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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Lukewarm doc on global hotness & cool city politics flick

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Hot Docs is almost — but not quite! — over and there’s still lots of films worth seeing.

Here’s one for Mr. Baird & Mr. Harper to kick back with if they’re spending the weekend in Toronto: Garbage Warrior follows the story of Mike Reynolds, a survivalist architect in New Mexico as he tries to get permission to build experimental, off-grid architectures.

The problem with this situation is the architect’s houses sometimes get hot enough to melt typewriters, and utility co’s and vote-wary senators are reluctant to OK his proposal. The problem with this doc is that while it’s easy to sympathize with the architect’s cause, it’s a little harder to sympathize with him as an individual. No matter how cool his buildings are, his running commentary is kinda dumb (um, global warming doesn’t cause earthquakes, OK?), and the shots of him riding his (biodiesel-fuelled) hog and jogging with his dogs through the “pristine wilderness” simply reinforce the absurdity of his maverick stylings. I kept wishing he would quiet down and let somebody else, even his structures (which successfully reuse plastic and glass bottles, as well as tires as building materials) do the talking.

The handsdown best part of the film is when he goes to the Andaman Islands, which suffered huge losses in he 2004 tsunami, and builds one of his “earthships” in partnership with the local community. Seeing modest, sari-clad women go shovel for shovel with Reynolds and his dudes at the cement mixing station is refreshing, and the architecture certainly gains new relevance when contrasted with the terrible corrugated steel cubes other emergency services set up.

Garbage Warrior‘s ultimately inspiring, due more to the islanders than the Taosian “main subject” of the flick. However — let’s face it — Baird and Harper would likely relate and respond to the hot air factor. So maybe that’s a plus.

On another level of politics, here’s one for all Mr. Vaughan & Ms. Kennedy to share a bag of popcorn over: City Idol follows the story of the well-known 2006 Toronto civics project during its bar- and club-crossing run around the city, as well as the story of the less-well-known campaign of Desmond Cole that resulted from it.

I readily admit my bias towards this entry, as friends and acquaintances were involved at different stages of the project. And if the film showed only the first half of its story — the run up to and including Desmond Cole’s win to become City Idol’s candidate for Trinity-Spadina, you might be justified in worrying over such bias.

But it’s the second part of this story, which leaves the dancefloor and trails Cole through big ups and downs on the actual campaign trail, that provides the film’s biggest punch. Though the ineffectiveness and pettiness of our city councillors is documented throughout the film, it’s in this segment that it the depth of it really comes through. (Media, I admit, doesn’t come out looking so great either.)

At the post-screening Q&A, someone suggested the film be shown in schools. A terrific idea — but why not in the City Hall lobby as well? Oh, and FYI to Vaughan, Kennedy and all other city politicos: If you can stand being around each other for longer than 90 minutes, you may want to get your hands on copies of Let’s All Hate Toronto and Last Call at the Gladstone Hotel for a T-dot triple bill.

Garbage Warrior screens again Saturday April 28 at 4:45pm at the Bader. City Idol screens again Sunday April 29 at 9:30pm at the Royal, with a fundraiser this Saturday at Flamingo Palace (scroll down a few posts for details). Click here for Hot Docs ticketing information.

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