Hot Docs 2015: Seth’s Dominion

Seth's Dominion_3

We’ve seen countless documentaries about artists that use talking heads to describe their greatness. Some of them are very good, but there’s a sameness that often limits their effectiveness. It’s difficult to really understand what makes them tick, no matter how eloquent the speakers explain the work. Seth’s Dominion avoids these traps by giving us close access to its subject and bypassing the conventional structure. This connects the film with the art itself and not just the guy who created it. Director Luc Chamberland’s background in animation gives him the ability to bring Seth’s work to life. We aren’t just seeing the stills of Seth’s comics but actually watching them come alive within the film. The smooth transitions between normal conversations and the animated segments maintain a lively pace.

The 52-year-old Seth (born as Gregory Gallant) is a Canadian artist known for creating the comic Palookaville. It takes a certain kind of person to spend so much time alone separate from the world, and Seth fits that mold. He resembles a throwback who feels out of place in our modern world. His distinctive hat and glasses would seem more prevalent in the 1920s than the current era. Seth describes his closely organized schedule and relatively simple life with his wife Tania. It’s hardly the energetic artist’s life we’ve been trained to expect in many films. He speaks openly about his creative process and his past, but he isn’t very comfortable in front the camera. This isn’t the kind of guy who wants to be the center of attention. A note during the end credits makes it clear that one documentary is enough for Seth.

An intriguing segment covers Seth’s tumultuous childhood with his volatile father. Their scenes today seem cordial but are hardly affectionate. The demons of the past clearly still haunt both of them. How much this trauma impacted Seth’s path in life is hard to say. Regardless, he doesn’t shy away from discussing the difficulties. He also speaks openly about regrets in the relationship with his mom, and it’s that personal connection that makes this more than a celebration of interesting art. Chamberland delves into Seth’s past through the animation and shows how the comics speak to his real experiences. The reveal late in the film of the large model city Seth’s building adds a new layer to the guy. He’s immersed in this fantasy world of Dominion and digs into every aspect of this place.

Another factor in the success of Seth’s Dominion is the limited running time. The 42-minute duration lets Chamberland depict a slice of life without feeling the need to cover everything. Friends appear and offer small details about their connection to Seth, and that’s enough to add depth. I knew little about Seth’s work before seeing this film, and this introduction is the perfect opening to learning more. Chamberland doesn’t waste time and creates an effortless picture that flows nicely towards a fitting ending.

Screens
Thursday, April 30, 9:45 PM, Scotiabank Theatre

Tickets can be purchased at the Hot Docs website.