When the Ross brothers make a film, I go. It’s a simple deal. They film; I watch. There’s not even a second thought anymore, and I almost feel like I’m getting the better end of the arrangement.

The Ross brothers are back at Hot Docs with their fifth offering – CONTEMPORARY COLOR. So, of course, I went. After all, a deal’s a deal.

In 2015, rock legend David Byrne wanted to put on a live show that brought together some of the best musicians of the day with some of the best colour guards in North America. So it was that high school colour guard teams from New Jersey, New York, Ontario, and Quebec found themselves performing routines on the floor of The Barclay’s Center accompanied by St. Vincent, tUnE-yArDs, Nelly Furtado, Ad-Rock, and others.

The show – “Contemporary Color” – was documented on film, with lots of time taken backstage and behind-the-scenes, and the result is the Ross brothers’ latest offering.

It’s difficult to document the energy in the room that any performance happens in, but I dare suggest CONTEMPORARY COLOR comes closest. There’s both an exuberance and an awe happening on-stage, as the acts gathered to provide the musical tracks for the colour guards seem both honoured and humbled by their involvement. You can often see flickers of joy and communion on the faces of these rock stars as they steal glances at what is happening with the teenagers before them.

I fear this is the sort of film people may only be able to take in at home (which is a crying shame, but I digress). If that is your only option, I cannot recommend good headphones highly enough. Part of what makes the Ross brothers’ films so special is the glorious sound design they employ, and CONTEMPORARY COLOR is no exception. On the surface it might just seem like I want you to hear amazing music the best way possible…but it’s more than that. It’s about getting the beautiful balance between a piano playing on-stage, the hum of an increasingly amazed crowd, and the subtle “snap” of a thrown rifle being caught.

The blend of it all is beautiful, and it really needs to be heard to be believed.

At the risk of blasphemy, the documentary of CONTEMPORARY COLOR might be better than the live experience was. While I deeply regret not being in the arena to witness all of this artistry firsthand, seeing it smeared together like a pastel drawing didn’t make me feel like I was watching it so much as it made me feel like I was in it. This film surrounds the viewer with energy, melody, life and (yes) colour until it all becomes a beautiful blur.

See it. Hear it. Bloody well drown in it.


CONTEMPORARY COLOR plays at Hot Docs 2016 today –  Wednesday, May 4th, 4:15pm at The Lightbox. It then plays once more on Sunday May 8th at The Bloor – 1pm