Hot Docs review: Pipe Dreams

Stacey Tenenbaum's doc about musicians competing in the Canadian International Organ Competition in Montreal pulls out all the stops

PIPE DREAMS (Stacey Tenenbaum, Canada). 78 minutes. Rating: NNNN

Tenenbaum’s crowd-pleaser follows five musicians as they prepare for and then compete in the Canadian International Organ Competition in Montreal, dubbed “the Olympics for the organ.”

Among the hopefuls is New Zealander Thomas Gaynor, a frequent winner on the international circuit German-based Sebastian Heindl, at 19 the youngest competitor and Alcee Chriss III, a cocky Black musician from Texas.

There’s lots of human interest as we watch the organists train with their teachers. Yuan Shen, the CIOC’s first Chinese competitor, has been taught by her father, who introduced the instrument to his country after visiting Japan. And Chriss’s story of Googling churches to find teachers will warm your heart.

The film’s competition provides nail-biting tension, of course, but there’s room for imaginative touches, like one stunning sequence in which Tenenbaum splices together musicians playing the same piece. 

And while the organists have their own private rituals and neuroses – who knew eating bananas was so important to playing? – the judges also communicate lots with their post-performance body language. And it goes without saying that there’s some beautiful music.

Apr 28, 3:15 pm, Scotiabank 4 Apr 30, 9 pm, TIFF 3 May 3, 10 am, Isabel Bader

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