Hot Docs 2012: Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One

If you're not sure exactly what's happening at the beginning of Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, don't worry. You're not alone. Not even the crew making the movie has any idea. In the film's opening scenes, they kind of just mill about in Central Park as their director — pioneer documentarian and NFB alum William Greaves, who shot the movie in 1968 — gives them vague instructions. As the actors deliver clunky, melodramatic lines, one camera will film them, and another will film them and the person filming them, and another one will film them and the person filming them and the person filming the person filming them. Or something. When a cop stops and asks what kind of film they're making, the best Greaves can do is to suggest, ""It's a feature length we-don't-know."

Before long, the crew are in revolt, meeting to figure out just what exactly is going on and whether Greaves has any clue what he's doing. That's when things finally start to make some sense: the documentary is about making the documentary, a surprisingly entertaining experiment that opens up questions not just about filmmaking and art, but race, gender relations, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, fiction, reality and the politics of the late-'60s.

When it was first released, though, no one much noticed Symbiopscyhotaxiplasm. It failed to get distribution, pretty much forgotten except for a tiny cult following. That is, until Steve Buscemi happened to catch a screening of it at Sundance in 1993. He showed it to Steven Soderbergh, who called it "one of the most amazing things I'd ever seen". The two worked together with Greaves to get the film re-released and a sequel made. Now, it's available on DVD from Criterion. And it's screening at Hot Docs on Friday night as part of their "Documentary Plays Itself" series.

- Adam Bunch
 Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One is playing Friday May 4 at 7pm at Innis Town Hall. Tickets 'n' stuff here.

Find all of our coverage of Hot Docs 2012 here. 

Adam Bunch is the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at


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