With just one day left before the grand kick-off to the 2013 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, it might seem like a strange time for us to take a world tour, but that’s exactly what we’re going to do with this look at a group of films taking us to different points of the globe with hopes of entertaining and educating in equal amount.
Be sure to keep checking back with us over the next few days for all the latest reviews, coverage, and filmmaker interviews (you can find part one of our coverage here and part two right here), but for more information including a full list of films and tickets, head over to hotdocs.ca.
Director: Malcolm Ingram
Program: Special Presentations
Recommended: Yes, it’s a fun film with a great soundtrack that will intrigue people interested in 1970’s New York and its offspring like Studio 54.
In 1968, homosexuality was illegal in NYC. Gay bars were dark, dirty, dangerous and mostly controlled by the mafia. But then Steve Ostrow, former opera singer and entrepreneur, came upon a grand vision. From the minute Ostrow opened the elegant Continental Bath and Health Club in the legendary Ansonia Hotel, it was a beacon for the hip, the beautiful and the infamous. With a cabaret stage featuring red hot performers like Bette Midler and Labelle, The Continental placed straight high society, celebs and hunky men in towels all into the same room. And ultimately, it brought gays into the open and played a crucial role in overturning anti-gay laws.
From Ostrow to Labelle`s Sarah Dash and Continental DJ, now world renowned producer, Frankie Knuckles, Ingram has collected a solid cast of New York luminaries. They dissect the debauchery and sleaziness of the continental’s early years through to its mainstream embracing and influence on New York culture before its eventual closing in 1974. Sadly the ‘Divine Miss M’ herself does not appear to talk about how the Continental helped launch her career, but the amount of original footage helps soften her absence. (Kirk Haviland)
Sunday, April 28th, 9:15pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Tuesday, April 30th, 4:00pm, Scotiabank 4
Sunday, May 5th, 8:00pm, Scotiabank 4
Director: Sien Versteyha
Program: International Spectrum
Recommended: Definitely. Not to be cliché, but it’s a knock out in a small package
Jean-Pierre Bauwens is an athletic sensation already at the young age of 23. Already a WBA ranked champion in the boxing world, the young Dutchman is sought after by promoters looking to take advantage of the young man’s already built in marketing hook. He’s one of five children in his family and only one of two of them that doesn’t have a mild or severe form of autism. He literally fights for the survival of his mother and family unit.
Versteyha catches Jean-Pierre at a crossroads in his life. He has fame (and a book deal) already, but the odds are getting stacked against him as he proceeds to gain larger exposure on the world stage. That part of the film is fascinating enough in the way that only a truly great sports film could be. The boxing is as brutal and claustrophobic as possible, and the effects of a rough fight can be seen evidently and openly on the young man’s face throughout.
But there’s a huge twist that happens as the film races towards its final third. It’s a complete game changer that makes an already exemplary outing an outright classic. It dare not be spoiled, but buy a ticket and prepare to be astounded. This is the kind of filmmaking that you can only get from a documentary. See it and never forget it. It’s that good.
Thursday, May 2nd, 6:00pm, ROM Theatre
Friday, May 3rd, 1:00pm, ROM Theatre
Sunday, May 5th, 4:00pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3
Directors: Rena Mundo-Coshere and Nadine Mundo
Program: World Showcase
Recommend: Not really, unless you were in or plan on starting a commune.
Back in the deodorant-free days of the hippy, “the man” had to be fought and society needed to be escaped. Thus came the era of the commune. Those magical places where hippies joined forces to creature a new way of life: a collection of intermingling families and wonderers who shared everything and formed their own free love society. The Farm was one of the most successful communes, lasting from 1970 until the mid 80s. It grew from 300 members to over 1,500 with 10,000 visitors every year. The dream eventually died, but decades later two sisters born on the commune who now work for MTV (Rena Mundo-Coshere and Nadine Mundo) return to their roots to explore the tale of The Farm.
It’s a subject clearly close to the sibling filmmakers’ hearts and they were able to track down a surprising number of former commune family members for interviews and unearth a vast amount of archival footage. What emerges is a story of hope and freedom that spiraled farther than any of the hippies ever dreamed only to crash harder and faster than they could have imagined. The Farm’s tale is intriguing, but ultimately a little slight for a feature length documentary. The memories just don’t resonate well for outsiders and the film probably worked more as a collective group therapy session for everyone involved than a work of entertainment. For commune veterans or obsessives only.
Monday, April 29, 7:00pm, The Royal Cinema
Wednesday, May 1, 3:30pm, The ROM Theatre
Friday, May 3, 5:30pm, Hart House Theatre
I Am Breathing
Directors: Morag McKinnon, Emma Davie
Program: World Showcase
Recommended: Yes. It’s intensely sad and inspiring in almost the same exact amount
One of the most frightening and agonizing experiences that can befall a human body is something that Neil Platt can only sit back and watch. Suffering from ALS (here referred to as MND with the film taking place in Scotland), he doesn’t know how much time he has left to tell his barely two year old son how much he loves him or what his father was like. Neil’s disease is particularly aggressive, and by the time McKinnon and Davie join him, he’s already lost the ability to use any of his limbs and his speech seems to be rapidly declining.
In an effort to get all of his final feelings and thoughts out, I Am Breathing stands more of an open letter from a father to his son. There’s a bit of advocacy for research thrown in, as well, but the film is at its best when Neil confronts his own sense of mortality head on with a sense of good humour. There’s a bit of padding here that could stand to be cut, but all the right beats for this sort of film are hit, and like many documentaries it’s impossible to talk about where it all ends up. It ends about as realistically as it can get thanks to McKinnon and Davie largely staying out of the family’s way and letting them interact naturally.
Friday, April 26th, 6:30pm, Scotiabank 4
Saturday, April 27th, 4:00pm, Isabel Bader Theatre
Sunday, May 5th, 3:30pm, Scotiabank 4
Director: Anne Wheeler
Program: Canadian Spectrum
Recommended: Yes. The film takes us deep inside the mindset of someone who’s terminally ill and how they ultimately come to terms with their own mortality.
Chi tells the story of Babz Chula, a larger-than-life 63-year-old actress from the West Coast of Canada, who will tell you her life force – or as it is referred to in Chinese culture, her ‘chi’ – is stronger than ever. She convinces friend and director Anne Wheeler to join her on a trip to a clinic in India where she plans to undergo cancer treatments. After six weeks of treatments, stories and laughter, Babz shows considerable improvement. That is until they return home and discover Babz’s cancer has spread and she has only weeks to live. Now all the things they pondered in India, like facing death without fear or a belief in a God, become a reality.
A story about getting ready for and facing death on one’s own terms, Wheeler simply lets the story go where it will and doesn’t get in the way despite the obvious conflict of being friends with a protagonist who’s also dying. It’s an uncensored glimpse at not only an individual, but an entire family coming to terms with a loved one’s death. Chula makes for a wonderfully entertaining subject. She and the movie sell a wonderful message: while living life to the fullest or facing death, you can only do both on your own terms. (Dave Voigt)
Saturday ,April 27th, 8pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3
Monday, April 29th, 11am Isabel Bader Theatre
Saturday, May 4th, 1pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3
Fuck for Forest
Director: Michale Marczak
Programs: Nightvision, Made In Poland
Recommended: Yes, with reservations.
Neither traditional activists nor your run-of-the mill pornographers, Fuck for Forest is a collective of young liberal Europeans who make amateur erotica for charity. One would think such exhibitionists would be completely comfortable in the presence of a documentarian, yet one can’t help but feel like this outsider’s camera alters their behaviour in varying degrees.
While their unorthodox ways and outward appearance raise some eyebrows and alienate some family, there’s no doubt that their hearts are in the right place. They seem fine with dumpster diving around Germany for food and clothing while the organization has almost half a million Euros in the bank, every cent made goes to support the vaguely defined cause. The most interesting parts come when they attempt to disperse this accumulated wealth and find the intended recipients wary of their generosity and methods.
The doc concentrates more on the ‘Fuck’ part than the ‘Forest’ part, as the copulation is much more prominent in the free lovers’ day-to-day lives than the earth-saving. While the subjects are nothing if flamboyant, one can learn much more about how the collective actually works just by spending five minutes on their website than you do by watching the entire film. Despite the filmmakers’ views seemingly aligning with those of the documented, the group has since expressed regret for allowing the film to be made. Apparently this young group of opinionated idealists are not as easy to please as those who consume their product. (Noah Taylor)
Sunday, April 28th, 11:45pm, Bloor Hot Docs cinema
Tuesday, April 30th, 4:00pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3
Sunday, May 5th, 8:30pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3
The Garden of Eden
Director: Ran Tai
Program: International Spectrum
Recommended: It’s an acquired taste, and while I would personally say yes, some might find it a bit dry.
Gan HaShlosha National Park in Israel serves as a popular tourist destination year round thanks to the perpetually warm waters that people of every religion, race, language, and sex can agree are some of the best in the world. Tai follows those who flow through the park’s gates (from Independence Day one year to the next) to take a closer look at those who visit the modern day Eden.
Often funny simply because of how silly most people look going to the beach, anyway, Tai stops his observing every few moments to focus on a central character telling different stories about their lives. The topics range from agoraphobia and abusive relationships to first loves lifeguards talking about the ghosts that haunt the park at night. It’s just the right blend of the serious, the verite, and the silly to feel like an actual amalgamation of human existence crammed into just a little bit over 70 minutes. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, this particular brand of film, but these people have some truly engrossing stories if you stick with it.
Friday, April 26th, 9:30pm, Scotiabank 3
Saturday, April 27th, 11:00am, Isabel Bader Theatre
Saturday, May 4th, 2:00pm, Hart House Theatre
The Last Black Sea Pirates
Director: Svetoslav Stoyanov
Program: International Spectrum
Recommended: Sorry, matey. No.
First off, these probably aren’t the pirates you are looking for in the traditional sense. The title refers to a bunch of chronically drunken ex-cons that have become Lost Boys on an island just off the coast of Bulgaria lorded over by a mercurial leader that goes by the very pirate-y name of Captain Jack.
There’s some huge potential here for an intriguing character study of a man and his charges. There’s even a rumoured buried treasure on the island and the threat of gentrification encroaching on Jack’s untouched paradise, but aside from a few slightly amusing moments (some involving dynamite) this is a deathly dull and slow movie to sit through. Not only are most of the characters unlikeable and uninteresting (they’re all convicts stranded on an island for the past several years), but everything feels oddly staged when it comes to generating conflict. Too many things happen here that are just so convenient that they feel out of place in a purportedly realistic environment. Even those moments can’t generate more than only passing curiosity, as this one feels infinitely longer than its running time suggests.
Wednesday, May 1st, 9:15pm, Scotiabank 3
Thursday, May 2nd, 4:00pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Saturday, May 4th, 9:00pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1