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Hot Docs Review: City Idol

You may remember City Idol -- the city-wide contest to find the next promising city councilor candidate. Yes, the name is a slight rip-off of that other Idol show, but the event garnered a lot of local buzz last spring and was even covered extensively here on blogTO (here, here and here). A year has passed, and now we have City Idol: THE MOVIE -- which documents the lively competition right up to the 2006 election; simultaneously recapturing all the drama, passion and heartbreak along the way.

From the same team that made Super Amigos (which also screened at this year's fest), City Idol is, as it turns out to be, an inspiring underdog story. The contestants range from every background, age, race and profession, which not only reflects our city's broad cultural spectrum but also reminds us of what a wonderful thing democracy -- in its purest sense -- can truly be.

In the first half of the film, we are right in the thick of the contest, which spans three days and takes place in an old concert hall, a grungy rock club and finally a nice lounge restaurant. We watch as the contestants deliver their speeches, engage in debate and answer hard-hitting questions; and we watch as they burn or prevail under the smoldering spotlight -- no different, of course, than what the job they're all coveting for might actually be like.

Some inspire us, some simply crack us up, but a select few genuinely move us. One of these few is Desmond Cole, who, after delivering one powerful speech after another, goes on to win it all; becoming the first ever City Idol winner. And so the second half -- admittedly the more engaging section of the film -- centers on Cole's arduous campaign journey, going up against heavyweights like Adam Vaughan and Helen Kennedy.

Cole is smart, handsome and charismatic. He comes from a humble background and lives in a rough neighborhood. And one heartbreaking moment comes when a campaign worker mentions that Cole doesn't even have enough money to pay his phone bill... and without reliable communication his whereabouts are not always clear. Doubling the ache is when Cole finds his campaign signs pulled down, disheveled, and left on the street corner for trash-pickup. His efforts, as it quickly becomes evident, may not be enough; nonetheless, his perseverance is why we cheer even if we already know or sense what the eventual outcome might be.

City Idol is a bit rough in spots, particularly at the start when you're still trying to find your footing, but once we get into the Desmond Cole Story it moves and wraps you up like "Rocky does politics". And for those with dreams of one day running for a seat in the municipal office, it's a must-see if only for the opening scene in which we get to see what actually gets done at a Toronto City Council meeting -- absolutely nothing.

City Idol screens once more:
Sun, Apr 29, 9:30 PM at The Royal Cinema

(Photo: Open City Works)


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