Alan Zweig: Canada's greatest documentarian?

His latest film, "15 Reasons To Live", provides a strong argument for that statement, and once again Zweig will be showcased at this year's Hot Docs festival.

The premise of this doc came from a simple place. Chatting with an acquaintance in a record store, the man told Zweig that he had put together a list of 15 reasons to live. Before he read a word, Zweig knew he would be looking for stories to correspond with whatever was written down, and that is what he did. The results are stunning and euphoric, and given Zweig's well chronicled lonely journey through his own life, the film takes on an even sunnier context.

"From '77 to 2000 I was a failure," Zweig said in an interview I did with him in 2011. "When I saw my films again, I thought, 'boy you were pretty sad back then.'"

Sad indeed. His early work introduced doc lovers to a half-glass-empty curmudgeon of a man. Zweig often appeared, or was even central, to the narrative of his stories. In his cult classic "Vinyl", he hangs out with compulsive Toronto record collectors while confronting his own shortcomings as a social animal in modern society. "I, Curmudgeon" is an even deeper look into Zweig's psyche, the glum director offering up confessions about his feelings on life into a mirror. But there was something very watchable about his testimonials and Zweig's brand of filmmaking drew a dedicated fan base.

It would be hard to argue against the positive track Zweig seems to be on these days. He won a Genie Award (now called the Canadian Screen Awards) for his devastating and empathetic look at criminal life in "A Hard Name" in 2009, and Hot Docs put together a focus on his films in 2011. He's recently even become a family man.

In "15 Reasons To Live", Zweig uses personal stories from 15 subjects to paint a picture of hope. Subtitles like Love, Solitude, Praise, Work, Meaning, The Body and Death are explored in gorgeous little vignettes. In 'Love', Zweig meets a man who decides to walk around the world, all with the financial and emotional support of his wife. In 'The Body', a man named Peter builds rock sculptures in his local river, using physical exertion to put his life on track and deal with anger issues. And in 'Duty', a family makes the courageous decision to save a humpback whale from a fishing net while traveling in a small boat in Baja Mexico.

The stories are inspiring, touching and always thoughtful. Once again, Zweig uses his voice-over and interview skills to put his signature brand into the film. There is a comfort to his tone, often caring, but respectful to give space to his subjects. Some have compared him to Michael Moore, but he doesn't use the same heartstring pulleys that his American counterpart is often guilty of. Zweig also takes time in his latest doc to tell a few of his own stories, a reminder that he too is yearning for reasons to live.

"I'm not good at coming up with subjects for documentaries. People always say I am negative. I am trying to temporarily destroy brand because it's a bit of burden. I've been typecast essentially," Zweig said of his body of work in 2011.

"15 Reasons To Live" is full of hope, joy and inspiration, but it's still very much a Zweig film. He broke the mould but was true to himself. Zweig continues to dazzle and challenge his own brand with his latest offering and I for one can't wait to see what he does next.


Sat, April 27, 6:30 PM

TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Mon, April 29, 1:30 PM

Isabel Bader Theatre

Sun, May 5, 1:30 PM

TIFF Bell Lightbox 3

Every day, Moviefone Canada will bring you another must-see documentary from the Hot Docs 2013 film festival. Read more reviews here
categories Movies