Hot Docs - Pot Country - Featured

HotDocs 2012:
The Shorts

Every year in addition to over 100 features screening in the Hot Docs International Documentary Film Festival, there are a great number of shorts that screen prior to their longer brothers and sisters. Here now are reviews of some of the shorts we were able to get a look at prior to the start of the festival.

Pot Country

Directors: Mario Fuloni & Kate McLean

Program: Canadian Spectrum

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27 minutes

Recommended?: Yes

This is an intriguing documentary about marijuana farmers in an isolated community outside of San Francisco. Hippies moved into a logging town in the 70s and stumbled into pot farming when they realized big money could be made off of their city dwelling buddies. Regan’s drug war led to helicopter raids, but after 1996 made medicinal growth legal, it all changed. When the directors of this documentary stumbled into town with their cameras, they found a group of relaxed (well, obviously) lifetime weed harvesters casually discussing their history and an upstart attorney determined to help make their way of life legal across the board. It’s a subject taking up a lot of media attention lately and Pot Country doesn’t add much to the discussion. However, there is a certain charm to seeing kindly old pot farmers rather than jittery Breaking Bad-style dealers on the lam. The movie awkwardly and abruptly ends when overproduction causes the farmers’ profits to plummet, but it is a short. Abrupt endings are what short films are all about.

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Screens with Smoke Traders:

Thursday, May 3, 9pm, Lightbox 3

Friday, May 4, 3:45pm, Cumberland 2

Mr. Christmas

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Director: Nick Palmer

Program: International Spectrum

15 minutes

Recommended?: Yes

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Some people really, really love Christmas to an irrational degree. Every neighborhood has one, but Bruce Mertz might be the king. For 30 years he’s dedicated three months a year setting up his X-mas decorations, often incorporating himself in the elaborate designs with light-covered cloths and hats. Mr. Christmas’s Clark Griswald-esque exploits have made him a local celebrity and people drive for hours to see his lighting ceremony that opens with “God Bless America” and an autograph session. This 14-minute documentary captures Mertz in all his glory, shows off the lightshow, and then rolls credits. That’s pretty well all the attention the subject warrants. It’s vaguely surreal, kind of funny, and pure Americana. If Mertz were slightly insane or creepy, there might be a little more meat to chew. But he’s an impossibly nice (if eccentric) man, so this little piece of doc fluff is just enough.

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Screens with: The Kid and The Clown

Friday, April 27, 1:30pm, Isabel Bader

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Saturday, April 28, 1:30pm, Lightbox 3

Saturday, May 5, 2pm, Lightbox 3

Home Turf

Director: Ross Whitaker

Program: World Showcase

14 minutes

Recommended?: Moderately

A group of Irish farmers dig up a bog to make fire logs for the winter. That’s really all that happens in this documentary short and it would be insufferable were it not for the fact that all the farmers in question dress and act peculiarly and speak with almost impenetrable accents. There is a certain poetry to be found in their thick slang and almost philosophical musings about the traditional work. It’s shot in a picturesque manner and the natural characters are allowed to do their thing without much interference from the filmmakers. Pretty simple stuff indeed, but just brief and streamlined enough to work. If that sounds appealing, you’ll enjoy. If not, at least it’ll be over quickly.

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Screens with: The Field of Magic

Saturday, April 28, 6:15pm, Lightbox 4

Monday, April 30, 1:30pm, Lightbox 3

Trials, Tribulations, & Sustainable Growth of A Cock

Director: Vladimir Perovic

Program: Made In Southeastern Europe

20 minutes

Recommend?: Hell yeah.

Don’t get too excited about the title, we’re talking about chickens here. Vladimir Perovic’s short follows the life of a chicken from chick to cock in a dry observational style. It all peaks with a bizarre ritual in which the star chicken is placed on a floating platform in the middle of a lake and shot at by spectators. The winner gets glory, a small parade, and the bloody chicken corpse. It’s not clear why this happens and no commentary or explanation is offered. The film is just twenty minutes of chicken watching with a strange shootout climax. The even itself is so odd that just watching it all play out without explanation has a certain WTF charm. Throw in a vaguely arty shooting style and you’ve got a short documentary that Werner Herzog would love and your mother would hate.

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Screens with: My Mate Manchester United

Wednesday, May 2, 6:30pm, Cumberland 2

Thursday, May 3, 7:15pm, Lightbox 4

Cutting Loose

Directors: Finlay Pretsell and Adrian McDowall

Program: Made In Southeastern Europe

29 minutes

Recommended?: Sure

Cutting Loose tells the story of Francis Duff, the defending champion of the Scottish Prison Service Hairdressing Competition. Yep, that’s a real thing and it’s just an odd as it sounds. The former heroin addict shaves the heads of hardmen and murderers for their court dates and is hopeful for a hairdressing future on the outside. In prison since 16, he’s a genial and empathic documentary subject with a tragic past, as are his competitors. Rehabilitation through clippers is certainly an unexplored topic and one that offers a surprisingly optimistic tone from a downer environment. Co-directors Pretsell and McDowall have a strong cinematic eye and are able to turn boring dry trims into energetic montages. In the end, the short doesn’t amount to much than a straightforward depiction of this unknown fashion-friendly subculture behind bars, but that world is just unfamiliar enough to sustain interest for 30 minutes.

Screens with: Playing the Fool

Tuesday May 1, 4:00pm, Lightbox 3

Thursday, May 3, 10:00pm, Lightbox 4

The Quiet One

Directors: Emelie Wallgreen and Ina Holmqvist

Program: International Spectrum

29 minutes

Recommended?: Not really

A sweet Swedish documentary about a timid 6-year old Iraqi refuge named Maryam who recently joined a school for new immigrants in a Stockholm suburb. The movie is shot in a nicely detached, observational style without voiceover and interviewers. Unfortunately those clichéd doc elements really could have helped explain the point of the movie. The directors know how to create a pretty picture highlighting Maryam’s isolation and are able to capture candid moments with children without any obvious manipulation. Unfortunately they don’t really build to anything and it’s hard to say whether having a camera following around the lonely little girl helped attract friends or further isolated her as an outsider. Nice intentions, but not much of a pay off and a bit too long for this sort of thing.

Screens with: Inocente

Sunday, April 29, 7:00pm, Lightbox 2

Monday, April 30, 6:30pm, Lightbox 3

Friday, May 4, 11:00am, ROM

The Relationship Doctrine Of Don Blanquito

Director: Roger Nygard

Program: Special Presentation

7 minutes

Recommended?: Hell yes!

If there were annual awards handed out for douchebaggery, then Don Blanquito would be a perennial contender. HE is a Rio de Janeiro-based rapper who rattles of misogynistic life-lessons that would make Frank TJ Mackey blush. This is the kind of guy who talks his girlfriend into spreading out naked on a bed while he preaches on camera about his ideal ass, the similarities between prostitution and girlfriends, and why “girlfriends are who you want to watch a DVD with” while other girls “are just for a nut.” When it comes to music, his lyrics are about asses and asshole theories as well, so at least he wins points for consistency. Spending an extended amount of time with Blanquito would probably be insufferable, but 7 minutes of mockery is undeniably hilarious. Somehow I think the guy would be proud of how he comes off in the final product, but anyone connected to reality will see things slightly differently. If you’ve ever heard the track “Get That Vagina” and wondered what skid-mark of a human being could possibly be behind it, this short will answer all of your questions.

Screens with: Sexy Baby

Tuesday. May 1, 9:00pm, Bloor

Thursday, May 3, 6:45pm, Isabel Bader

Friday, May 4, 7:00pm, Lightbox 1

Petra’s Poem

Director: Shira Avni

Program: Canadian Spectrum

4 minutes

Recommend: Yes.

Petra’s Poem is not a traditional documentary, but a very sweet movie that feels like an appropriate entry into Hot Docs. It’s a reading of a poem by a young woman with Down Syndrome named Petra Tolly about the difficulties of fitting into the world with a disability. Tolly performs the poem herself (in voiceover) and choreographed a small performance with many friends with the same condition. Director Shira Avni films her subjects against a white backdrop, filling in the reading with expressive animation. The result is a heartfelt four-minute piece that gives voice to a dejected community in a genuine and touching manner. It’s a simple short, but all the more powerful for it, free from irony or commentary and as emotionally pure as the thoughts of its subject.

Screens with: The Frog Princes

Sunday, April 29, 7:30pm, Lightbox 1

Tuesday, May 1, 4:45pm, Lightbox 2

Saturday, May 5, 9:45pm, Lightbox 2

For more information on films, showtimes, tickets, and other great shorts, please visit hotdocs.ca.

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