She Said Boom

Meeting at Toronto record shop leads to Hot Docs

A chance encounter at a local record shop has brought Toronto-based filmmaker Alan Zweig back to Hot Docs with a documentary on fifteen loosely related stories called 15 Reasons To Live. Inspired by Ray Robertson's collection of essays Why Not? 15 Reasons to Live, Zweig interviewed thirteen individuals who had life-changing experiences, and inserted two of his own. The auteur who made a movie about his audophilia, Vinyl, and concerning misanthropy in the self-titled I, Curmudgeon, still has the stylistic streak of Bukowski, but there is the slightest hint that he may be taking his career in a slightly less inward-looking and autobiographical direction.

How did you come to adapt Ray's book?

One day I saw him at the She Said Boom in Roncesvalles and that's the first time I had talked to him in a long time. He said that maybe since I was interested in non-fiction maybe I'd like to adapt this book of essays he had coming out. Then he told me the title. I think that there were a lot of things happening in my life at the time that made those four words hit me.

The story titled "Praise" concerned Jim Shedden and the 1000 Songs blog on Facebook, where visitors can log reactions and personal memories relating to songs.

Jim worked at the AGO, in the experimental film scene - these were things I was on the very fringe of, but not my community. Then I heard about the blog, about a hundred songs in...I like keeping a diary but I didn't have a good reason to keep one and then this guy comes along and says 'do you want to write your diary in reaction to my diary?'"

Were you conscious that the film almost exclusively took place in Toronto?

That wasn't on purpose but I like [seeing familiar places]. I'll see something in an American TV show and say 'Isn't that my street?'

Is your interview style always to play the devil's advocate? To insert your own doubts about the dependability of friends when you hear of remarkable bonds of friendship?

It's one thing for me to feel that way in real life; it's another thing for me to express that in the film. I always struggle with what part of my reaction to include. The worst thing is to interview somebody who has told the same story one hundred times, and they have a script in their head. You want them to say something that sounds genuine and sometimes the only way to do that is to argue or upset them.

Has the filmmaking process given you an epiphany or mini-epiphany?

I changed before I started filming. I say something at the end of the film about choosing happiness and how I reacted when I heard it. That's the first time I heard that and didn't think that was bullshit. But I heard so many stories where that appeared to be borne out, and it broke my back, I couldn't deny it: you choose to let happiness into your life.

The loose structure of different self-contained stories reminds me of songs in an album - which album would you compare it to?

Maybe Moondance, but that's too much. I'd love to think Blonde on Blonde but maybe that's too much too. I want to say Sunshine Superman, which is secretly great, it's a truly great album. I think a song in an album is a better analogy than, say, chapters in a book.

15 Reasons to Live screens at Hot Docs this Sunday, May 5th, 1t 1:30pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

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