This year’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival kicks off today and runs through May 8. For nearly twenty years Hot Docs has showcased the best in documentary film from around the world, and 2011 is no different. Featuring over 200 films in total, picking which films are worth seeing is a tall order for even the most seasoned fest-vet.
With that in mind, allow us to present the second part (part one here) of our Hot Docs coverage – A selection of documentaries that may just pique your interest. Be sure to check back over the next week or so for our full reviews.
The Hollywood Complex
Welcome to the land of the horrifyingly precocious! Television pilot season in Hollywood is a time when thousands of aspiring child actors and their families descend upon Tinsel Town. These children come from all over the world for a shot at stardom; some are legitimate young talents, while others are the victims of stage parents grasping vicariously at unfulfilled dreams. The film documents a fascinating and often disturbing world where children, sometimes as young as three, are objectified and treated more as products than people.
The film follows several families as they travel from audition to audition hoping to find that big break for their wannabe child star. What’s most striking about the film is just how far some families are willing to go in the pursuit of their children’s success; from the huge expenses incurred for agents, head shots, acting classes and accommodation, to the strained relationships between spouses living thousands of kilometres apart. The sacrifices made these parents and their children might be crazy by any standard, but whether it’s delusional hope or genuine talent driving these people, you’ve got to admire their tenacity. The Hollywood Complex is both a charming and funny family drama and a sobering examination of the entertainment business. – Will Perkins
The Redemption of General Butt Naked
Although the film sounds like a fun afternoon for the kids, the title actually refers to Liberian preacher Joshua Blahyi, who is more commonly known by his rebel leader moniker General Butt Naked. The General commanded the Butt Naked Brigade, a group of child soldiers who believed they were protected by magical powers and therefore did not need protection from bullets – not even clothes – and acquired a reputation as crazed, homicidal mercenaries responsible for thousands of deaths.
The film begins with the General’s return to Liberia after a ten year absence. He is now called Joshua, has been converted to Christianity, and often preaches forgiveness for one’s enemies. While some do not believe such a man could change, he makes some grand gestures by helping members of his former brigade to kick their drug habits and welcomes the chance to testify at a public hearing that could find him guilty of war crimes.
The film follows six years of Joshua’s life as he tries to settle his young family in a country that he hurt so badly. The film offers a unique perspective as stories of madmen are not usually told by the madman them self. In this film, Joshua’s brutal honesty and acceptance of his past allows us to hear his story in his own words. – Brian Crosby
See the trailer for The Redemption of General Butt Naked here.
A Rubberband is an Unlikely Instrument
Director Matt Boyd’s fly-on-the-wall doc about Brooklyn based musician, artist and eccentric Walter Baker is a strange little film. What makes it strange is that it’s a feature length documentary where not that much happens. It’s not that Rubberband is an uneventful film, it’s that viewers may expect more from a film about a character like Baker. The concerns of Baker and his family are entirely familiar and ordinary: making ends meet, dealing with marital problems and midlife crises, family tensions arising from disagreements over religion and politics, etc. It’s easy for viewers to sympathize with these issues, and yet, Baker is a very difficult person to like.
The film’s subject is a wonderful multi-instrumentalist (the rubberband is an unlikely instrument!) and composer, but it’s never entirely clear what it is that Baker does for a living. We know that his wife is a poet, however the only way to describe Baker would be to call him a self-absorbed, aging hipster who is equal parts romantic and cynic. How can an audience sympathize with a man who spends more time ruminating on his problems than actually solving them? Boyd’s film is a melancholy character study of a man who just can’t seem to find his place in the world, and at times doesn’t seem to want to. – Will Perkins
See the trailer for A Rubberband is an Unlikely Instrument here.
National Parks Project
The National Parks Project is a collection of thirteen short films set in each province and territory of Canada. The films use video landscape photography and music in an attempt to emphasize the character and history of a national park. Each one is envisioned by a different director including Project Grizzly director Peter Lynch and Antanarjuat director Zacharias Kunuk with music by folks such as Sarah Harper and Sam Roberts.
The Project is less a documentary and more a series of art films. The strength is in the visuals, which are nice, but in this post-Planet Earth era, it is hard to impress. There are no stories or characters to follow although some of the shorts do feature people and make use of poetic dialogue. The project might have been stronger if it had a different identity, perhaps not being classified as ‘a documentary’. The individual films seem more suited for a screening at an art gallery than as a singular film. – Brian Crosby
See the trailer for The National Parks Project here.