Hot Docs

Hot Docs Review: Do Donkeys Act? (David Redmon and Ashley Sabin, 2017)

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


In your younger days, at zoos, did you ever imagine the fate of the animals that brightened your half-day, in 10 to 20 years? It’s a strange question, in spirit similar to “if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, does it make a sound”? If we go further with the anthropomorphization – does the tree hurt? Do Donkeys Act if no one is watching? This film is a meditation on these oblique questions, seen from the inside of donkey rescue centres around the world.

Rather than asking why, it’s perhaps easier to question why not donkeys. They aren’t often thought highly of. They aren’t typical mascots of sports teams, and have rarely been imbued with any honorable ideals unless steadfast stubbornness is a virtue. And unlike bird or whale songs, all that braying can be harsh and almost too primal to relate to as a human. The fact that asses still bookend jeers and jokes all around the world in many cultures is telling. But of course they are just as adjective as that horse on the Ferrari badge. And all any human has ever done with either is to burden them – with weights, status, morals, and other mostly human concerns. Without all the projections, even donkeys can be interesting.

As with many engrossing and immersive projects, Do Donkeys Act requires a degree of patience. Watching veterinarians’ and donkeys’ daily routine has never topped any list of things to do before one dies. But we (some of us) naturally become observant and empathetic if there are no immediate alternatives. This film will definitely draw a self-selected crowd. As a conservation slash humanitarian piece, Do Donkeys Act is indeed very charming. Many things magically transform when put in front of a portrait lens with good bokeh. My problem, which will perhaps be other people’s delight, is the poetic narration courtesy of Willem Dafoe. If the whole idea of removing imposed morals and emotions to see whether “donkeys act” of their own volition was the aim, then the pointed prose instructing the viewers on how to interpret donkey behavior is a direct, condescending antithesis. Anyone who volunteered to watch donkeys bray, walk, defecate, and give-birth for 70 odd minutes likely pride themselves in forming cogent thoughts. This film will do just fine without anyone complementing a donkey’s “hidden dynamism” as it trots along. Of course, if you are looking for an Ode to Beasts of Burden Past, this is perfect. Personally, I’d rather imagine the smells in those rescue centres than be told of it.

Hot Docs Preview: Ramen Heads [Koki Shigeno, 2016]

Posted on by Ricky in Hot Docs | Leave a comment

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 11.16.04 PM

Half documentary, half food porn, Ramen Heads is a film that mostly follows the story of “king of ramen” Osamu Tomita. We get a glimpse into his daily life, his philosophies and his meticulous attention to his craft. You might think of ramen as a simple bowl of noodles, but after this documentary, you will look at it very differently. A perfect bowl, you will find, requires dedication, creativity and attention to detail that you would never imagine. Tomita is a great representation of what it takes to be a great ramen chef and the film documents that with great detail (and also the director scored a few bowls of ramen, which is an inherent benefit)

Also embedded within this movie is the story of ramen as well as gorgeous shots of many bowls of ramen, from many different restaurants, all of which I want to now eat at.

Go to this movie, and then go eat some ramen after.

Thu, May 4 @ 5:45 PM Scotiabank Theatre 13
Fri, May 5 @ 10:15 AM TIFF Bell Lightbox 3
Sat, May 6 @ 10:45 AM TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Sun, May 7 @ 12:00 PM Hart House Theatre


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On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, we were invited to actually experience the ramen that made Osamu Tomita famous. As part of a promotional event for Tokyo docs, Osamu Tomita showed up at Momofuku and proceeded to tell us not only what’s in his broth (a host of animals and vegetables) but also, cook a small sample of it.

Having taste the ramen, it is something else. It’s so hard to define the taste of the broth. There is a certain level of complexity it achieves by incorporating so many animals into it. Not quite pork, not quite seafood but a mismatch of both, the broth and the amazing noodles made for a great combination. Let me tell you, that was legit. I left with a dumb smile on my face and that’s a great sign of great food.

Hot Docs Review: Shiners [Stacey Tenenbaum, 2016]

Posted on by Paul in Hot Docs | Leave a comment


Shiners is an interesting look at a line of work that many of us rarely even think about – shoe shining. The film even makes this explicit with the first lines spoken from a man on the street being interviewed:”If I’m being honest, I’ve never thought about shoe shining.”

It’s true – I’d imagine most people, if they even notice shoe shiners, are apt to walk past and ignore them, but luckily, director Stacey Tenenbaum took the time to interview shiners from locations around the world and look into what drew them to the job.

The film profiles several people from various walks of life coming to the job for various reasons. There’s a Toronto based man who works out of a hipster-ish barber shop, drawn to the job while recovering from an accident, there’s Don in New York, who went through several careers before settling on shoe shining because he likes the freedom of it, and then there’s the San Francisco and Japan based shiners who see what they do as more of a niche, elite service. The most intriguing story, however, is that of the Bolivian workers who mostly have to wear masks to protect their identity due to the stigma surrounding the job there. Regardless of what brings them to it though, each and every one of these shiners takes a certain pride in the job, with some even seeing it as a calling.

Ultimately, Shiners is is a compelling look at an overlooked and somewhat out of the ordinary career.

Sun, Apr 30 1:00 PM @ Hart House Theatre
Thu, May 4 9:30 PM @ Hart House Theatre

Hot Docs Preview: Becoming Bond [Josh Greenbaum, 2017]

Posted on by Paul in Hot Docs | Leave a comment


Becoming Bond is a light hearted, entertaining film about the life of George Lazenby, the man who became known for famously taking on the role of James Bond for one film and one film only before giving it all up.

Told through a series of reenactments and narrated by Lazenby himself, it tells the tale of his early life, how he made his way up from car mechanic to salesman to male model and eventually, to somehow bluffing his way into replacing the departing Sean Connery in one of the most iconic film roles around.

While he spins a good tale, one gets the sense that Lazenby must be embellishing his story for effect to at least some extent. He’s got enough charm to pull it off though and the performance by Josh Lawson as Lazenby as well as cameos from Jeff Garlin, Jane Seymour, Jonathan Slavin, and Jake Johnson make for an entertaining watch.

Wed, May 3 @ 8:30 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Thu, May 4 @ 3:45 PM, Isabel Bader Theatre
Fri, May 5 @ 7:00 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1