Hot Docs 2012: My Thoughts on Her Master’s Voice

There are 189 films screening throughout the course of Hot Docs.  With so many films screening during the week, it can be easy for some of these films to get lost in the shuffle and get overwhelmed by the docs with big buzz.

I am happy to say that I have discovered one of the hidden gems of Hot Docs 2012.  I went to go see Her Master’s Voice because I liked its subject of ventriloquism.  However, it turned out to be a film so well loved by the audience, that it received a standing ovation afterwards.

The film (which actually lists Christopher Guest as Executive Producer) was directed by and about British ventriloquist Nina Conti.  Conti was beginning to not enjoy her life as a ventriloquist and was ready to give up and retire her puppet “Monkey.”  However, she finds out about the death of her mentor Ken Campbell, who left her all his puppets in his will.  She decides to honour his memory by giving ventriloquism one last hurrah by travelling to Venthaven, the resting place for puppets of dead ventriloquists and home to the largest convention for artists and their dummies.

The joy of this film comes when you realize that the film is not your standard documentary.  As part of her method of soul searching, Conti actively has on-screen conversations with both Monkey and all the other dummies she inherited from her mentor.  She gives each the puppets their own voice and personality and her interactions with them almost makes Her Master’s Voice feel like a narrative film, rather than a documentary.

As the title of the film suggests, Conti also revisits her relationship with Ken Campbell.  We are treated old footage of conversations she had with him and, in a surreal twist, she converses with “Ken Campbell,” via a puppet of him, which was among the group she inherited.

The film also gives a very interesting look into the world of ventriloquism.  Conti (and/or Monkey) interviews some of the other ventriloquists attending the convention she goes to and we learn some facts about the art of throwing your voice.  I have to say that it is amazing at the stuff that some of these guys can do (with or without a dummy).

I cannot say enough good things about Her Master’s Voice.  It’s a very humourous and touching film about Conti’s journey to find her voice.  It’s hands down my favourite film of Hot Docs so far and it’s a film that I am already looking forward to rewatching someday (here’s hoping it gets a release on DVD and/or Blu-Ray).

Her Master’s Voice is scheduled to play two more times during Hot Docs and I highly recommend that you go check it out.


Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).