The sales numbers are still ticker-taping in, but as TIFF 2012 closes it already looks to be a solid year for those filmmakers who came to the festival looking for some sweet distribution action. Though it showed first in Venice and Telluride, for instance, Toronto is where Sarah Polley sold her first highly acclaimed documentary, Stories We Tell.
Polley’s is one of the few docs—the few films, actually—at the festival to sell distribution rights to several different countries, including the U.S., Canada, the UK, Poland, and Australia. Casting By and Love Marilyn have also found buyers; other deals are presumably hovering in limbo.
The Secret Disco Revolution, Canadian filmmaker Jamie Kastner’s cheeky history of disco as a socio-cultural movement, came to TIFF already comfortable with a world distribution deal. Having sold his film earlier in the year at Berlinale, Kastner was giddy and carefree as a young mirrorball while introducing Disco to a hometown crowd. Alluding to the film’s relatively gravity-free themes (no genocide; no child abuse), Kastner encouraged us to try to enjoy ourselves despite the “serious, revolutionary subject matter” at hand.
Kastner brings a light hand, if not a light touch, to his subject. A voice of God narrator explains the broad stuff: Disco was not just post-Sixties radio fluff, it was an extension of movements to liberate minorities, gays, and women. Donna Summers’ “Love to Love You” was not just a hot song, it was by its very extensive nature (there was a 20-minute version released) a feminist critique of all the two-minute brothers out there.
Mixed in with the opinions of academics and cultural historians (including Peter Shapiro, who wrote the highly recommended “secret history of disco,” Turn the Beat Around) are the pantomimed exploits of three “masterminds,” actors who stand in for the figures Kastner has roaming the streets of 1970s New York, finding and playing the right records and planting the glittery seeds of this revolution deep in the dance floor. That was probably my least favourite conceit of the film; it adds less than it takes away from a story that both better and more fun things to work with.
Gloria Gaynor, Anita Pointer, and others agreed to be interviewed and have fascinating things to say about disco’s underground beginnings. Studio 54 DJ Nicky Siano even pinpoints the origins of the term “disco” to a 1974 magazine article tracking the club phenomenon of smoother, shimmering tunes and partnered dancing. But we barely have a sense of disco’s subversive roots and the dance floor’s role as the great equaliser in an ailing, divided city before the story veers into the familiar terrain of selling out and mainstream success.
Was it the Village People that did it? Or Saturday Night Fever? Kastner includes a hilarious interview with the former, who after all these years and the spawn of their contemporary party novelty brethren, LMFAO, still refuse—and quite bitchily—to acknowledge their legacy as beacons of the gay community. The rise of the notoriously decadent Studio 54 is suggested to have perverted the disco values of rising up and joining together, reducing them to an orgy of self-abuse. It’s good stuff. If anything there are too many great stories packed into The Secret Disco Revolution for one of them to step forward and claim the dominant throughline. It’s more of a punk rock pogo through the revolution than a smoothly choreographed hustle. And that doesn’t sound at all bad, does it?
About this writer
- Sundance diary: Sarah Polley's family secret (0)
- Sundance diary: On false leads and Dick Cheney (0)
- The Puerto Rican hustle and other big festival moves: Notes from TIFF, part 4 (0)
- Celebrity revisionism: Notes from TIFF, part 3 (0)
- Documentaries in Smell-O-Vision: Notes from TIFF, part 2 (0)
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