Sarah Harmer on the Environment

I recall musician Sarah Harmer being an activist with the release of her concert and documentary film, The Escapement Blues. Great to see thirteen years later she’s still using her voice to make change.

Sarah warned: “We need to understand the threats in Bill 66 that concerned so many of us are the same that we have with the endangered species act review,”

Gush: Hot Docs, a spotlight on music docs

April means Hot Docs, which means challenging my mind. Sadly, in my lines of employment over the last two years, I haven’t been afforded that luxury.

One of my favourite types of documentaries is the music documentary. The Bloor Hot Docs Theatre has brought some amazing nuggets to Toronto over the last two years, including: Good Ol’ FredaThe Wrecking Crew and Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me. Perhaps it’s sixties nostalgia or maybe the large baby-boomer population in close proximity to the theatre, but I dig it and I’ll ride that wave.

Now to take you to the Hot Docs Festival, which started yesterday and runs all the way until Sunday May 3. Here are my picks for music docs of this year’s Festival:

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

This doc really requires no explanation. The trailer alone gave me full-body chills.

Stay Awhile

Toronto filmmaker, Jessica Edwards, created this gem to follow the past of her parents and aunt, who were the three lead singers of seventies Canadian group, The Bells. The blurb promises that you know the band’s one hit, but as a child of the late eighties, the tune “Stay Awhile” never hit my ears.

Music Lessons









Get local with a short 20-minute feature on the talent and teachers at Sistema Toronto. The one-off screening on Tuesday April 28 at 6:30pm will be followed up by a performance by the Sistema Toronto Yorkwoods Orchestra and an in-conversation with.


I’ve always had a special attraction to Mavis Staples. A few years back I realized that my My Chinese mom actually holds a close likeness in appearance to the veteran Staple Singer. I’m pumped to learn more about the powerhouse woman behind the equally powerful voice.

What Happened, Miss Simone?

Does it cheapen at all when Netflix presents a film? Maybe. But never enough Nina
Simone. She lacked the warmness Mavis has, but I dig her style.

Monty Python: The Meaning of Life

Not your conventional musicians, but they’ve certainly been responsible for a number of tunes that I find myself humming day-to-day (see: “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

See also: Pleasure at Her Majesty’s screening as a par of the Redux retrospective Hot Docs programming.

As I Am: The Life and Times of DJ AM

This movie’s so new, there isn’t even a complete trailer out yet. Tomorrow is the international premier of this film.

They Will Have to Kill Us First


A beautiful partner piece to Timbuktu, a film the Bell Lightbox recently screened. If you’re unfamiliar, there is a huge struggle to keep culture alive in northern Mali where the Jihadists have imposed the strict Sharia law for the last three years. This film looks like a great account of the day-to-day struggles that I can’t even begin to imagine.

Home Cooked Music









I just had my core shook at the TIFF Kids screening of The Landfill Harmonic. I’m over-the-moon excited for this less-than-nine-minute Canadian short that focuses on repurposed items to create musical instruments.

Side note: Hot Docs has rejected me two years in a row now for a media pass. I look forward to one day getting accredited, but in the mean time I’ll keep writing my thoughts on what I see and hear at the festival.

Gush: ‘Can’t Hardly Wait’

I am over the moon excited for the TIFF series this fall titled Back to the 90s. A less than amazing decade for most things, it marked the revitalization of the teen film. I find myself most excited to watch the film Can’t Hardly Wait on the big screen. Do have a peek at other programming in the Back to the 90s series, I promise it won’t disappoint! Perhaps it was inspired by the Hot Doc 2014 film Beyond Clueless.

Weirdly, on my break today I heard the Replacements tune by the same name in a department store… A pretty awesome random listen. The film was named after the song and pays tribute to it True Blood style as the credits roll.




On ‘First Comes Love’ Directed by Nina Davenport

First Comes Love is a beautiful documentation of a woman’s journey to becoming a mother… Alone.

Nina Davenport serves as both the brains and the body of this film as both Director and subject of the film. She’s 41 and after the death of her mother, she found herself wanting to have that relationship again, this time as a mother. Davenport’s quirky and optimistic about life, which fuels the film.

I thought this film was a positive move for women, perhaps serving to encourage people to have children on their own. One thing’s for certain, Davenport has a strong support circle, which made the birthing process all the more easier for a single parent.

The subjects tackled in this film reminded me heaps of the Jennifer Westfeldt film, Friends With Kids. In Westfeldt’s film the lead character, a single New Yorker who turns to a friend to serve as the paternal father, much like Davenport. Davenport’s story, more real than Westfeldt’s, but both films raise important questions and issues that may arise in parenting without the nuclear family cookie cutter.

The film tackles a number of modern day issues, such as dating, dating in your forties, dating with kids – challenges that were never an issue for the baby boomer generation.

It makes me realize just how much has changed over the years.

first-comes-love_340pxfilmroundup1-articleLarge firstcomeslove_01  SlideD1

Gush: Merry Clayton on The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”

I finally watched the documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, which follows some of music’s most under appreciated musicians. Of them is Merry Clayton who sang backup for Joe Cocker’s version of “With A  Little Help From My Friends,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” and my personal favourite “Gimme Shelter.”












The film gives a far better account than I could ever give of Clayton’s role in “Gimme Shelter,” however I’ll give an honest and inspired go here.

In 1969, the Stones were mixing the album Let It Bleed in Los Angeles. In the wee hours of the evening, the boys thought it would sound good if a female voice sang the lyrics – “Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away” to accentuate the song’s more dominant and conservative lyrics – “War, children, it’s just a shot away.” Enter twenty-two year old Merry Clayton, who had been woken up in those very wee hours to go to the studio to do her bit. She entered the studio with her hair in her overnight curlers, silk PJs, and her months pregnant belly. She apparently only took a few takes, and went in with every intention to blow the British boys out of the room.

Here’s a clip of the part she recorded that very night:

And the full song:

The film’s trailer: