The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls (2009) Leanne Pooley - Recommended
Who are the Topp Twins? Perhaps it's a bonus that this incredibly entertaining survey of the life and times of the popular New Zealand singing and comedic duo, the Topp Twins, will also be an education for most American audiences. Jools and Lynda Topp are twin sisters from rural New Zealand who became homegrown hits in the 80s and are now kiwi icons. Making a name for themselves by drawing large crowds performing on the streets of Auckland, the Topps have since turned their irrepressible charm into multifaceted folk-singing variety act which includes dressing up as lovable stereotypes such as rancher and sportscaster Ken and Ken or glamour loving socialites Prue and Dilly. The unpredictable backstory to the Topp Twins is their activism and their ability to be political without being politicized. Being openly gay, speaking out for Maori rights, protesting apartheid and rallying for a nuclear-free New Zealand never undermined their popularity, in fact, quite the contrary. The film speaks wonders to the progressive nature of New Zealand, and the (unfortunate) conservatism of Americans. Leanne Pooley was approached by the twins to make the documentary after Jools was diagnosed with breast cancer and it was unclear whether or not she would pull through. Fortunately Jools did win the battle with cancer, and the documentary went on to win the People's Choice Award for Documentary at the Toronto International Film Festival (surprising everyone by beating out Michael Moore's Capitalism.) The Topp Twins was, without a doubt, the most fun documentary of the fest. Check out the trailer for the film here and you will see what I'm talking about.
(It would be a shame if The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls did not get wider distribution beyond the festival circuit, but that seems to be the case. A DVD is available on the film's website, and although 30 bucks might seem a lot for a DVD, you can share it with your friends. That's what I plan on doing.)
My Tehran for Sale (2009) Granaz Moussavi - Not Recommended
My Tehran for Sale was the only film I saw from the 2010 Global Lens series at MSPIFF. Global Lens, a yearly series of solid, under-the-radar foreign films, permanently moved into the MSPIFF lineup last year. My Tehran for Sale follows a handful of twenty-something Iranians, each with their own way of dealing with social constraints of society. Sadaf has embraced professional life and takes a devil-may-care attitude about the risky practice of attending underground concerts and events. Her friend Marzieh, however, is a struggling actress and is suffocating under the oppression. When she falls in love with Saman, and Iranian living in Australia, Marzieh starts to see a light at the end of her artistic tunnel. But an unforeseen tragedy strikes and sends Marzieh's life into a tailspin. The strict rules in which Iranian filmmakers are forced to work under have made directors understandably pessimistic, and, as a result, unrelentingly somber. Even though first time director Granaz Moussavi now lives in Australia herself, the dark tone is carried over in her film. My Tehran triumphs in its existence: shot on the sly and smuggled out of the country for editing, it is incredible well made despite the obvious obstacles. But the film flounders with the heavy-handed melodrama forced upon Marzieh. I have no doubt that the frustrations of every one of these characters is very real, but when a guttural scream is emitted under pretext, it has an inevitable resonance of falsity.