Burden of Dreams

An Obsessive Documentary Retrospective

Myke Dyer

Point-of-view documentaries allow the viewer a glimpse into the lives of people and topics that matter to all of us, whatever our personal, political or social concerns. Burden of Dreams brings us the stories of real people gripped by obsessions, their exceptional lives captured and laid out for us to see with startling intimacy. They are at times hilarious, sad, eerie, eccentric and absurd.

Ever since Robert Flaherty shot the film Nanook of the North in 1922 documentary filmmakers have sought out interesting characters. The development of Cinema Verité style filmmaking (with the advent of smaller, lighter equipment) allowed the filmmaker to shadow a subject, often for years, to tell a story.

The main theme that binds all the subjects in these films is obsession - the drive towards the attainability of ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ is. Is it the pursuit of the dream, of the object, or is it simply the aching mythic quality of the obsession itself?

It is a fine line between the filmmaker’s approach to the obsessed subject as an easy target for ridicule, and the filmmaker’s approach as a non-judgmental observer. The films in this retrospective were made by artists who investigate the odd fixations of others with great sensitivity. Sometimes these artists also hold the camera to themselves to reflect on their own personality quirks. Perhaps a sense of shared obsessive nature is why the filmmakers in this series allow their subjects the space to speak for themselves.

In a traditional documentary approach, a narrative voice-over might attempt to keep the audience informed of complex situations or underlying developments taking place off-camera. Not so with these films. Unlike the world of TV, where stories are wrapped up neatly at the end of the half-hour, there is no effort in these documentaries to draw any conclusions from the subjects’ obsessions. More likely, these films leave us right where we started — at no point in particular — but enriched from having had a peek into one very interesting life.

In Tim Southam’s Drowning In Dreams, the search, as in all of life, is often more enticing than the find. Southam provides a chronicle of Frank Broennle’s obsession to salvage the Gunilda, a luxury steam yacht that that sunk in 1911. A story of greed and redemption, guilt and death, the film charts the course of a fatal dream.

In Project Grizzly we meet Troy Hurtubise, a self-styled ‘close-quarter bear researcher,’ who’s obsessed with going face-to-face with Canada’s most deadly land mammal, the grizzly bear. Troy is the creator of what he hopes is a ‘grizzly-proof’ suit of armour — an extraordinary fusion of high-tech materials and homespun ingenuity — and of his own hybrid mythology that is part Hollywood, part Canadian shield. His quest takes audiences into a world both compelling and disturbing, full of contradiction, humour and fantastical vision. Hand in hand with the tragedy of all-consuming obsession and perennial failure comes a sad, beautiful heroism. Driver 23 is Rolf Belgum’s low-budget documentary that tells the story of Dan Cleveland, a courier by day and an aspiring musician by night, and his comic-tragic efforts to succeed in the world of ‘progressive rock.’

The long-awaited sequel to Driver 23, The Atlas Moth continues the saga of Dan Cleveland, the hardest-working man in local rock, and his band Dark Horse. Several years have passed since the events of Driver 23, but Cleveland’s enthusiasm for his dream of heavy metal stardom has not been dampened in the least. Years in the making, Alan Zweig’s Vinyl features an eclectic and fascinating cast of obsessive record collectors. Notable mentions go to the man who claims to be collecting every song ever made and memorising the playlist of every K-Tel record.

With characters as rich as these, the distinction between documentary and fiction filmmaking is vague. It is an area that merits investigation, if only to increase our understanding of the fragile and mysterious link between film and reality.

Program Details

Driver 23

72 min. (1998)

Rolf Belgum

Saturday, August 23, 8:00
Durham Town Hall
185 George St. W, Durham

Saturday, August 30, 8:00
Hanover Town Hall
341 10th Street, Hanover

Saturday, September 6, 8:00
Walkerton Jubilee Hall
111 Jackson St. S, Walkerton

Dan Cleveland, a Minneapolis-based rock guitarist and deliveryman believes he’s meant for stardom in the ‘progressive rock’ music industry. Driver 23 is rooted in the traditions of direct cinema, with Belgum following Cleveland and his dwindling band Dark Horse for more than three years and observing his struggles. Along the way, Belgum also highlights Cleveland’s fascinating hobbies, including various home-built instruments and contraptions. The strength of the film lies in Belgum’s willingness to allow Cleveland’s dramas to drive the narrative with minimal intervention. But what makes the film truly moving are the events, such as Cleveland’s marital problems, that neither subject nor filmmaker directly explores. As his life goes to pieces around him, Dan retreats deeper and deeper into his basement, jury-rigging his life together with duct tape and searching for an outlet into the world of dreams and hard rock. Driver 23 may remind you of This Is Spinal Tap, but as a documentary (rather then a fictional mocumentary), it is much more poignant.

(Note: The Atlas Moth is the sequel to Driver 23.)

Project Grizzly

72 min. (1996)

Peter Lynch

Thursday, September 4, 9:00
Hanover Drive-In Theatre
Drive-in Road (South at Campbell’s Corner), Hanover

Troy Hurtubise is the oddly interesting man he is today because he was attacked by a grizzly bear in 1984. Out of that came his life’s dream - to build a suit of armour that would allow him to go one-on-one with a grizzly. The most compelling footage (and ripe for repeated viewing) in Project Grizzly is the crash testing of the 145-pound suit of titanium armour, chain mail, interior air bags and duct tape. Hurtubise, resembling a robotic Terminator, is thrown off cliffs, rammed by logs, hit by a pickup truck and clubbed with baseball bats. And he cheerily considers those the good days.

Director Peter Lynch explores the territory between documentary and drama, where the dividing line between fact and imagination is thin. In this twisted nature film, it’s man, not bears, who come under the closest scrutiny. Project Grizzly is a film about overcoming insurmountable odds, leaving an imprin and creating your own legends.

Drowning in Dreams

72 min. (1997)

Tim Southam

Thursday, September 18, 8:00
Paramount Theatre
206 10th Street, Hanover

Frank Broennle has never lifted his yacht from the bottom of Lake Superior, near Rossport, Ontario. Actually, the beguiling Gunilda belonged to someone else, an American tycoon who was too busy mixing martinis on the fantail one summer afternoon in 1911 to notice the shoals ahead.

Broennle and his friend King Hague ran a highly successful diving salvage company, work that took them into the very waters where the legend, filled with alleged bounty, lay. And so, one fateful weekend in 1970, they went down looking for the Gunilda. They found her, the gold paint of her bow a sparkling siren that so enraptured Hague his air tanks went dry before he could surface.

Director Tim Southam provides a masterful chronicle of Broennle’s obsession to salvage the Gunilda. In a very assured, impressionistic style, Southam articulates Broennle’s greed, his deep sense of obligation to his dead friend and that universal dream of finding sunken treasure.

Tim Southam will be present at the screening.

Vinyl

110 min. (2000)

Alan Zweig

Friday, September 19, 8:00
Walkerton Jubilee Hall
111 Jackson St. S, Walkerton

Saturday, September 27, 8:00
Durham Town Hall
185 George St. W, Durham

Is it possible to have hundreds of thousands of records and still lead a normal life? If you have to move records out of the way to make it to the bathroom or if you’ve memorised the track listings for every K-Tel collection, are these warning signs? Enter the unusual, sometimes slightly sad world of obsessive record collectors and discover what happens when you have one record too many.

After the life-altering sale of his favourite Curtis Mayfield LP, Alan Zweig began to question the pitfalls in his personal life. Once the initial proclamation had taken hold, Zweig felt compelled to venture into basements, lounge rooms, barns, dumpsters and back yards of Toronto to search out like-minded vinyl purists, ever hopeful for some resolution or revelation about the pathology of record collecting.

With brutal honesty and self-deprecating humour, Zweig quizzes each of his participants about their deep affection for collecting and, more importantly, whether their obsession has taken a toll on their life. For others, however, Zweig’s questions spark deep thought and, for some, admissions of antisocial behaviour. In one of the most poignant moments of the film, an interviewee admits that, at the end of the day, he just feels more confident in the aisles of a record store than at a party.

The Atlas Moth

72 min. (2001)

Rolf Belgum

Friday, September 19, 9:50
Walkerton Jubilee Hall
111 Jackson St. S, Walkerton

Saturday, September 27, 9:50
Durham Town Hall
185 George St. W, Durham

The follow-up to Driver 23, The Atlas Moth follows the often-gruelling process of recording, packaging and promoting Dark Horse’s debut album Guts Before Glory. Like everything in Dan Cleveland’s musical life, the album is a labour of love. Although he puts his heart and soul into a form of music that has been out of style for almost two decades, his good-natured perseverance and energy are so unfailingly infectious that you can’t help but root for his success. Packed with the stranger-than-fiction human comedy that made Driver 23 a national underground hit (including more of Cleveland’s famous home-made machinery), The Atlas Moth is a frequently uproarious antidote to the bloated, manufactured rock stars of the MTV generation.