As the first weekend of the 2012 Hot Docs International Documentary Film Festival draws to a close today, we bring you even more reviews from the front lines of first person filmmaking with looks at The Imposter, Off Label, G-Dog, Shadows of Liberty, The Punk Syndrome, Buzkashi!, Welcome to the Machine, Where Heaven Meets Hell, and My Mate Manchester United.
NOTE: Films marked as Rush Only were rush as of press time. Please always check with an official source before heading out. For a full list of films, showtimes, venues, and up-to-date ticketing information, please visit hotdocs.ca.
Director: Bart Layton
Program: Special Presentations
Recommend: Oh my god yes!
Following a successful run at Sundance comes The Imposter, one of the most unique, unusual, and compulsively watchable entries at this year’s Hot Docs. In 1994 a 13-year-old boy disappeared in San Antonio. Four years later the family got a call saying the boy had reappeared in Spain, claiming to have lost his memory and developed an accent after years of torture. Despite the fact that he acts suspiciously and looks far different than the child they lost, the family brought him into their home.
Revealing any more of Bart Layton’s remarkable documentary would be unfair, but suffice to say more questions are raised than are ever answered. Layton interviews everyone involved (including an eccentric private investigator and a confused social worker), each with a different version of the events. He ties it all together with expertly lensed staged footage along the lines of a film by Errol Morris or James Marsh. Shot and executed like a noir-flavored mystery thriller, The Imposter is an absolutely fascinating documentary that wouldn’t come close to working as well as a conventional fictional adaptation of the events. Without the interviews and archival material, it would be difficult to believe the story actually happened and Layton would never have been able to weave such a convincing tapestry of sinister and conflicting Rashomon-style perspectives on the same tale. (Phil Brown)
Monday, April 20, 11:00am, Isabel Bader (RUSH ONLY)
Shadows of Liberty
Director: Jean-Philippe Tremblay
Program: World Showcase
First time director Jean-Philippe Tremblay doesn’t so much rip the lid off the corruption in America’s mainstream media in this talking heads dominated social advocacy documentary, but he does show a keen desire to forward the dialog and bring an important message of media bias to the masses.
Looking back predominantly to the Regan administration up to today, Tremblay takes major corporate interests and their governmental beneficiaries to task for skewing the way that news is presented in America and why certain stories are swept under the rug in the name of a common shared interest.
Specific examples of media based malfeasance (like the tragic story of Mark Webb, who sadly killed himself after being discredited by powers that wanted to suppress the link between the Nicaraguan Contras and the influx of drugs to the states) hold far more weight than the overarching “been there, done that theme.” The interviews are mostly insightful (except for an out of place Danny Glover), but this film seems more suited for an Intro to Media Studies course.
Sunday, April 29th, 4:00pm, Lightbox 3 (RUSH ONLY)
Where Heaven Meets Hell
Director: Sasha Friedlander
Program: International Spectrum
Recommended?: Yes, Strongly
“Everybody who comes here says ‘oh it looks like hell!’, and I think to myself ‘but, this is my life”, says Indonesian sulphur miner Anto. He’s just one of the hundreds of miners who trek up and down steep hills to get to Kawah Ijen, and active volcano in Indonesia. They lug hefty crates of sulphur on their shoulders, making barely enough money to support their families and loved ones living in surrounding rural villages. Director Sasha Friedlander’s Where Heaven Meets Hell intimately connects the thoughts of these miners who risk their lives for their families every day, and we find out these fearless men and women laugh and cry for many of the same reasons as us.
Often obscured by beaten up t-shirts and rags used in place of proper masks, the miners struggle to protect their lungs from the toxic clouds of sulphur smoke which have been especially bad in the last year. As we hear firsthand accounts from wives, daughters, and children of miners it becomes clear that many of them are still only boys and that sulphur mining’s low wages and dangerous environment is not helping to better the lives of their young families. Where Heaven Meets Hell is a touching portrayal of endurance and hope; an investigation of how far people will go to give the ones they love a better chance. (Brandon Bastaldo)
Saturday, May 5th, 7:15pm, Lightbox 3
Director: Najeeb Mirza
Program: Canadian Spectrum
After watching a lot of talking head documentaries it was a very nice change of pace to watch a primarily visual one. For those unfamiliar with the sport, Buzkashi is a centuries-old game popular in Central Asia that resembles a dangerous hybrid of polo and rugby, except instead of a ball they use a headless goat carcass. This brutal sport is contrasted by the serene countryside scenery, both of which are captured in stunningly beautiful images by the three different cinematographers.
Though the film concentrates on one player and there is a lose narrative, this is not a traditional sports documentary. The way the shots linger on the majestic Pamir Mountains creates a poeticism far more engrossing than if they had attempted to explain the ins and outs of the game. Buzkashi! does what documentary is supposed to do: it takes you somewhere you would not normally go and shows you something you would not normally see, while also adding a filmmaker’s perspective. This is definitely one to catch on the big screen if you get the opportunity. (Noah Taylor)
Sunday, April 29, 9:45pm, Royal
Tuesday, May 1, 9:00pm, Lightbox 3
Sunday May 6 9:00pm Cumberland 2
Director: Freida Mock
Program: International Spectrum
Recommended? Yes, Strongly and with a box of Kleenex
The homeboys and girls who sport “nothing stops a bullet like a job” t-shirts in G-Dog are living proof of the truth to this statement. Started by priest Gregory Boyle, Homeboy Industries began as a work program offering jobs to recently released felons and kids growing up in Los Angeles’ worst gang territories.
Homeboy Industries started as a means to help members of a community Boyle felt were being completely neglected by the system. From these humble beginnings, Boyle has forged many lifelong relationships with legions of home boys and girls.
As director Frieda Mock investigates Homeboy Industries’ mission, we see that this center for recovering criminals offers drug rehabilitation, parenting classes, even laser tattoo removal all in the hopes of giving honest hard working people a chance to restart. When Homeboy Industries is threatened by a serious budget deficit, Boyle finds out that he needs this tight community of ex gang bangers as much as they need him. (Brandon Bastaldo)
Monday, April 30th, 6:45pm, Cumberland 2
Saturday, May 5th, 4:00pm, Isabel Bader
Directors: Michael Palmieri, Donal Mosher
Program: International Spectrum
Combining some gorgeous impressionistic cinematography with an advocate’s bent, directors Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher investigate the current American obsession with prescribing psychiatric medication from questionable human testing to some potentially devastating consequences.
The stories on display here are of a deeply personal nature. There’s the woman who lost her son as a result of unauthorized testing from a suspect doctor. A young man suffering from sever PTSD after he returns home from Iraq can’t find proper help at the VA. An Austin, Texas resident describing himself as a human guinea pig lives homeless while bouncing from test to test, while another uses his position to advocate for patients rights. A woman suffers from clear overmedication, while a former drug representative lets the audience in on some dirty tricks.
The focus here is on the personal, first and foremost, and as a result the pieces don’t entirely add up to a cohesive whole that seems to have any answers. Despite that, the stories feel vital when one stops to consider how some family doctors are seemingly abusing name brand medicines without being specialists. It’s a great look at a potential breeding ground for a country’s obsession with unconscious drug abuse.
Sunday, April 29th, 3:30pm, Bloor (RUSH ONLY)
Saturday, May 5th, 9:15pm, Cumberland 2 (RUSH ONLY)
My Mate Manchester United
Director: Stefan Valdobrev
Program: Made in Southeastern Europe
Screens With: Trials, Tribulations, & Sustainable Growth of a Cock (20 minutes)
Recommended?: No- While heart warming, this film features many scenes of old Bulgarian men sitting around, drinking, and talking
As a sea of men clad in all red garments sit glued to a T.V. screen, intense looks of dedication and focus occupy each face. Director Stefan Valdobrev sets us amiss the excruciating suspense floating in the air as these men wait to see if Manchester United will score a much needed goal. As this small crowd erupts in raucous commotion once a goal is made, the joyful calamity that ensues makes it no surprise that Valdobrev chose football fandom as the subject for My Mate Manchester United.
Still, this early example of the diehard attitude many Manchester United fans exhibit is no match for Bulgarian construction worker Manchester United’s (yup, he legally changed his name is Manchester United) all out love for his favourite football team. As Valdobrev follows Manchester in his ultimate pursuit to meet his hero, Manchester United’s Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov, Manchester’s unwavering allegiance to this football club shows the admirable endurance of a fan’s heart. (Brandon Bastaldo)
Wednesday, May 2nd, 6:30pm, Cumberland 2
Thursday, May 3rd, 7:15pm, Lightbox 4
The Punk Syndrome
Directors: Jukka Karkkainen, J-P Passi
Recommended?: Hell yeah. These guys are punk as fuck.
The Finnish Punks in the band Pertti Kurikka’s Name Day aren’t exactly the first people to spring to mind when it comes to angry and aggressive music that starts mosh pits. Named after the band’s guitarist and CF afflicted guitarist, all of the members are developmentally challenged 30-somethings either living in group homes or struggling for their own independence.
The songs these guys craft are as punk rock as you can get: odes to frustration at not being treated equally and tirades against a system that doesn’t give a damn about them. Their problems are so astoundingly universal and their musical stylings are so tight that it’s easy to see these people as the extraordinary human beings they are. Even better, each has their own distinct personality, including a politically active bassist, a loose cannon lead singer with a loving girlfriend, and just about the sweetest drummer ever.
The film could’ve used a bit more insight into how the band got started and how they all got into punk. The band’s able bodied managers and handlers are seen and heard from, but no actual context is given from them. Still, as a profile of a band and a fight against the stigma of disability, this film rocks.
Monday, April 30th, 1:15pm, Cumberland 3
Friday, May 4th, 1:30pm, ROM
Welcome to the Machine
Director: Avi Weider
Program: World Showcase
Recommended?: Yes, just don’t take any psychedelics before this one- it might make your head implode
As one of many technological theorists in Avi Weider’s Welcome to the Machine meekly asks us to “imagine if Beethoven was born in a time with no instruments?”, the weight of Weider’s documentary sinks in. Contemplative and at times frustratingly erudite, Welcome to the Machine makes us hyper aware of how our evolution as a species which has become intrinsically linked to its technological progress.
A blind gentleman undergoing experimental retina stimulation, USMC UAV operators, and even transcripts between Weider and technologically driven terrorist Ted Kacynski are all incorporated to shed light on the undeniable benefits and consequences which have, and could, come about because of rapid technological advancement.
Weider gets personal when he includes his wife’s struggle to give birth to triplets and their fight to raise this small army. When we find out the triplets were conceived through in vitro fertilization, Welcome to the Machine becomes a lyrical caution and praise for our species’ innate technological potential. (Brandon Bastaldo)
Sunday, April 29th, 7:15pm, Royal
Tuesday, May 1st, 1:15pm, Cumberland 3
Friday, May 4th, 4:00pm, ROM