Hot Docs 2014: An Honest Liar (Justin Weinstein & Tyler Measom)

P2014_hotdocs_stock_imageut this one at the top of your list of films to check out today! With one last screening at the Lightbox at 6:30 this brilliant film is nothing short of engaging, powerful, funny, and heartfelt.

I went into this one almost blind, knowing that it was about a former stage magician and escape artist, James “The Amazing” Randi, who saw people in the world using the art of illusion and trickery not for entertainment value, but to fleece people of their hard-earned money, and decided to do something about it.

The film’s international premiere, which I was fortunate enough to attend, was in the Hart House Theatre, a theatre that the Amazing Randi, himself, performed on in 1952!

From its opening of The Amazing Randi hanging upside down, escaping from a straitjacket while a chanteuse belts out “Magic Touch,” the audience knows it’s in for a special kind of treat.

Making a name for himself, appearing on Carson on a regular basis, and always claiming he’s a “liar, cheat and a charlatan,” he’s honest about his tricking of his viewing audience, that’s what they pay to see. He uses deceptions to reveal truth. He has a problem with those who use deception to conceal it.

So early on he set his sights on would-be psychics, and mystifiers like Uri Geller, and faith healers like Peter Popoff, revealing them both for the charlatans they are. He’s also debunked the psi-ops investigations of the government, as well as letting his friend and later, partner, Jose Alvarez, pose as a channeler to reveal the truth behind that fraud.

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Promoting a scientific approach with healthy scepticism, Randi’s mission of truth is a lot of fun to join him on, as he reveals the secrets that these people are using to manipulate others.

Featuring insights from names like Penn & Teller and Steve Shaw (Banachek), amongst others, the film tracks Randi’s life from his beginnings here in Toronto, to his current residence in Florida, and it’s an exhilarating ride, and story.

It’s incredibly fun to watch the reveals as these people get their comeuppance, because living off someone’s need or exploiting their pain for your own material gain disgusts me, as it should everyone…

But then, when the FBI shows up to arrest Jose for identity fraud, we’re left wondering about what kind of deception is being perpetrated on the world at large and if Randi is privy to it.

I won’t spoil anything beyond that, but I came away from this one completely wowed, delightfully happy, and joyfully leapt to my feet to give this man a well-deserved standing ovation when he took the stage for the Q&A at the end of the screening (which also saw him performing an amazing card trick, while showcasing his playful sense of humor, which I haven’t figured out yet, but I think I’m fairly close).

Weinstein and Measom have done right by their subject and their audience, making an erudite, emotionally charged, revealing documentary that never loses its sense of fun.

I think it spoke to a number of viewers in the audience, and Randi, Weinstein and Meason must be truly delighted by the response the film has garnered.

This was an unexpected joy for me, and I am telling everyone I bump into to seek this one out! It’s so worth it!

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