Hot Docs

Hot Docs Review: Magic Island [2015, Marco Amenta]

Posted on by Ricky in Hot Docs | Leave a comment


In the world of reality tv, it’s easy to paint the children of celebrities as spoiled rich malcontents whose easy lives are the envy of all. Magic Island choses the show the opposite. Andrea Schiavelli is the son of Vincent Schiavelli, a great character actor who has played a part in many movies you saw in your youth. It is clear from the outset of the film that son and father did not have the best of relationships and this is a theme that is explored throughout the film. Vincent has since passed away and leaves something for his son…. in Sicily. The resulting documentary follows Andreas as he journeys back to his family origins, visiting all his fathers friends and family and facing the grim reality that he’ll never be well liked as his father as well as dealing with people who seemed to have a better relationship with his pop then he had. It’s a lot to take in and it’s what’s at the heart of this film.

The film features some lovely shots of life in Sicily and it was nice to see shots of a place I don’t know a lot about aside from mob movies. The story struggles at times because as the principle character, Andrea doesn’t come across as a very willing participant in the film at times and was not entirely engaging. It might be because of his reserved nature or the personal nature of the story. In a way it is refreshing because the film shows that movie stars can also have normal children with semi normal lives, a thought that rarely crosses our mind.

Hot Docs Review: On the Bride’s Side [Khaled Soliman Al Nassiry, Gabriele Del Grande, Antonio Augugliaro, 2015]

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


If we have friends and countrymen who are down on their luck, we would certainly help however we can. But would you break the letters of the law to help?

That’s what several Italians did late November in 2013. Having been in war-torn Syria, they cultivated an affinity for the country, its people, and their plight. While 17 EU member states have apparently promised to help shelter Syrians fleeing the conflict, most take less than a passive role in accepting refugees, leaving them vulnerable to human traffickers, smugglers, and other illegal trades. The Italian journalists/activists decided that to do their part, they would host a sham wedding party and smuggle their Syrian friends across multiple borders, from Milan through France, Luxembourg, Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, and finally to Sweden, where the refugees apparently have the best chance. The documentarians follow the bridal party,
using stories of the Syrians’ escape, humiliating treatments at the hands of many officials, and their hopes and dreams to weave together a powerful statement, in the hopes of igniting a positive response from their governments and their people.

On the Bride’s side is a very poignant, but conflicting film to watch. It is so because it asks the audience to choose between two dark sides. The calculus here really isn’t about civil disobedience to advance justice (trust me it ain’t; I’m sitting in the middle of one right now with military choppers overhead). This is a much more intricate conflict between dreams and pragmatism. As the film progresses, one realizes that on the shoulders of the Syrians in the film, sit the hopes and burdens of their family and comrades deceased and living. Many carry survivor’s guilt, and are determined to make it for the memory of those they’ve lost. While the circumstances of their acceptance into some countries were debasing, it was far more crushing to realize that the promises they followed were hollow. Yet what the filmmakers are not able to show in their one-sided quest, is that everything has a cost. Would everything be better if others heed the call and repeat this bridal party trick in other guises 50,000 times? You don’t need high school algebra to understand that no country in the world, to say very little about the world itself, has an unlimited capacity to provide economic opportunities, cultural plasticity, and substantive compassion on the books, let alone off the books. While we celebrate the bridal party’s arrival in Sweden and their chance to realize their dreams, we should also realize that xenophobia isn’t reserved for bigots. People sympathetic to refugees can still develop a sense of injustice when their society become unbalanced by those who circumvented democratically vetted (we hope) immigration process. Obviously, many are willing (and have the luxury) to wait. At the beginning of the film, one of the refugees became an Italian citizen after 5 years, and the joy of finally having a solid support behind him was quite beautiful. Other aren’t, and some times can’t afford to be so patient. Obviously one hopes that films just like this will galvanize the public to demand higher quota and more humane treatments – and the filmmakers were prescient in that this indeed came to a head recently), but I think the socio-economics of immigration should not be lightly cast aside so that we can summit the nearest moral high-ground.

Hot Docs Review: Danny (2014, Justin Simms, William D. MacGillivray)

Posted on by Jack Derricourt in Hot Docs | Leave a comment


A teary-eyed man stands at a podium and utters these words: “Orson Welles once said, if you want a happy ending, you need to know when to end your story.” Like Citizen Kane, Danny is a story of a political giant that begins at the end. Danny Williams was a rarity in Canadian politics. In a political culture where we often vote away what we don’t want rather than democratically embrace an agenda of action, the fiery former premier is a rare case study.

The guy who outright mutinied against Stephen Harper in the early 2000s? The premier of Newfoundland and Labrador that everyone was talking about on the radio and tv and in the paper? Yep, that was Danny.

The movie does a solid job of addressing the post-Confederation history of Newfoundland, especially the series of bad deals dealt to the province that left what was once a thriving, independent nation a mere pawn in the federal game. The struggles of recent years have been an attempt to negotiate for a fair share of offshore oil profits, a fight that Danny was born for. It’s a familiar story to many Canadians, and one that should interest anyone that has witnessed how oil has become the central economic issue of our country.

The more direct subject of the film is given a familiar, biographical treatment in the midst of this broader provincial story. He is shown wearing a variety of hats: student, hockey player, dutiful son, Rhodes scholar, trial lawyer. His early years in office are explained in painful terms, as dealing with the catastrophic changes to fishing in the province was a constant ordeal for the newly minted politician. Thankfully, along came Paul Martin, a boxing buddy for Danny, someone he could treat to his Newfoundland and Labrador jab-punch of patriotism. We won’t mention Steve here.

Danny has a captivating story, born out of an incredibly charismatic, quotable person. Yet there is something to be said about championing a politician too unabashedly. To be proud of one’s folk heroes is a great thing, but we live in an age that demands more nuanced approaches to its public figures. The premier’s former staff provide a great deal of the commentary throughout the story, something that felt forced and one-sided. If a man is to be judged, his detractors should be given voice, and he should be allowed to stand up to their test. I feel Danny didn’t give its subject the chance to outbully the bullies who would see him cut down.

As a tribute, the documentary is a just approximation of everything that Canadians loved about Danny Williams, and it should be applauded. For a politician with means and determination is the sort of symbol we need in our current political climate. The film asks its viewers to abandon harsh criticism and pessimism, allowing Danny to remain enshrined in a Kubla Khan of newspaper headlines and coffee break stories. Perhaps we should oblige.

Danny screens again on Sunday, May 3 @ 1:15 PM at Isabel Bader Theatre.

Hot Docs Review: Love Between The Covers (2015, Laurie Kahn)

Posted on by jessica in Hot Docs | Leave a comment


The world of romance writing is not just about the fantastical love between two characters, but also the intense pay-it-forward sisterhood of its predominantly female community. In an hour and a half, Love Between the Covers tackles everything under the umbrella, but throughout it shines how empowering writing and reading romance fiction is for women. And that’s what you call an HEA (Happily Ever After).

Hopefully this documentary educates those who scoff at romance titles in grocery stores and libraries. Romance fiction is a multi-billion dollar section of the publishing industry, and underneath it lies practically any other genre – science fiction romance, historical romance, fantasy romance, horror romance, Amish romance, etc. There’s something for everyone. The documentary tackles this issue head on right off the bat – scoffing back at those who scrunch up their noses saying ‘you read that?’ and saying point-blank why it’s so great. To put it lightly, author Beverly Jenkins chuckles, “We are the shit.”

Love Between the Covers gives a boost to so many interesting romance authors – Jenkins, Mary Bly (Eloisa James), Len Barot (Radclyffe), Susan Donovan, Celeste Bradley and Nora Roberts, to name a few – as well as lots of others in the publishing industry. It’s impossible not to be impressed by them. Very few get to make it their day job but it’s clear they do it for the passion. There are a lot of scenes of women writing on their laptops at home in their PJs. Readers hang on to every word, and authors pump out multiple books per year. They show tremendous spirit in their work, compassion for one another and honour for the trade. They know how to craft great love stories and many have found their niches to fill in cracks such as the lack in queer and person of colour areas, which has changed many people’s lives since. This documentary is full of fantastic, hilarious quotes. It’s easy to follow along through the narrative of the work and the industry. These women are sassy, down to earth and incredibly smart. They tackle every hurdle fearlessly, explaining this is one place you’ll find women’s sexuality fairly represented… you can have sex without dying a horrible death… the idea that romance novels are sneered at because they’re written by women, for women and about women… the list goes on.

Above all, love trumps hate.

Love Between The Covers screens on Friday, May 1  @ 9:30 PM at Fox Theatre.

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