Icons and infants: Hot Docs kicks off with Rush doc and ‘Babies’

Two buzz-worthy documentaries, one chronicling a legendary 42-year-old rock band and the other several newborns from around the world, opened this year's edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.
May 3, 2010

Most Canadians know Rush for their technical skills – a band that’s the highest level on their Guitar Hero or Rock Band video games, says Scot McFadyen, co-director of Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, which opened the Hot Docs festival on Thursday, April 29 in downtown Toronto.

But what McFadyen and co-director Sam Dunn hope the documentary will show is the story behind the rock and roll lifestyle; that of humble suburban kids who struggled along the road to international fame and recognition.

Rush’s Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson attended the screening – which was sold out along with the festival’s international co-opener, Babies – though there was no sign of drummer and lyricist Neil Peart.

‘Both Geddy and Alex are children of immigrant parents and grew up as awkward kids and didn’t fit in with anybody,’ Dunn said at the opening. ‘What we tried to do was talk about the music of Rush, but more importantly, focus on the more human and emotional elements of their lives and the challenges they faced along the way.’

Dunn and McFadyen, both of Toronto, began filming Beyond the Lighted Stage in 2007. The film, which also nabbed the audience award at Tribeca this past weekend, is a combination of archival footage and interviews with the artists that is as fun and glitzy as band documentaries should be, yet revealing about the complex stars.

Rush opened alongside film that couldn’t be more different in subject matter – Babies, a visually stunning and dialogue-free film from French filmmaker Thomas Balmès.

Babies follows four infants from starkly different cultures (Mongolia, Japan, the United States and Namibia), giving viewers a close-up view of their first contact with the world around them – from their mother’s tender touch, to the often aggressive and confused reaction of older siblings (and sometimes pets).

‘My main target is what makes us all the same, not what makes us different,’ said Balmès, in an interview before the screening. ‘All parents, they’re going to see themselves [in this film]. It’s much more mirror than documenting a different culture.’

While one opening film represents a hometown story for Hot Docs’ Toronto audience and the other spans international borders, they both make an emotional connection with viewers, which is what the festival is all about, said the fest’s director of programming Sean Farnel.

‘These are films people really do connect with in a deep and meaningful way,’ he said later that night, at the opening night’s gala at the Royal Ontario Museum. Over the past decade, documentaries moved away from being a specialized form and into the mainstream, he says.

‘A younger generation of filmmakers took the form and made it its own. They injected really fresh storytelling styles – I think the storytelling has become sharper and more engaging.’

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