University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

Father Figure

Bryan Friedman's award-winning documentary charts his dad's quest for bodybuilding supremacy

Some families hit the TV talk-show circuit in the hope of attaining reconciliation. Bryan Friedman, on the other hand, made a documentary about his bodybuilder father – who had been absent for most of Friedman’s life – to better understand their dysfunctional relationship.

The Bodybuilder and I, Friedman’s first feature-length film, won Best Canadian Feature Documentary at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival in April. Last summer, the U of T law student followed his father, Bill, now 60, and three other senior bodybuilders as they prepared for an international competition by pumping iron for hours on end, attending tanning sessions and shopping for bikini briefs.

“I thought it was ridiculous,” says Friedman, 27, of the subculture he chronicled. “I mean, you have a midlife crisis – buy a car.” But the film did enable Friedman to develop a relationship with his father, a former lawyer who picked up weights after he quit his job following a second divorce. “I don’t know that I’ve ever figured out why he did that. But I’m starting to see him as a father instead of some kind of obstacle.”

Friedman holds a bachelor of fine arts from New York University and previously directed a short for the National Film Board of Canada’s Momentum program. He would like to continue making films, but also enjoys the academic challenges of law school. “It’s hard to make films that mean something and still survive [financially],” he says. “I’d be lying if I said I had a master plan.”

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