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Burt’s Buzz

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By: Addison Wylie

Everyone, it’s safe to shake away your hesitations!  Burt’s Buzz does not fall in a quirky vein akin to Duck Dynasty.

Comparing the backwoods clan who struck rich with their duck calling instruments and Burt Shavitz’s unintentional success with his line of all-natural creams and lip balms is bound to occur – based on physical appearance alone.  Jody Shapiro’s doc on Shavitz is as innocuous as a folksy reality show, but Burt’s Buzz is much more compelling.  It’s cute, but never cloying.

Unless the audience has done research on Burt’s Bees beforehand, movie goers go into Burt’s Buzz knowing barely anything about the film’s main subject.  While it may seem that Shapiro and Burt are giving us the broad strokes of Shavitz’s history, even the smallest glimmer of depth is an abyss of interest.  Burt’s past shows audiences that with a determined attitude and humbleness, any career choice has the possibility of blooming.

Another big plus is that Shapiro doesn’t portray Burt as a cartoon.  The documentarian sticks with the mantra, “what you see is what you get”.  What the audience “gets” is a fickle, relaxed fellow who’s eccentric but is light on peculiarities.  He doesn’t hate the business, but he prefers to stay away from the limelight.

When he’s not at his country abode, he occasionally travels to help promote the company.  Customers are usually awe-struck when they find out that Burt looks exactly the same as he does on the company’s signature logo.

To Burt, all this schmoozing hootenanny is like taking a trip to another planet.  Shapiro is able to make Burt’s fish-out-of-water presence transcend to his audience.  When we first enter Burt’s property, the desolate environment takes some adjusting to.  But, we’re given the proper amount of time to settle.  When Burt travels to a meeting at Target’s headquarters where assistants and PR reps are all smiles as they walk him through a schedule, we witness that same weirdness Burt has to comprehend.  Shapiro asks us, “what really is normal?”

The interviews are revealing as Burt explains about the conception of Burt’s Bees; which then connects to why Burt distances himself from being the centre of attention.  Most of these one-on-ones are shot outdoors against a mesh screen – most likely to keep the bugs away from interrupting.  While the woods add a nice backdrop, the screen induces a distracting strobe-like effect whenever a gust of wind wanders in.  It’s one of those errors that probably had the editor breaking a sweat with this new challenge.

The doc isn’t here to blow you away stylistically, but it does come through on being able to inform and entertain.  A lot of amusing moments happen when Burt and his laid-back yet scattered attitude have to adjust overseas.  The film’s final third has Shavitz on a trip to Taiwan, which features bizarre joyous reception.  It’s arguable that Shapiro shows us too much of the same on this trip, but it’s a clear representation of what the filmmaker hits with ease – surreal social submersion with delicate quaintness.

Burt’s Buzz hits the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday, June 13th.  If you attend the 6:40 p.m. screening on the 13th, you’ll be treated to a Q&A with Jody Shapiro.

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