Following on from the winning film The End of the Road, the Vancouver Lift-Off Festival continued with two more documentaries. The first was Heroes Manufactured, a pleasant if middle of the road exploration of the Canadian comic book scene over the course of various cons in towns such as Ottawa, Montreal and Niagra Falls. Broken into vignettes, the film touches upon the reboot of Captain Canuck, the experiences of being a female artist and the impact superheroes have and those that consume them.
Early on, a comic-book writer describes Canadian superheroes as being “earnest” and “polite” – a fitting description for the doc itself. There are moments that suggest the film may tail off in more interesting directions. One writer sums up the often cut-throat comic scene: “No one wants to hear your story. But, they do want to hear a great story”. Meanwhile, a successful female artist briefly mentions being “harassed and “badgered” at conventions. Yet, the documentary doesn’t delve further into these potentially fascinating areas – only dipping its toe into the subject matter as opposed to plunging deep.
What saves the film is a third act which revels in the glee comic fanatics gain from meeting their heroes, as well as the inherent warmth of Stan Lee in an extended appearance. A moment in which an admirer of the former chief of Marvel reads the publisher a letter detailing how Spiderman shaped his moral compass is truly moving – as is Lee’s humbled reaction. Ultimately, Heroes Manufactured could have benefitted emphasising more moments like this and perhaps delving further into the darker sides of its subject.
However, Trophy – a half-hour documentary about the culture of trophy hunting bears in Canada (not to be confused with a full length doc of the same name focusing on the same events but in Africa) – made me long for the serviceable pleasures of Heroes Manufactured. So dull, it instilled rage in me despite myself completely agreeing with its anti-hunting stance.
It’s less a film than a series of seemingly personality-less scholars lecturing its audience about the ethical issues of hunting – something of which I’d argue any even slightly “woke” person already is aware. Throughout I was stymied by the lack of talking heads from the other side of the argument. After all, I’d be more fascinated in learning why hunters feel the need to kill as opposed to being fed information I already know. Plus, it may have led to a serious, even spirited debate – perhaps adding a much needed spark.
As it stands, however, Trophy just doesn’t feel like a film, coming across more like a dreary, dry, biased educational talk that does not belong in a cinema. Aside from some harrowing and difficult to stomach real-life footage of bears being shot, almost nothing hits on an emotional level.
Stephen Porzio (twitter@porzfolio) is writing a series of articles reporting on Vancouver Lift-Off, the film festival, which he’s attending as an official critic. Check back for more on this series.