Planet of Snail - Featured

Hot Docs 2012:
The First Big Day

It wasn’t always our intention to showcase mostly Canadian films on the first full day of Hot Docs 2012, but it kind of worked out that way. In many ways, its for the best as we take a look at some real homegrown winners in El Huaso, Crimes Without Honour, Legend of a Warrior, Fists of Pride, Who Cares?, and The Final Member. We also take a look at Big Boys Gone Bananas!*, Laura, Planet of Snail, Her Master’s Voice, My Thai Bride, Ping Pong, and Colombianos.

Don’t forget to check out four earlier entries in our coverage of the 2012 Hot Docs International Documentary Film Festival for even more reviews.

NOTE: Films with screenings marked as RUSH ONLY were rush as of press time. Please check an official source before heading out. For more information, a full list of titles, tickets, and showtimes, please visit hotdocs.ca.

El Huaso

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Director: Carlo Guillermo Proto

Program: Canadian Spectrum

Screens With: When the Trumpet Sounds (16 minutes)

Some Subtitles

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80 minutes

Recommended?: Yes. An absolute must-see and easily one of the best Canadian films of the year.

One of the most gripping and painfully intimate looks at depression ever captured in a documentary, Proto has crafted a masterful story about his own family’s struggles to deal with a father suffering from crippling anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and possibly even deeper health problems.

Dividing time between gorgeously photographed Toronto and Chile (where his father Gustavo wishes to spend some time before either giving in to dementia or taking his own life), Proto deals in harsh truths that his own family sometimes doesn’t want to hear. He shows the push and pull between the sympathetic and selfish sides of one of the world’s most untreated diseases. As unpredictable as it is powerful, Proto leaves no skeletons in his father’s closet untouched, and it’s a wonder to behold. (Andrew Parker)

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Screens

Saturday, April 28th, 3:45pm, Lightbox 3

Sunday, April 29th, 1:30pm, Lightbox 2

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Saturday, May 5th, 6:15pm, Lightbox 4

 

Big Boys Gone Bananas!*

Director: Fredrik Gertten

Program: Special Presentations

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Some Subtitles

88 minutes

Recommended?: Yes.

The very best kind of David versus Goliath stories are the ones where David eventually wins, naturally, but victory against the massive fruit company Dole never feels completely assured for Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten. Big Boys Gone Bananas!* is a  film about the protracted moral and legal fight to get another documentary film, Bananas!*, released. The latter film, also directed by Gertten, alleged that banana-producer Dole knowingly used pesticides in Nicaragua that could cause sterility amongst the workers who farmed the fruit. Gertten’s charges obviously did not sit well with the fruit giant, and the company attempted to block the film’s release on the grounds that its claims were fraudulent and defamatory.

So effective was Dole’s campaign to smear the director and his previous films, that audiences may even begin to have their doubts about Gertten. The film will likely strike an all too familiar chord with the Hot Docs crowd, many who are either filmmakers or journalists who have fought these kinds of battles themselves. As the person at the centre of the film, is Gertten the most objective person to tell this tale? Probably not, but at the time of filming – facing international legal battles and fights with film festivals – Gertten was literally the only person who could tell this story. (Will Perkins)

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Screens

Wednesday, May 2nd, 5:30pm, Bloor

My Thai Bride

Director: David Tucker

Program: International Spectrum

Screens With: Tillman in Paradise (27 minutes)

Some Subtitles

54 minutes

Recommended?: Not really. Only half of the real story is here.

Welsh knockoff importer Ted Rees was drawn by his rampant personal insecurities to trying to “save” a woman from the Thai countryside and learns an important lesson in David Tucker’s lopsided look at how poverty can breed loose ethics as a method of survival.

Ted’s a pretty sleazy guy right from the start, but even more than that he’s obviously a lonely sad sack more in need of a therapist than a wife. The moments spent with his ex-wife Tip are quite a bit more interesting despite how she ultimately ended up treating the westerner.

In a film that could definitely be longer, Tucker hints at some of the economic and sociological reasons behind a culture seemingly breeding lower class women to be golddiggers, but precious little context is given. This film is all about how something happened, not why it happened, and without the more important question being answered, it’s really hard to care about the situation. (Andrew Parker)

Screens

Friday, April 27th, 7:00pm, Innis (RUSH ONLY)

Saturday, April 28th, 4:30pm, Lightbox 2

Saturday, May 5th, 4:00pm, Regent

 

Ping Pong

Director: Hugh Hartford

Program: World Showcase

Screens with: The Record Breaker (28 minutes)

76 minutes

Recommended?: Yes, not strongly.

There’s something relaxing and pleasantly simple about watching senior citizens play ping pong. The 8 players Ping Pong centres on would probably find that this sentiment depreciates what may have started out as a hobby but has become a source of happiness, pride, exercise and meaning in these later years of their lives. This doc follows their journey from four different continents to the 80+ world championship in Mongolia.

I’m not sure how the filmmakers chose which of the 3,500 players in competition to concentrate on, but I only found half of them to have any particularly memorable qualities: the 89 year old weightlifter, the 84 year old who returns from death’s door to compete, the Venetian woman with an “in your face” attitude and the 100 year old Australian woman who becomes the oldest competitor ever. The event is ripe for documenting and they did a good job of picking players who advance far in the tournament, but apart from that Ping Pong demonstrates about as much imagination as its name. (Noah Taylor)

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Screens

Sunday, April 29, 4:00pm, Isabel Bader (RUSH ONLY)

Wednesday, May 2, 1:30pm, Isabel Bader

Sunday, May 6, 1:15pm, Bloor

 

Planet of Snail

Director: Seung-Jun Yi

Program: International Spectrum

Subtitled

89 minutes

Recommended?: No. Despite an inspirational premise this documentary goes nowhere slowly

Despite a potentially heartwarming premise, this romance about two disabled souls in South Korea who have found love against all odds lacks interesting insight or a fresh perspective.

The deaf-blind poet and artist Youngchan and his little person wife/de facto assistant Soonho are absolutely inspirations to even the most heartless of cynics, but Yi’s approach to their relationship is far too clinical to have any emotional value. Lethargic pacing and precious little insight into who Youngchan and Soonho were before their relationship or as individuals casts an air of disappointment over this missed opportunity. With the exception of the final 20 minutes or so, it’s like watching people under glass. (Andrew Parker)

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Screens

Monday, April 30th, 9:00pm, Lightbox 3 (RUSH ONLY)

Wednesday, May 2nd, 1:30pm, ROM

Sunday, May 6th, 2:00pm, Lightbox 2

 

Fists of Pride

Director: Helene Choquette

Program: Canadian Spectrum

Subtitled

63 minutes

Recommended?: Yes, but prepare to be disturbed.

Fists of Pride is a raw and often tragic look at the lives of several child boxers living in the impoverished Thai-Burmese border town of Mae Sot. With fearsome nicknames like Lion, Little Tiger, and Puma, these young Burmese immigrants give up any hope of an education or home life in order to train in the art of Thai boxing and compete to win their fortunes. Despite its short running time, it’s hard not to get attached to the dedicated young fighters featured. That attachment will make the vicious Muay Thai bouts and agonizing defeats all the more crushing for audiences. Seeing kids beat each other bloody isn’t an easy thing to watch.

Most of them barely teens, the boxers are pitted against other children at the annual Water Festival (often without gloves and zero protection) as crowds of cheering adults bet on them. The kids have trained well, but this is little more than cockfighting with children. This especially brutal form of exploitation beats the alternative of being sold into servitude or worse, however the film illustrates that punches and kicks are often the only way out for many children in this poverty-stricken region of Asia. (Will Perkins)

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Screens

Monday, April 30th, 7:30pm, Lightbox 2

Thursday, May 3rd, 4:45pm, Lightbox 2

Her Master’s Voice

Director: Nina Conti

Program: Next

61 minutes

Recommended?: Very Highly. It succeeds where most fictional films about the inner workings of comedians fail horribly.

British comedian and ventriloquist Nina Conti – best known for her amphitheater packing performances with a droll, diminutive monkey puppet – looks to give up the old time style of comedy that made her famous, when she learns her mentor, famed British theatre icon Ken Campbell has passed away and bequeathed his entire collection to her. This leads Conti on a soul searching pilgrimage to Kentucky to attend her final ventriloquist convention and leave her puppets behind once and for all.

Funny and cute, but also appropriately bittersweet, melancholy, and deeply personal, Conti goes deep within herself to confront her own demons and mixed feelings to create a portrait of not just an artist, but also a deeply sympathetic human being. The love of the craft also shines through in talks with other puppeteers and she tugs on some serious Toy Story styled heartstrings when she asks her peers what will happen to their puppets when they die. It was enough to reduce me to a blubbering puddle of tears.

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Screens

Sunday, April 29th, 7:00pm, Cumberland 2

Tuesday, May 1st, 11:00am, ROM

Friday, May 4th, 1:30pm, Cumberland 2

Laura

Director: Fillipe Gamarano Barbosa

Program:  World Showcase

78 Minutes

Recommended? Yes, Strongly. Especially if you’re one of those people who like anything of the TLC variety

Laura situates itself at the intersection where Grey Gardens, Hoarders, and Entourage somehow meet. Fellipe Gamarano Barbosa’s documentary is really about Laura: a celebrity/glamour obsessed, New York City socialite veteran. She transcends any common categorization and as the film progresses Barbosa’s ‘day in the life’ documentary becomes more like a ‘day in the head’ of the eclectic Brazilian émigré diva.

Although her garbs are demure and stylish, it is Laura’s apartment that’s possibly the best indication of her neurosis. Laura’s chic apparel sits in a bedroom packed top to bottom with hundreds of flyers, VHS tapes, and anything else that has picked up on the streets over Laura’s 30 plus year occupation of New York. Barbosa continually evolves our understanding of this masquerading woman who chooses to live her life with the utmost secrecy and privacy but admirably allows peace, respect, and a driving desire to enjoy life to ordain her solitary existence. (Brandon Bastaldo)

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Screens

Sunday, April 29th, 7:00pm, ROM (RUSH ONLY)

Tuesday, May 1st, 4:00pm, ROM

Saturday, May 5th, 4:00pm, Cumberland 2

 

Legend of a Warrior

Director: Corey Lee

Program: Canadian Spectrum

78 minutes

Recommended?: Yes, it’s a nice little father and son story

Corey Lee claims he really knew much about his father, world renowned White Crane Kung Fu master and trainer Frank Lee, but this decent documentary almost proves that he knew more than he originally thought.

While Frank left his family for great periods of time when Corey was a child, Corey spends over five months away from his own family to train at his father’s intensely difficult gym with hopes of trying to become closer to his old man.

Most of the questions Corey asks his father about his past he already knows the answers to, which takes away from a lot of the drama, but Frank is certainly an interesting figure and watching them establish a stronger emotional bond wisely becomes the bulk of the film’s second half. It could be framed a little better, but it’s still a nice father and son story featuring some pretty great cinematography and stylish black and white animated interstitials. (Andrew Parker)

Screens

Monday, April 30th, 9:15pm, Cumberland 2

Thursday, May 3rd, 1:30pm, ROM

Friday, May 4th, 4:00pm, Isabel Bader

 

Crimes Without Honour

Director: Raymonde Provencher

Program: Rise Against

69 Minutes

Recommended? Yes, and strongly because this problem is both rampant in and relevant to Torontonians

Director Raymonde Provencher captures the brave stories behind the scars that many female survivors of honour crimes have to live with everyday; astoundingly, women from many different backgrounds and cultures. Honour crimes are brutal acts committed when a female shames the patriarch of a family, and much of the violence carried out against these shameful women is exacted by hierarchal sub-societies similar the systematized nature of organized crime.

Provencher gets testimonies from both female and male honour crimes victims and it becomes clear that many men are also very uncomfortable with arranged marriage and these abusive cultural laws. A large part of putting an end to this hushed up epidemic is linked to creating communities where this abuse is no longer tolerated ,but as we see victims drink Tim Horton’s coffee and walk past TTC streetcars we are sadly reminded that this problem is much closer to home then we may think. (Brandon Bastaldo)

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Screens

Friday, April 27, 6:45pm, Cumberland 3

Saturday, April 28th, 1:30pm, Cumberland 2

Friday, May 4, 1:45pm, Cumberland 3

Who Cares?

Director: Rosie Dransfeld

Program: Canadian Spectrum

79 minutes

Recommended?: Yes. Prepare to have your eyes opened whether you like it or not.

A complex and almost thoroughly austere journalistic look at the lives of Edmonton sex workers, Dransfeld presents things simply as she sees them without ever shying away from sometimes graphic and unembellished descriptions of the depression, addictions, and humiliations suffered by those who make a living on the streets.

Primarily using two women trying to claw their way our from beneath their social stigmas and a trio of RCMP homicide investigators as focal points, Dransfield tries to show the audience the “people behind the prostitute.”  The stories told by the women and their loved ones are wrenching, and the officers tasked with collecting DNA from the workers to identify them if they go missing or are killed are aware enough to know they are walking a fine line. The final sequence involving two peripheral subject arguing about what to do about a woman in trouble speaks volumes to the conundrum at the heart of the film. (Andrew Parker)

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Screens

Wednesday, May 2nd, 9:00pm, Lightbox 3

Saturday, May 5th, 6:45pm, Cumberland 3

The Final Member

Director: Jonah Bekhor, Zach Math

Program: Canadian Spectrum

Screens With: Manhood (9 minutes)

75 Minutes

Recommended? Yes, Strongly.

Torontonian filmmakers Jonah Bekhor and ad man turned director Zach Math’s The Final Member is all about penises, but there’s certainly no dicking around here. Sigurdur “Siggy” Hjartson is a sweet old man from the northern Icelandic town of Husavik who is creator and curator of the Icelandic Phallogical Museum (the only penis museum in the world). For Siggy, his dedication to collecting and educating about penises is a lifestyle too as he continually works to break worldwide phallus taboos. Nearing the end of his penis career, Siggy must acquire only one last type of penis to put an end to his forty year odyssey- the Homo Sapiens.

This may sound silly, but every moment of Bekhor and Math’s pristine footage amounts to the most dazzling symphonic voyage that’s unapologetically all about wangs. When a penis obsessed American who dubs his member ‘Elmo’ competes with an ageing Icelandic playboy to be the museum’s first human specimen the race to be The Final Member is on. (Brandon Bastaldo)

Screens

Tuesday, May 1st, 9:45pm, Royal (RUSH ONLY)

Thursday, May 3rd, 9:00pm, Cumberland 3

Sunday, May 6th, 7:00pm, Revue

 

 

Colombianos

Director: Tora Martens

Program: World Showcase

Subtitled

90 minutes

Recommended?: Yes.

Better looking and edited than most documentaries and more affecting than most fictional films on the subject, Colombianos takes a look at the toll addiction takes on close knit families no matter the distance between them.

Med student and budding entrepreneur Pablo invites his brother Fernando (who has been living in Stockholm with his mother, Olga) to Medaillen, Colombia to help his younger brother kick a severe addiction to booze and pills. Fernando approaches Colombia like a vacation, while Pablo starts in with tough love right away, but letting up on it at inappropriate times.

Martens has an uncanny knack for perfectly framing her subjects psychologically, dramatically, and physically. The brotherly and parental bonds here are the kinds of things that can’t be faked, and a fairly unpredictable conclusion makes everything even more poignant. (Andrew Parker)

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Screens

Tuesday, May 1st, 9:45pm, Lightbox 2

Thursday, May 3rd, 1:15pm, Cumberland 2

Sunday, May 6th, 9:15pm, Cumberland 3

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