Hot Docs

HotDocs Review: Sacro GRA [Gianfranco Rosi, 2014]

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

1x1.trans HotDocs Review: Sacro GRA [Gianfranco Rosi, 2014]

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 can 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 , and the esoteric. Normal people need not apply, though. 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]

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1x1.trans Hot Docs: The Sheik [Igal Hecht, 2014]

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]

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“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.

Hot Docs: Happiness [2013, Thomas Balmès]

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1x1.trans Hot Docs: Happiness [2013, Thomas Balmès]

When the Bhutan government announced in 1999 that TV and Internet were coming to the country, it was the start of a large cultural shift in the country. Happiness is a documentary that takes a look at this shift through the eyes of a nine year old. Having grown up in a small (and gorgeous) mountain village, Peyangki is enrolled in a monastery to become a monk instead of school despite his objections.

The film shows footage of his day to day life and some of his struggles living the tradition way of life versus the newer go to school/then the city goals of the kids around him. Eventually, Peyangki does on a trip to the city and it is then we see the large contrast between the two worlds which currently inhabit Bhutan. the documentary that Thomas Balmès presents is an interesting look at a country that frankly, a lot of us don’t know about.

Bhutan is gorgeous and Happiness is a film that is more then willing to show you sweeping shots of valleys and mountains. The film itself is quite slow paced but perhaps it was done deliberately to reflect the way of life of the villagers. It might also be because a vérité style documentary about a nine year old monk probably does not yield a lot of story lines. My only thought was that the film should have shown more of the Peyangki’s trip to the country capital of Thimphu, but perhaps much like the life at monastery, there wasn’t a whole lot there either. Regardless, Happiness is an interesting look at a world that is pretty much foreign to most of us.

Check out Happiness: TIFF Bell Lightbox 1, Sun, May 4 11:00 AM

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