Hot Docs

Hot Docs Review: Death of a Saint (Patricia Bbaale Bandak, 2024)

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When she was just a young child, Patricia Bbaale Bandak’s mother was killed on Christmas Eve. Years later, looking for a connection to her past, Bandak travels from her current home in Denmark to her birthplace of Uganda in the hope that she’ll learn more about the mother she never really knew and perhaps even find a deeper connection to the land she left behind.

At first, people she meets are reluctant to say anything about her mother, describing her as a saintly, practically perfect woman – one relative even describes her as being “like God,’ which certainly seems to be laying it on a little thick. As Patricia works to plan a memorial party, she continues to meet with her mother’s friends and relatives, finally coming across some who are willing to be a little more open about the truth of who her mom really was. And that’s when things eventually take a turn from her simply wanting to learn more about who her mother was into an investigation into why she was killed.

In the end, Bandak doesn’t necessarily get all of the answers she wants and even ends up with a few new questions, though she at least seems to have come away from the experience feeling a bit closer to her late mother. And while Death of a Saint may not provide an entirely satisfying conclusion for every aspect of its story, it’s a compelling look into one woman’s journey to discover more about her past.

Hot Docs Review: Goodnight, Mister Stalin (Benjamin Kodboel, 2024)

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Joseph Stalin is widely regarded as one of the most notorious and ruthless dictators in history. So I will admit to being slightly taken aback when, at the outset of Benjamin Kodboel’s Goodnight, Mister Stalin, he is described as being “one of the most feared and loved dictators.” Wait … loved? You’re telling me there are Stalin stans?

Yes, in fact, to this day, there is still a small yet devoted faction of (mostly quite elderly) Stalin lovers living in Gori, the Georgian town where Stalin was born. And though Stalin apparently turned his back on his hometown and never looked back, there’s seemingly still enough love for the man in Gori to also support a Stalin museum and a large statue memorializing the dictator, though the statue was taken down back in 2010.

The short film centres around Zhana, a young woman who is strongly anti-Stalin, and her unlikely friendship with Nasi, a grandmother figure of sorts and part of the small group of devotees who view Stalin as a heroic icon of the past. Goodnight, Mister Stalin offers up a fascinating look at an unexpected and improbable form of hero worship with Zhana serving as our tour guide through this strange world.

Hot Docs Review: Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger (David Hinton, 2024)

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As filmmakers go, Martin Scorsese is surely one of the all time greats. With a career going back more than 50 years and including films such as Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, The Last Temptation of Christ and Killers of the Flower Moon, there’s no question he’s made his mark on cinema and has been an influence on many a filmmaker. But who influenced Scorsese? Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger answers this question by taking a look at a pair of filmmakers who may not have the same level of name recognition that Scorsese does, but who have also clearly made their mark on the history of cinema.

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, known collectively as The Archers, began their collaboration back in 1939, making a number of films together throughout the ’40s and ’50s and reuniting for a pair of films in the late ’60s/early ’70s before calling it quits. While the film makes extensive use of footage from Powell and Pressburger’s filmography, Made in England largely makes the case for their significance by simply pointing the camera at Scorsese and letting him expound on why he loves their films so much. And he makes a strong case, describing the sophisticated messages in the “subversive commercial movies” the pair made during WWII and the strong artistic vision they presented in films such as The Red Shoes and The Tales of Hoffman.

As Scorsese waxes poetic on the British duo’s work and offers insight into the influence they had on his own work, it becomes clear that this is just as much a film about Scorsese as it is about its titular subjects. What also comes through clearly is just how much Scorsese loves these films and how much they continue to inspire him. Ultimately, Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger is a love letter to cinema itself. Watching Scorsese talk about these films will likely make those unfamiliar with Powell and Pressburger want to familiarize themselves with their work.

Hot Docs Review: So This Is Christmas (Ken Wardrop, 2023)

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Christmas. It’s merry. It’s jolly. It’s happy. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? At least that’s what the song says.

Of course, we know this can’t be the case for everyone and in So This Is Christmas, director Ken Wardrop reminds us that Christmas is not always the happiest time of the year for some, but rather a sad reminder of what they may be lacking in their lives.

The film follows several residents of a small Irish town, each of whom is dealing with something that makes the holiday season just a bit harder for them, be it economic hardship, the loss of a loved one, loneliness, or just an uncertainty about which direction they’re headed in life. The sadness in each of their stories is contrasted with random scenes of a more stereotypically festive nature, which really helps to illustrate the divide between what each of them is going through and the ever-present holiday cheer with which they’re bombarded every time they leave the house.

Among those profiled in So This Is Christmas, the most affecting stories come from a widower trying to keep it together and stay strong for his sons as they face their first Christmas without their mother and from an older woman dealing with loneliness and isolation during the holiday season. And though the latter, a self-proclaimed cynic, states that she’s gotten used to the solitude, we get a heartbreaking peek into how it still has an effect on her when she says to the camera, “Loneliness is one thing, but being invisible and forgotten is something else.”

Still, while it can all get a bit downbeat at times, it’s not entirely bleak. The film does offer up some glimmers of hope with each of its subjects working with the cards they’ve been dealt and seemingly making an effort to look on the bright side as much as possible. And that in itself suggests that at least some of that stereotypical Christmas cheer has made its way into their lives after all.

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