Hot Docs

Hot Docs Review: Pick of the Litter [Don Hardy Jr., Dana Nachman, 2018]

Posted on by Gary in Hot Docs | Leave a comment

Pick of the Litter

Put down your smartphone, and spend an hour outdoors. You’ll likely start to notice how modern Homo sapiens are increasingly useless without a plethora of gadgetry to keep track of the minutiae of daily life. What happens if those gadgets now have minds of their own? Do you keep running try-outs until you find the match-made-in-heaven? Will yours be called “Jarvis” like millions other?

Of course I may be talking about artificial intelligence … but not just yet. Man’s best friend is our most ancient, living breathing smart gadget. Pick of the Litter follows 5 puppies born in the same litter as they move up through our world, blissfully unaware of their destiny as faithful companions lounging on a sofa all day, working dogs in many other duties, or guide dogs. The non-profit organization Guide Dogs for the Blind breeds, selects and ultimately pairs vision-impaired folks with trained dogs to give them some semblance of normality and mobility. Keeping themselves and their handlers alive being of the utmost importance, guide dogs need to display a certain aptitude, and hence genetic disposition, proper upbringing, and focused training are all necessary components that must be put together properly.

This is a straightforward and delightful documentary. The dogs are the stars here, of course. Details of their training are bizarre yet irresistible. For example, running a sedan directly into the trainer/dog at crosswalks would not have been my idea of experiential exposure – but that is exactly the type of behind the scenes info one wants. And of course, watching the dogs grow and their personalities blossom is immensely interesting. Those faces the dogs make as they (pretend to) ignore cookies placed in front of their snout are quite hilarious to witness. Having never had any pets, however, I don’t think I can fully understand how volunteers could be excited about the prospect of raising/socializing a puppy to train-able age, only to cut loose months later. It sounds more than anything like a recipe for heartbreak. It is also baffling to see that, like parents of pre-med students, some volunteers even attach a level of pride and self-worth to whether the puppy they helped raise becomes guide dog. Puerile egotism aside, Pick of the Litter is an easy film to recommend to kids of all ages – and all for a noble cause.

Screenings:
Fri, May 4, 1:00 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre
Sun, May 6, 3:15 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Hot Docs Review: Mr SOUL! (2018, Sam Pollard, Melissa Haizlip)

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

ELLIS HAIZLIP, the Producer of the WNET/PBS weekly television show, "SOUL."  Set interview with Toni Morrison. 1972

Opening up with some archival footage of ads heralding the arrival of colour TV, Mr. SOUL! quickly makes the point that, while everything on TV could now be presented in full glorious colour, the programming itself was still overwhelmingly pretty white. The answer to this: SOUL!

Mr. SOUL! tells the story of the first black arts and culture program to be aired on American television. SOUL! was the brainchild of Ellis Haizlip, his singular vision being to provide a platform for black voices, voices that had not really been given much space on the airwaves up until that time. Originating from New York public broadcaster WNET and airing from 1968 – 1973, SOUL! seemed to consistently challenge itself and its audience from the get-go. Determined not to be just like any other TV show, Haizlip and his team at SOUL! tooled with the formula for awhile before ultimately deciding to just let Haizlip himself host the show.

Airing live much of the time, SOUL! presented many impressive musical performances – everyone from The Lost Poets to Ashford & Simpson to Stevie Wonder to Al Green. Along with many established big name performers, so many musicians were given their first chance on this show, many of them also being acts who wouldn’t have had a chance of being booked on a more mainstream program. One of my favourite stories from the film is Haizlip’s apparent answer upon being asked why he had booked avant-garde jazz saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk on the show: “Because he’s crazy.” It’s true – dude played like three saxes at once. Impressive.

In addition to music, poetry and dance were given equal footing on the show as well as political and cultural discussions – one episode, impressively enough, was just an hour of conversation between James Baldwin and poet Nikki Giovanni filmed in London, England since Baldwin had no interest in returning to America to do an interview. Oh, and also the show featured a 13 year old Arsenio Hall. Was he funny? Who knows – they didn’t really show any footage of him. Still, kinda cool.

Mr. SOUL! presents a loving portrait of a show that was gone all too soon. SOUL! may have been around for only a few years, but in that time, it certainly made an impact.

Screenings:
Sat, May 5, 6:00 PM @ Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

Hot Docs Preview: Anote’s Ark (2018, Matthieu Rytz)

Posted on by Ricky in Hot Docs | Leave a comment

Anote’s Ark is a beautifully shot documentary about the effect of rising sea levels on the South Pacific island of Kiribati. Situated in the Pacific near the equator, Kiribati is a nation that comprises of numerous atolls and islands. These islands are only a few meters above sea levels are currently in danger of being wiped off the face of the Earth with rising sea levels and change in weather patterns.

The film primarily follows two individuals – the president of Kiribati and a mother. While the president furiously travels the globe seeking a solution to his island’s problems, the mother has to evaluate things on a much more personal level, assessing how to care for her family as her home gets continually flooded. Not really mentioned in the film are the economical factors that would drive citizens to travel abroad for work.

The film is a stark reminder of the natural powers of the Earth and provides great insight into how climate change can greatly affect people in other areas of the world instead of just being a minor nuisance.

Check it out.

Wed, May 2 @ 10:15 AM TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Fri, May 4 @ 1:00 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

More info here

Hot Docs Preview: People’s Republic of Desire (2018, Hao Wu)

Posted on by Ricky in Hot Docs | Leave a comment

Eerily similar to what you would think was a Black Mirror episode, The Republic of Desire is an interesting and ultimately depressing look at the world of live streaming in China.

In China, live streaming has become extremely popular, and much like youtube stars, the promise of fame and fortune has driven a lot of individuals to great measures to attain popularity online. The film follows the a few of these online celebrities as they attempt to win an annual competition that promises fame and reward. We also follow other players in the world of live streaming, including the fans and the people behind agencies that promote the personalities.

Without getting too much in the movie, it is pretty clear that desire is a strong theme in the movie – there is desire for fame, desire for money, desire for recognition, desire for friends and a desire for identity. Everyone in this film is in the search of something and it brings to the forefront just how disconnected we have become from each other as we become more connected on the internet.

There is a lot going on in this film to digest and it makes you wonder where we are heading as a society. Check it out.

Sat, Apr 28 @ 9:00 PM Hart House Theatre
Mon, Apr 30 @ 3:00 PM Scotiabank Theatre 4
Sat, May 5 @ 6:15 PM Revue Cinema

Click here for more info

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