Hot Docs

Hot Docs review: After Circus (2015, Viveka Melki)

Posted on by Paul in Hot Docs | Leave a comment


The circus is generally seen by many as a world of wonder, a place where we can be entertained by performers engaging in acrobatics, feats of strength, and various acts of derring-do. But what becomes of those performers when they get too old to keep performing? Where do they go when it’s time to call it quits?

After Circus takes a look at the community of retired (or semi-retired) circus performers based in Sarasota, Florida, the circus capital of the world.  Going in, I wasn’t certain what to expect, and thought that this might be a doc along the lines of Beyond The Mat, Barry Blaustein’s 1999 look at the lives of pro wrestlers. Thankfully, this film isn’t too much of a downer and generally takes a more lighthearted, sentimental look at it’s subjects’ lives, though it does touch on some of the realities of life after the circus and the struggle with issues such as health concerns, where to live, and how they’ll take care of themselves as they reach old age.

Even though most of the performers we see onscreen are no longer able to perform as they once could, each of them look back fondly on their experiences and seem to hold no regrets over their time in the circus. After Circus presents a heartwarming and slightly bittersweet look at people who are still loving that circus life.

After Circus screens again on Saturday, May 7 at 1:00pm at Scotiabank Theatre 13.

Hot Docs/CMW Review: Aim For The Roses (2016, John Bolton)

Posted on by Paul in Canadian Music Week, Hot Docs | Leave a comment


Aim For The Roses is a story about obsession. It’s a common theme for filmmakers, though director John Bolton takes an uncommon approach in his film, which is fitting since the subjects of Aim For The Roses each have rather uncommon passions and uncommon approaches to life. In a way, it’s the story of one man’s obsession with another man’s obsession.

Aim For The Roses tells the story of Mark Haney, a Vancouver musician described by friends and associates in the film as “kind of a renaissance man” who “wears interesting suits” as well as “a monomaniacal, obsessive character.” Amongst Haney’s many obsessions (which also include a passion for Archie Comics) is his fascination with Canadian daredevil Ken Carter, who made a bit of a name for himself in the 1970s and ’80s through various stunts and who apparently considered himself to be greater than Evel Knievel. We see Carter’s story unfold through some archival footage as well as dramatized segments playing out in conjunction with the story of Haney’s decision to create his own double bass concept album (also entitled Aim For The Roses) based around Carter’s life story.

It’s an intriguing and entertaining look at Haney’s creative process and inspirations, which include the creation of various characters to represent different elements of Carter’s story as well as composing a musical representation of the first 499 digits of Pi to run throughout the score. He definitely seems like an interesting character, though his quirks are perhaps topped by those of Ken Carter. After all, it takes a certain type of person to willingly risk his life multiple times for the sake of making, in Carter’s own words, “the ultimate statement.” Ultimately, Aim For The Roses is about the quest to make something more of yourself and the journey one must go through to make that ultimate statement.

Hot Docs Review: The Pearl of Africa [2016, Jonny von Wallström]

Posted on by Ricky in Hot Docs | Leave a comment


A gorgeously shot film that is more style over substance, The Pearl of Africa follows the journey of Cleopatra Kambugu, a transgender woman living in Uganda, a country with heavily punitive anti-LGBT laws. Cleopatra is outed publicly and has to leave her country. We follow her and her boyfriend to Thailand as she seeks and undergoes gender confirmation surgery. The director of the film was a former cinematographer and the quality of the film really highlights that. The lighting on each shot was thrilling and at times you could convince yourself that you were watching a music video. As stylish as this was, the film fails to provide some basic information that viewer would wish to know, including:

- How did Cleopatra get outed by a tabloid?
– What did she do for a living? How did they afford to go to Thailand?
– How did they make it back to Africa?

Apparently this documentary was put together from a series of web-documentaries, so perhaps something was missed in the editing stage. The topic is fascinating; I just wish there was more information for this story, which deserves to be told.

For screening times, go here

Hot Docs Review: Diving into the Unknown [Juan Reina, 2016]

Posted on by Gary in Hot Docs | Leave a comment


Claustrophobia affects 2-5% of the world’s population. But I really don’t think you need to go to a clinical extent in order to feel some anxiety in caves. At times beautiful, they are one of the few terrestrial conditions where humans are just not evolutionarily adept. Fill them with water (that other element in which humans are not designed to excel), make that water near-freezing, and glacial underwater caves are literal death traps.

Scuba divers go to extreme lengths in terms of technology, planning and preparations to undertake the sport. A few years ago, a team of 5 experienced Finnish divers were trapped in a Norwegian underwater cave system. Intending to film the deepest part of the dive, and having started in two teams from both ends of the caves, they met trouble midway and lost two men when they became stuck in a narrow passage, blocking the entire system. The 3 others survived, one with severe spinal cord injuries that meant he would never dive again. Yet the ordeal wasn’t over. An international team of Norwegian and British rescuers could not complete the operations to retrieve the remains.

Diving into the Unknown starts from this juncture, when the survivors were driven to run a (technically) illegal operation to recover the bodies of their friends. The film is straight-forward, documenting the logistics, the macabre considerations of body selvage, and the mental challenges for the divers at the prospect of not simply revisiting a place where they saw death, but looking into the faces of dead friends. It isn’t over-laden with details, but it was 30 minutes into the film that we could glimpse of the layout of the caves and compute just what a nightmare they were working with. You can feel the light touch of the filmmakers, and perhaps a nod to Nordic restraint, when dealing with such a delicate subject. Diving into the Unknown falls on the cold and technical side of the emotional spectrum, with clean and sleek graphics, calming (they have to be, to prevent excessive carbon dioxide generation) diving sequences, and matter-of-fact narration. This is really what the documentary medium is designed to do: allow us to live vicariously through another. In this film, you get a visceral sense of the contradiction and juxtaposition: cave dives go from serenely rewarding to disorientingly catastrophic in a matter of seconds. And there is often nothing you can do about it – which for this modern era is probably the most difficult aspect to overcome. But upon seeing that the divers emerge from the air-water interface more astronauts than sportsmen, you can really appreciate that fact of their lives.

This is certainly not a light subject. But it is worthwhile if you have the stomach.

Diving Into The Unknown screen 3 times at Hot Docs this year, May 1st, 3rd, and 8th.

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