Hot Docs 2016: ‘Aim For The Roses’ and ‘Wizard Mode’

Aim For The Roses (DIR. John Bolton)

By: Shahbaz Khayambashi

After describing the premise of this documentary to a friend, her response was short and simple: “sounds stupid.”  I have to say, I didn’t disagree with the sentiment that it sounded “stupid”, but the final result is one of the most exciting, most unusual documentaries I have ever seen.

Aim For The Roses, named after the suggested landing spot, is a documentary about a Canadian daredevil who dreams of flying a car across the St. Lawrence River, an offbeat composer who composed a piece for double bass about the daredevil, and – in some part – the critic who first brought this album to the attention of the music world.  The stories are accented with musical numbers and character cameos describing the mind and body of the daredevil.

The music is the most interesting part of this experiment, with its droning loops and vocal segment sung in very limited notes, but they are accented by the performed segments and seamlessly mixed in with the actual archival footage.  This is a film which recognizes its own artifice: it is not Herzogian in nature — it is as truthful as it can be — but it is also deeply performative and takes inspiration from a variety of sources.  Everything from The Cremaster cycle to Evel Knievel movies to All That Jazz.

This is a work that is deeply conflicted in what it wants to be (a clash between high art and low art) and therein lies its brilliance;  as the critic admits about himself “I would like to be highbrow but, in my essence, I’m trash”.

Catch Aim For The Roses at Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on:

Sunday, May 1 at 7:15 p.m. @ Scotiabank Theatre

Monday, May 2 at 1:15 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Friday, May 6 at 1:00 p.m. @ Scotiabank Theatre


Wizard Mode (DIR. Nathan Drillot, Jeff Petry)

By: Trevor Jeffery

Ain’t seen nothing like him in any amusement hall: Robert Emilio Gagno is a terrific pinball player.  The best in Canada and about 5th or 6th on a global scale, his intense fascination and love for pinball machines takes him around North America as he competes in tournaments, aiming to bump his title to “best in the world”.  Robert also has autism, and wants more than anything to be self-reliant.  Wizard Mode tells two parallel stories about Robert as he plays pinball for the love and sport of it, and as he prepares himself for independent life in the work force.  It’s a look into competitive pinball culture and Robert’s personal story.

Nathan Drillot and Jeff Petry’s project has everything a good documentary should have: information, character, narrative and heart – and, boy, does Wizard Mode ever have heart.  Mixed with really cool visuals and music reminiscent of an early 1990s video arcade, Wizard Mode is a shining example of how to make an enjoyable, edifying, and entertaining doc.  While it’s not a typical feel-good story – not everything works out for Robert, which is apparent early on – it gets your serotonin flowing in all the right ways.

UPDATE: As of 4/20/16, Robert Gagno’s victorious win in Carnegie, PA has made him officially the best pinball player in the world. Read more here!

Catch Wizard Mode at Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on:

Monday, May 2 at 7:15 p.m. @ Scotiabank Theatre

Wednesday, May 4 at 1:00 p.m. @ Hart House Theatre

Saturday, May 7 at 9:45 p.m. @ Scotiabank Theatre (sensory-friendly screening)


Click here for more festival details and to buy tickets.

Do You Tweet? Follow These Tweeple:

Shahbaz Khayambashi: @ShaKhayam

Trevor Jeffery: @TrevorSJeffery

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