Hot Docs 2011: Gnarr

You’d be forgiven for thinking that last year’s mayoral campaign had to be some kind of farce - some kind of parody of what a real mayoral election was like in a major city, maybe produced by whomever is responsible for Corner Gas (I would look this up but my research allergies are going nuts this time of year).

Alas, no. Here we are on the other side of that decidedly real election and each day seems like one hilarious (if you live outside the 416) joke after another. Did you hear the one about the library they closed? The LRT’s they chucked out in favour of phantom subways? Hilarious!

Over in Iceland, that country you generally don’t consider unless there’s a volcano erupting or Bjork’s releasing a new album, their biggest city actually did elect a mayor who ran as a joke. His name is Jón Gnarr, Reykjavik's answer to Rick Mercer. Upon seeing how boring and broken the parliament is in his hometown, he decides to form “The Best Party”, a motley crew of punks, miscreants, and folks that are generally the opposite of what one imagines the typical parlimentarian to look like. The punchline, of course, is that they win.

One amazing thing about Gaukur Úlfarsson's documentary is that it covers Gnarr’s rise to power from the very beginning, long before his win is even the remotest possibility.  We see him promising outrageous things like bringing a Disneyland to Reykjavik and making admission free, acquiring a polar bear for the zoo, and “all sorts of things for weaklings” (a campaign promise that, as far as I can tell, is never expanded upon), with the sort of zeal only seen in someone that doesn’t expect anyone to take him seriously.  But as the campaign wears on and we see Gnarr’s poll numbers rise, he begins to expose the tedium and hypocrisy of his opponents through hilariously farcical debates and stunts.  While this does get a little repetitive about ¾ of the way into the film, it does leave the viewer on an unspeakably positive note and that’s more than one can say of pretty much any political documentary that’s come before. Also, any film that counts among its scenes a group of people singing a bastardized version of Tina Turner's "Simply The Best" with lyrics about polar bears (seriously watch this, especially if you're having a particularly crummy day) is just pure amazingness.

There are certainly parallels to be drawn between the events of Gnarr and the NDP’s rise to power in last week’s federal election, but I’m not going to try to make them with the amount of Nyquil in my system and will leave such things to Rex Murphy.  Differently, I’ll just leave you with some inspiring words from the Best Party.

“Hooray for all sorts of things!”

Photo: A movie poster of Gnarr, the movie that you just finished reading a review of.

You'll find all of our Hot Docs coverage here
This review was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer.  His writing has appeared on, the CBC Street Level Blog,, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here. 


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