Amitabh Bachchan, I felt that I had to see it. What I didn’t expect was a montage of Bachchan’s iconic films. Not that at some level is Dupire’s documentary not entertaining, but I would liked to aspects of the subject’s life you don’t see on the celluloid. As with Bollywood films in general, Bachchan’s acting was sometimes over the top, though later in his career he showed nuance in his performances – even when the films didn’t.

The Originals

Canada, 2024, Dir. Niall Patric McNeil & Mike McKinley, 45 minutes

Situated in North Okanagan, British Columbia, between Vernon and Enderby, roughly 300 miles east of Vancouver lies the town of Armstrong. Nothing spectacular about this town, except that it is home base for the Caravan Farm Theatre. The legendary outdoor theatre company was established back in the seventies and is still going strong today.

Filmmaker Niall McNeil grew up among the Carney community. He remembers vividly the founding members and the performers and designers connected with Carnival during his childhood. It would therefore seem natural (at least to him) that he would return to interview those that nurtured once him – The Originals. Among McNeil’s interviewees are: founders Paul Kirby and Adriana Kelder, former performers Linz Kenyon and Peter Anderson and puppeteer Catherine Stubington. He goes looking and finds blacksmith Jim “Fergie” Ferguson still around making horseshoes and fitting them to the many Clydesdales that are continue to be a major part of the Carnival.

The Movie Man

Canada, 2024, Dir. Matt Finlin, 89 minutes

Keith Stata is the quintessential movie man – no question! He isn’t a producer, or a director or even an actor. However, he has been the owner of the iconic Highlands Cinema in Kinmount, Ontario for the last forty-plus years, in good times and in bad – and there has been some bad times for Keith and his movie theatre. Unable to consider social-distancing as an economic option, he had to keep the place closed during the spring and summer of 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid pandemic. This cost him the thick end of $150,000 over the two seasons.

So how does Kinmount, an unincorporated community of around 500 people justify a 18,000 square foot, five screening room multiplex with an adjoining museum? Keith Stata knows that if he only had to rely on local traffic – it couldn’t. Kinmount is small, but it is accessible to larger, nearby communities like Haliburton, Bobcaygeon and Peterborough and is within 200 kilometres by road from Toronto.

Keith Stata is seen as an institution in Kinmount – the town where he was born. He provides employment to local high school students who get their first job opportunity at the cinema. Filmmaker Matt Finlin develops a friendship with his subject that goes beyond an interviewer/interviewee relationship. Finlin is unseen throughout the filming while Stata is in perpetual motion.

If you’re ever in Kawatha Lakes region during the summer buy a ticket to Keith Stata’s Cinema complex – hopefully it will still be there.

© 2024 John Anthony Jane