RIDM, Nov. 12: Urban decay, disabled punks and local rappers

A portrait of a devastated urban landscape, the story of a Finnish group of developmentally disabled punk rockers and a local documentarian’s final work in our roundup of today’s offerings at the documentary festival.


Photo by Craig Atkinson


It’s been almost 25 years since Michael Moore came out with Roger and Me, his commercially successful, highly staged documentary about the downsizing of the GM plant in Flint, Michigan, which led to the near-downfall of the city itself.

Things are no better in Michigan today, with the city of Detroit so close to bankruptcy that earlier this year, mayor Dave Bing threatened to hand over financial control of the metropolis to the state unless the city received $80 million in bailouts. This announcement came mere weeks after Mayor Bing shocked America by announcing plans to shut off power and public transportation to major sections of the city in order to save money.

Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s documentary, Detropia, while tackling many of the same issues as Moore did, couldn’t be more different in tone or integrity. Where Moore’s film was didactic and burdened with a heavy-handed voice-over narration, Ewing and Grady’s film is an impressionistic portrait of the city in decline, which allows viewers to piece things together themselves, based on the incredibly moving and incisive observations of its characters.

These range from African-Americans who have lived and worked in Detroit and its automotive plants for the past 50 years to the white, put-a-bird-on-it hipsters (there is literally a scene of people spray-painting bird stencils onto the walls of derelict buildings), drawn to Detroit for its cheap rent and their romanticized notion of a once-great city that is literally crumbling beneath the feet of its citizens.

With its impressive diversity of shooting locations, its thought-provoking audio pastiche of disembodied soundbites, and the dream-like fashion in which they’ve woven the narrative together, Ewing and Grady’s film is a haunting portrait of America that is equal parts magical dream and terrifying nightmare. (AP) Tonight at Grande Bibliothèque (475 Maisonneuve E.), 6 p.m. and Thursday, Nov. 15 at Excentris (3536 St-Laurent), 4:15 p.m.


The Punk Syndrome

I probably wasn’t alone in thinking that punk rock had covered all its bases when it came to giving voice to the marginalized; evidently I hadn’t heard of Perrti Kurikan’s Name Day, a Finnish punk band that plays stripped-down, Ramones-like stomp rock and whose members all happen to be developmentally disabled. The Punk Syndrome is a funny, touching look into the lives of these unlikely rock stars.

Guitarist Perrti is the frontman of the band, a sensitive middle-aged man who has the most independent living situation of the four. Kari is the gravel-voiced singer, a sweet but temperamental man whose pet peeves (including pedicures!) are usually the focus of the angrier songs. Bassist Sami is the troublemaker, prone to riling up his band members and creating havoc, while drummer Toni is the Keith Moon figure, foul-mouthed and excitable. The film chronicles the road to their first gigs, first single and eventual rise to fame (as famous as a three-chord punk band can get in Finland, anyway).

A little context would go a long way, but unfortunately the film does not delve in how the band got formed or exactly how all of it came to be. It’s really The Punk Syndrome’s biggest flaw, and it comes as a direct by-product of its greatest strength. By keeping its fly-on-the-wall aesthetic (there are no talking head interviews, voiceovers or title cards), the film avoids marginalizing the musicians and Other-ing them. On the flipside, though, it would be nice to have a little background information on all of the supporting players milling about in the background and the various feuds that seem to pre-date the movie.

Funny, touching and insightful, The Punk Syndrome is a real winner of a music doc, warts and all. (AR) Tonight at Grande Bibliothèque, 8 p.m. and Wednesday, Nov. 14 at Cinémathèque Québécoise (335 Maisonneuve E.), 9:15 p.m.


Ma vie réelle

In the opening voiceover to his last film, the late documentarian Magnus Isacsson (he passed away of cancer in May of this year) explains that he had wanted to make a film about Montréal-Nord for a long time. The final product, full of unsentimental affection for the neighbourhood and its denizens, confirms that idea. While it’s certainly not the first documentary about the lives of inner-city youth, it provides a startling look at a neighbourhood and a lifestyle that many Montrealers don’t think twice about.

While ostensibly about the lives of three young men who’ve recently dropped out of high school, Ma vie réelle is mostly about rap music and the efforts of community organizer/’90s hip-hop star Don Karnage to give meaning to the lives of these troubled teens. Swagga Kid is talented, but he’s at the mercy of constant evictions and an older brother who’s in and out of jail despite being the family’s sole breadwinner. Breezy is in and out of group homes, his entire family in and out of rehab and his troubled mother little more than a concept, while Danny is incapable of managing his finances well enough to become independent.

Honesty is key in this sort of documentary, and Ma vie réelle has it in spades. From the frequent outpourings of bile in their clumsy-but-effective raps to the uncomfortable sequence in which Breezy is reunited with his loopy mother, the kids let their guard down for Isacsson in a raw and unflinching way. It’s a powerful documentary and well worth seeing. (AR) Tonight at Excentris, 8:30 p.m. and Thursday, Nov. 15 at Excentris, 5 p.m.

Also recently reviewed and recommended: Charles Bradley: Soul of America, screening tonight at Cinémathèque Québécoise, 7:30 p.m.

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