Hot Docs 2015: ‘The Circus Dynasty’ and ‘The Messenger’

The Circus Dynasty (DIR. Anders Riis-Hansen)


By: Gregory Breen

The Circus Dynasty’s opening caption prepares the audience for the doc’s concept – a grand dynamic between two of Europe’s greatest circus families.

The Berdino family (one of Europe’s largest families of artists) and the Casselly family (the world’s most award-winning artist family) have been delighting audiences all across Europe with the joint circus Arena for 21 years.  A special relationship has developed with the two clans creating a unique experience at the circus – acrobats, elephants, the works.

With the reunion in motion, the heir apparents to both families – Patrick Berdino and Merrylu Casselly – fall in love.  Eventually, the strain begins to show as Patrick and Merrylu realize that their relationship has potential ramifications for many generations to come.

Director Anders Riis-Hansen’s camera is nestled nicely around the circus as the characters go about their daily business;  including rehearsals, live shows, and interviews.  The Circus Dynasty is an interesting look at the lives of circus folk with engaging stories, despite a slow pace and select performances overstaying their welcome.

Catch The Circus Dynasty at Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on:

Saturday, April 25 at 6:30 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Sunday, April 26 at 1:00 p.m. @ Isabel Bader Theatre

Friday, May 1 at 4:00 p.m. @ Isabel Bader Theatre


The Messenger (DIR. Su Rynard)

By: Trevor Jeffery

Starting off with crisp focused shots of singled-out birds in flight, slowed down and illuminated over a black background, showcasing every little muscle movement and feather ruffle a bird makes to flap its wings, The Messenger lets you know right away that if you appreciate nature in the slightest, you will like what it has for you.

It can be summarized as “vignettes of birds”;  the documentary covers migration paths from Pennsylvania to Brazil, to effects of pesticides on bird food sources in Saskatchewan, to the benefits of birds as natural predators for the coffee farms in Costa Rica.  Through birds, the message is climate change;  even the staunchest of climate change deniers will be forced to at least consider the implications of life without birds, if not for their being an essential part of nature, then at least for their beauty and elegance.

As a documentary, The Messenger checks everything on the “objectively well made” list.  It boasts a clear introduction and conclusion;  seamless transitions from vignette to vignette;  interesting and relevant interviews from multiple viewpoints that contribute to the story.

For 90 minutes, the amount of content and information is astounding.  Likely you’ll walk away having learned something new and relevant, unless you’re an ornithologist – or a bird.

The Messenger at Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on:

Tuesday, April 28 at 9:00 p.m. @ Scotiabank Theatre

Friday, May 1 at 1:30 p.m. @ Scotiabank Theatre

Sunday, May 3 at 6:30 p.m. @ Innis Town Hall


Click here for more festival details and to buy tickets.

Related Articles:

Wylie Writes @ Hot Docs 2015

Reviews of Shoulder the Lion and The Wolfpack

Reviews of Committed and Hadwin’s Judgement

Reviews of Lowdown Tracks and Orion: The Man Who Would Be King

Reviews of The Amina Profile and Seth’s Dominion

Do You Tweet? Follow These Tweeple:

Gregory Breen: @GregoryBreen

Trevor Jeffery: @TrevorSJeffery

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