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article imageReview: Hot Docs’ 'Screen on Screen' puts movies at the forefront Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Apr 22, 2015 in Entertainment
Film is a medium that can often be self-reflexive, analysing itself and its players. These types of documentaries are slotted into Hot Docs’ “Screen on Screen” program.
Going to the cinema is generally considered a form of escape. Just this month, audiences sat shotgun with the team in Fast 7, fell in love for the first time in The Longest Ride, and saw the world through the eyes of acclaimed photographer Sebastião Salgado in The Salt of the Earth. But there are so many ways to experience film; the audience’s experiences will differ widely from the experiences of the actors and crew who made the picture. At the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, the “Screen on Screen” program investigates people’s relationships with movies. One of this year’s selections discusses the deliverance some cinephiles found in American productions, while another examines the effects of being a star in the Hollywood system.
A scene from  Chuck Norris vs Communism
A scene from 'Chuck Norris vs Communism'
Hot Docs
While under communist rule, Romania censored all Western media — but that didn’t stop people from watching ‘80s films as they were meant to be seen. Chuck Norris vs Communism retrospectively reviews the underground system of tape smuggling, distribution and secret screenings in the country. Through present-day interviews and re-enactments, filmmakers examine every aspect of the operation and what access to these films meant to citizens of all ages. Understanding its people’s desire to consume Western films, the government would broadcast carefully selected movies on the public network; however, they also meticulously edited each picture for “propaganda.” Seemingly harmless images such as a bunny with red, blue and yellow balloons or a dining table with significant amount of food were cut for fear it would provoke anti-communist thoughts or beliefs.
Seeing an opportunity, one man would start an empire by simply trafficking VHS tapes over the border, dubbing them, creating duplicates and supplying local screeners with poor copies to show their audiences each week. Reminiscing about their acts of rebellion, people recall the action films of Chuck Norris and how he triumphed over his enemy by defeating a rat in Missing in Action, or when Johnny lifts Baby at the end of Dirty Dancing. The one thing everyone agrees on is the importance of the woman who dubbed all the pictures, government approved and otherwise. She was a critical part of their movie watching experience, though no one knew how she looked. It’s difficult to comprehend the risk everyone bore to take part in an activity most people take for granted, but it’s clear they all thought it was worthwhile.
A scene from  Listen to me Marlon
A scene from 'Listen to me Marlon'
Hot Docs
Conversely, Listen to me Marlon considers cinema from the other side of the camera. Though it’s not widely known, Oscar-winning actor Marlon Brando used a voice recorder to document his thoughts on a variety of subjects throughout his life. Some — or possibly all — of the recordings served as a form of self-psychoanalysis, so they are very candid and seem to get to the root of how he felt about many issues, including his childhood, method acting, stardom, discrimination and wealth. He can even be heard criticizing his own performances, particularly his acclaimed role in On the Waterfront. At one point in the latter part of his career he says, “I’m only interested in making enough money so I can say fuck you to money,” adding that he now does just that simply by working three months a year.
His familiar voice is played over black-and-white photos and videos, and his recordings are intercut with public interviews and appearances. Clips from tapes recorded at different times are clearly edited together, combining his thoughts on similar topics though variances can be heard in the sound quality and age of his voice. There are no chapters separating the film, but it’s obviously divided into themes. The documentary chronicles Brando’s entire life primarily from his perspective, including the tragic incidents involving his son and daughter. He was often considered an enigma, but this film goes beyond some of the mystery.
Ticket and screening information are available on the Hot Docs website.
More about hot docs 2015, Documentary, Screen on Screen, Chuck Norris vs Communism, Listen to me Marlon
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