Hard Core Local: Filmmaker Michael B. MacDonald shines loving light on Bad Buddy and Unspittable


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While the process might be complex, documentary filmmaker Michael B. MacDonald’s inspiration is fairly simple: “I make films with bands that I love.”

That love shines through in two of the director’s recent works, screened at Metro Cinema on Saturday night during Hard Core Local: An Evening of Film and Conversation with Bad Buddy and Unspittable.

Clocking in at 30 minutes, Hunters tags along with Bad Buddy, the self-proclaimed “best band in the world,” for performances at Calgary’s 2018 Sled Island Music & Arts Festival and North Country Fair’s 40th anniversary.

Along the way, MacDonald strips away the multi-coloured bands of makeup to reveal the foursome — lead singer and guitarist Emily Bachynski, Alex Vissia on bass, Andi Vissia on guitar, and Geoff O’Brien on drums — as a study of contrasts. There’s plenty of sweetness behind the snarling, and more than meets the eyeshadow.

Of course, it also helps that the music is an absolute blast. Early on, viewers are treated to Hunters, a betcha-can’t-listen-just-once banger that showcases Bad Buddy’s brand of Motown surf-inspired punk.


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Hunters’ ferocity shifts to Bachinsky in her kitchen, free of makeup, pressing the morning coffee, awaiting her bandmates’ arrival. MacDonald delivers these contrasting scenes throughout the film, presenting Hunters as a series of mini music videos tied together with snippets of conversation.

The Vissia sisters arrive in the band’s van — an extended blue beauty with silver peeking through under the windows, as if the paint had been corroded by the punk rock intensity of its passengers — just as a noisy forklift rumbles past. Time to go to work.

Road-tripping exploits follow as band members load gear, stop at McDonald’s for breakfast, pal around during a pit spot at Gasoline Alley, and arrive in Calgary for a Mario Kart battle over beers.

After performing to a crowd of bobbing heads, the band members are seen relaxing around a table with beer and burgers, where their origin story is summed up with the quote, “This is where it all began, one summer night — this idea… this brilliant idea.”

Part of the brilliance is Bad Buddy’s endless pursuit of rock-fuelled fun. Each member participates in other musical projects, joining forces to reject the trappings of “money, bookings, travel and grants” to create a group based around “swears, big makeup, glitter and garters.”

The band members don’t necessarily play to their musical strengths, by design. As Alex explains, “It’s a way to have fun and be out of your element, which is what music should be about.”


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Arriving at North Country Fair, Bad Buddy is seen playing the song Simultaneously in modest attire on the Reed Stage under the sunshine, then plunged into darkness, glammed up at 2 a.m. and having fun. The film closes with the song Night Shift, as Bachinsky implores the crowd to keep the party going.

During the Q&A afterward, MacDonald explained that Hunters developed after a chance encounter with Bachinksy at the Empress Ale House (RIP) and stemmed from an idea the filmmaker once had for a travelogue featuring Simone de Beauvoir quotes delivered by a feminist rock band.

Rather than aiming for fly-on-the-wall realism, Hunters’ intimacy is borne out of the filmmaker’s relationship with his subjects, being the fifth member in the van and allowing the camera to produce its own reality.

Bachinsky likened MacDonald’s ever-present camera to Ash Williams from Evil Dead II, saying, “It’s like Michael’s got a chainsaw for an arm, and everyone knows he’s going to be there with this condition, and we just accept it.”

Unspittable is an improvised work of ethnofiction, described as “a blend of documentary and fictional film in ethnomusicology,” and takes a far less linear approach than Hunters.

Over the course of 32 minutes, Unspittable follows the hip-hop trio of the same name, made up of Niko Krev (Colton Krevenchuk), Reppresion (Charles Woodman), and Amplify (Andrew William Cardinal), the film’s protagonist, presenting a series of flashbacks leading up to a single performance.


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Unspittable, a film by Michael B. MacDonald, features Amplify (Andrew William Cardinal) preparing for a show at The Forge on Whyte.
Unspittable, a film by Michael B. MacDonald, features Amplify (Andrew William Cardinal) preparing for a show at The Forge on Whyte. Supplied

Highlighting Indigenous hip-hop culture and reflecting Edmonton in every scene, Unspittable has been screened at a number of film festivals, including Quebec City’s Festival International du Film Ethnographique du Quebec, and won best international documentary at the Venice Shorts Film Festival.

The opening shot centres on Amplify outside The Forge on Whyte, smoking a cigarette, snow blowing in his face. We next see him waking on the couch, surrounded by empty beer cans as he shuffles to his feet and into the kitchen, where his parents are seated.

Amplify asks what time his mother woke up, and when she says 8:30 a.m. he replies, “Why so early?” He asks her for change and is denied, then asks where his shoes are. Once he’s ready to leave the house his dad provides a cigarette and Amplify grabs a can of Black Ice beer from the kitchen table, asking “Should I chug this in the backyard before I go?” Told not to walk down the street with it because he’ll be arrested, the musician responds “I probably will be arrested someday.”

Teaming up with his two Unspittable collaborators, Amplify has a “lit-ass beat” and he’s looking to lay down a new track. Once the music starts the young man sheds any awkwardness, delivering his lyrics with surprising speed and polish, and each member of the trio shines.

MacDonald shoots each member close up, with their shadows passing over one another’s faces and the walls behind them. Once the song ends one of them says, “we shoulda been recording that,” without winking at the camera.


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Back to the Forge, sitting at a corner booth in quiet contemplation, a female friend approaches to offer encouragement. Then a male acquaintance appears, embracing Amplify and saying, “I didn’t mean to disrespect to you, I just didn’t know who you were.” The cause of the confrontation is never revealed, only its end result.

MacDonald presents Unspittable through those small moments that spark curiosity or elicit chuckles while simultaneously revealing character.

Standing in front of Abbey Glen Park discussing a plan to collect some money, Niko Krev crosses 102 Street on a don’t walk signal, and when his friends hesitate to cross with him he gives that look we’ve all made that indicates it’s OK.

A man sells hot dogs outside a hardware store, and when Unspittable’s old Chevy Z71 pulls up Amplify asks how much and is told he has to pay a local scout troop collecting money inside. However, it takes a couple attempts to complete the purchase, with the trio walking in and out to ask the man at the grill once again.

Driving past a row of modest Edmonton bungalows, seen from behind, Amplify says that one of the houses would be good enough for him to call home. His friends encourage him to set his sights higher, insisting they’re “going to make it,” and he reluctantly agrees.

The trio’s musical talent and lyrical wizardry are peppered throughout the film, building up to the final on-stage scene at the Forge. Amplify’s performance is saved for last, and by the time it occurs we’re actively rooting for him, having been taken on a journey that feels far more profound than the film’s 32-minute run time.

Hunters was captured during five days on the road, while Unspittable was shot over the course of two-and-a-half years. But in each film MacDonald shows the steady hand of a seasoned filmmaker and genuine affection for his subjects, producing labours of love around the bands he loves.




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