Hot Docs

Contest: See Watchers Of The Sky at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, October 19

Posted on by Paul in Contests, Hot Docs | Leave a comment


With Watchers Of The Sky, director Edet Belzberg has created a film that delves into the history of genocide, using the story of Raphael Lemkin, the man who coined the term “genocide,” as it’s starting point. In his review of the film for this site, Gary described it as “a delicate and soul rending story” and a “surprisingly serene” take on a macabre subject matter.

… I guarantee that it doesn’t lack in graphic impact. Instead of frame after frame of mutilated bodies that can drive the audience to defensively shut down, however, “Watchers” uses stylish calligraphy overlays and artistic renders to soften the direct assault on ones psyche. I find that this allows the mind to process. Lemkin’s personal notes, the interview/narration of Ben Ferencz (chief prosecutor at Nuremberg Trials), Luis Moreno Ocampo (Prosecutor at trials of the Juntas in Argentina and now International Criminal Court) and Samantha Power (current UN ambassador of the United States), and first-hand account of Rwandan and Darfuri survivors are all tastefully assembled into an intelligible message that can sometimes be difficult to reach in these documentaries.

Courtesy of, we have a pair of passes to give away to the Ocober 19 evening screening of the film at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. To win, do one of three things:

1. Retweet this post and follow us on twitter (@panicmanual)
2. Email us at panic at with the subject “I Want To See Watchers Of The Sky”
3. Comment on this post on facebook and like us there.

HotDocs Review: Sacro GRA [Gianfranco Rosi, 2014]

Posted on by Gary in Everything, Hot Docs, Reviews | Leave a comment


Can you imagine a film about Rome without views of the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Square, The Trevi fountain, and all those other iconic splendors? Now you won’t have to imagine. Sacro GRA gives you a window into the abandoned and run-down outskirts of the Eternal City.

The Grande Raccordo Anulare, or GRA, is one of the most important transport arteries in Rome. But given its purpose, it is situated equidistant from everything, which simultaneously means that it is close to nothing. This is probably why neighborhoods near the GRA are filled with the marginalized, the downtrodden, and the esoteric. Normal people need not apply. Sacro GRA aerates the nuanced and interesting snapshots of GRA residents like Radiolab strings together stories around a central idea or word. There is something I’m wondering, though. I can make puns around circles and straight lines all day, but it wouldn’t help resolve why this film left a bigger resonance with me than Pipeline did. The setup is very similar. The lengths weren’t very different either. The one thing that does come to mind is… BECAUSE IT MAKES ME… HAPPY.
There is something about finding defining moments of beauty in all things presumed ugly, versus confirming ugliness. Maybe I’m just an optimist. No matter where you are on the happiness spectrum, find this and give it a try.

Hot Docs: The Sheik [Igal Hecht, 2014]

Posted on by Gary in Hot Docs | Leave a comment


No. I have never been AAU champion, nor world champion. I also don’t have the pecs to label people “jabroni”. This is partially because wrestling (the TV flavor) has never been interesting to me. Even if it wasn’t entirely fake and true physical skill and endurance is needed to perform in the ring, the loud, jock attitude has always been such a turn off that I never cared what the Rock was cooking. Because, unlike trash-talking, the physicality can’t be sustained for long. A day will come when the strength fails, and then the wrestler will have nothing. The Sheik showed that your strength may fail, but the mind can still propel you forward. Or was the propulsion coming from the mouth full of filth? I can’t tell the difference.

The Sheik tells the story of Khosrow Vaziri, an Iranian immigrant who became known as The Iron Sheik in the professional wrestling arena during the 80s. One of the best known “heels”, or bad-guys, the Iron Sheik character helped propel the WWF forward and is responsible for facilitating the “Hulkamania” frenzy that followed in the 90s. But since his heyday, his health and family relations has been declining sharply. Faced with many crippling problems, it’s up to the Sheik himself and those who love him to repair the damage and get back up before the final count.

Let’s be honest – this is an entertaining but conspicuously promotional documentary. Whether by the conscious decision of the producers/managers to patronize wrestling fans or mock the antics of the wrestling world, the film is over-the-top and self-aggrandizing. Also, as the title correctly suggests, it’s not exactly a wrestling doc. In fact, they couldn’t obtain WWF footage to showcase The Iron Sheik during his glory days. One thing that is authentic to pro wrestling is the ring-speak, or as The Rock puts it, “shit-talkery”, that spills over into the film and real-life. This even happened during the Q/A session, where the Sheik ended every answer with “I’m number one give me hands” as if the boomer grannies, Gen-X dads and their progeny were stand-in for boozed fans with folding chairs. None of this, however, stopped the filmmakers from conveying a beautiful and noteworthy struggle. Is the Sheik now a good, babyface role model? I can’t say for certain. Please let me know when someone quits the pain-soothing crack cold-turkey at 75 after a lifetime of toil. Should you watch it? As a Torontonian, just hearing The Iron Sheik threaten Rob Ford with the f**king Camel Clutch should be worth the entry fee. The happy ending is just icing on the cake.

HotDocs Review: Pipeline [Vitaly Mansky, 2014]

Posted on by Gary in Everything, Hot Docs, Reviews | 1 Comment

“There is a pipeline that runs from Siberia to Germany. We took a camera to it and here’s the result. Let’s talk after”. Through an interpretor, this was how the director introduced the film at the late night screening to his audience. And in a sense, his stoic honesty is appreciated. Pipeline is just that simple a documentary. You will see snow, machinery, a confluence of living conditions and attitude, all wrapped up in the title.

As video-journalism, Pipeline is atmospheric and succeeds in conveying the director’s vision. But I find the final product hard to digest. This is not because of content (the director does gravitate towards some graphic stuff), but the mundane nature of it all. Basically, the filmmakers went along the Siberia-Ukraine-Germany gas pipeline and filmed around every pumping station. How people deal with their lives, along the line, changes dramatically. This is, of course, the modus operandi of the film. It is also the source of tedium. There is little more frustrating than listening to farmers and shut-ins recount their lives, without any background, for the 5th time in 30 minutes. Yes, there is great contrast between how people in Cologne act compared to those living in Urengoy. And yes, we may even feel obligated to sympathize. But the film was unsuccessful in persuading me that the pipeline created the problem. If anything I feel that the Europe/Asia divide existed long before the oil/gas discovery and the eventual export in the 1980s. From my “Western” perspective, the film merely confirms my preconceived stereotypes. If Mansky aimed to reveal a deeper layer of thought, it was completely lost on me. Is this a lamentation to the dichotomy or an ode to the existing programs?

In the Q&A, Mansky mentioned that we should have noticed that the Ukrainians were the ones complaining, whereas the Siberians were oblivious and the Germans couldn’t care less. Why fault the ignorance of anyone when we lack direct answers for how they should act otherwise? Not that I demand an answer, of course. Perhaps it was even meant to be aimless. But a little hint of what’s over the horizon of snow and dreary couldn’t hurt.

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