Hot Docs

Hot Docs Review: The Unbelievers [2013, Gus Holwerda]

Posted on by Paul in Hot Docs | 1 Comment


In an introduction to his film at the premiere screening, director Gus Holwerda mentioned that in making this film, he was hoping to create a rock doc about science and that’s a fairly accurate description of what this documentary is all about.  Much like your standard film made about a touring band, The Unbelievers follows around scientists Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss on a speaking tour of sorts as the two make appearances at various talks, debates, and media appearances.

While the two subjects of this documentary do come across as charming enough, I also found that they could come across as a bit smug.  I understand their position as many of their religious opponents do come off as anti-intellectual, but the film does tend to come across as an attack on religion, which I found to be a bit much at times. While not religious myself, I do feel that if someone gets something out of religion that improves their life or makes them a better person, then more power to them, as long as it doesn’t affect policy or education or impact on the lives of those who don’t believe.  I think my view on religion is best stated by the character of Jeff Winger on the TV series Community: “To me, religion is like Paul Rudd. I see the appeal and I would never take it away from anyone, but I would also never stand in line for it.”  That said, in many cases, people do use their religious beliefs to try and get things like “intelligent design” taught in the schools, which does seem like a barrier to progress in many ways.

Krauss and Dawkins speak of the idea of ridiculing that which doesn’t make sense as a tactic to argue for scientific ideas. The idea does seem a bit mean spirited, but when they point out some of the more outlandish, unbelievable elements of religious dogma, concepts like evolution and the big bang certainly sound a lot more rational.

In a discussion after the film, they elaborated on some of the concepts discussed in the film, with Krauss making the point that  “the great thing about our beliefs is that they are shakable.”  In the end, while their notions of eradicating religion altogether may be a bit unattainable and while most of those who will see The Unbelievers will have already made up their mind on the subject one way or the other, perhaps this is the message that people should take away from the film – that it’s a good idea to challenge your beliefs.


Hot Docs Review: Buying Sex [2013, Kent Nason & Teresa MacInnes]

Posted on by Ricky in Hot Docs | Leave a comment


Read this first bit with the Salt-n-pepa song in mind

lets talk about buying sex baby
it’s the subject of this document-tary
it talks about all the good things
and the bad things
about buying sex
lets talk about sex….

Anyways as you might imagine, Buying Sex is about the hot stove topic of legalizing prostitution. Kent Nason & Teresa MacInnes foray into the world of politics behind legalizing prostitution takes therm to a variety of places including New Zealand and Sweden, all of whom have taken different approaches to prostitution with varying results.

Even with the exotic locales, the bulk of the film takes place in Canada, focusing on the infamous Bedford vs Canada case of 2010. We get to see opinions on prostitution from both sides of the spectrum – on one side, there is a group of sex workers who are for the decriminalization of prostitution, and along with their lawyer, are clearly in the camp that wants to profit from the sex trade. The other side focuses on two former sex trade workers who are completely for abolishing prostitution entirely. It is pretty clear from the onset that one group entered the sex trade willingly while the other went as a last resort. Following a similar pattern, New Zealand and Sweden are used as counterpoints to the whole issue, with one country decriminalizing prostitution entirely awhile the other does the opposite. The results are mixed for both countries.

The directors did a good job of setting up the issue and balancing the documentary between the two sides. The talking heads in the movies goes beyond former sex-trade workers, and extends out to johns, professors and policy makers which gives the film a nice variety of opinions. A film that challenges you to make your own opinion on a rather controversial issue, which is a nice change from some other documentaries where opinions are already enforced on you by the directors.

Hot Docs Review: 12 O’clock Boys [Lotfy Nathan, 2013]

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


Baltimore – Every sunny Sunday since I moved down, the rumbling sound of engines invariably invades Orlean Street some time in the afternoon. At first it would be a few lone engine bursts, sounding like the cries of old men being ferried across pothole-filled roads at breakneck speed. But soon it crescendos into a background so loud, that you feel like your landlord just took the rent from the whole National Zoo. And when it all trails off with that unmistakably tragic Dopler shift, I’m left confused about what it was all about. In this documentary, I got a glimpse to that answer, if nothing at least a name for this bunch.

12 O’clock Boys follows Pug, a dimunitive but spirited teenager in West (later East) Baltimore, determined to become one of the boyz. The name is a visual reference to a person’s skills with wheelie on a dirt bike – if you’re pointing at 12 O’clock (straight-up), you’re a made man. Well, not in the mafia sense. The boyz is a loosely associated group with no agenda except to ride across town, displaying their skills. It’s a hobby that is, deep down, as harmless as, say, a local Shelby/Porsche/Bentley motor club or hot rod or chopper riders, cruising down the main drag of town. The distinctively Baltimorean group was started by two dirt bike riders, and have grown since to a legion of perhaps 100 riders. As with any large group of people in a public space, then, they inevitably come into contact with the police. And you can easily imagine the public opinion regarding teenagers on bikes trying to motorcross on the road as well as sidewalks at 30 mph. Amidst all this, Pug is nevertheless willing to take time and money (just like a motor club, you need to buy entry fee), over the span of 3 years and through many hardships, to get to 12 O’clock.

Nathans did a great job with the subject matter, in my opinion. Through a character portrait of Pug, the entire debate seems so much more innocent than a simple collection of all those involved. Through slow-motion, the bike-riding is romanticized at a level comparable to a hallowed outdoors activity, like snowboarders/surfers carving their way by the camera with their fingertips. Such is the magic of the narrative that even theft will become (and trust me, you will agree) worth celebrating. And through Pug, the audience is offered a background refresher on the living conditions of Baltimorean urban youth – which inevitably leads one to sympathize with the 12 O’clock Boyz. Unlike documentaries such as the Interrupters, which deals with counseling and intervention for gangsters already too far into the game, Nathans take the audience from the beginning and not the aftermath of a troubled childhood. You understand very quickly why many become angry and disconnected with our society, especially when the public and law enforcement cracks down on one of the few activities available to them. Well, at least I understand in an emotional sense. Be prepared for the surprisingly fluent yet mangled English that is projected from the streets of East Baltimore. I am still at a loss about what came out of that woman while she was in a rage in the street with a baseball bat. Nathans did not tint this film with any colors – and he doesn’t need to. As you watch the confrontations between police and the bikers occurring in broad-daylight, in the middle of the streets, you feel that you’re revisiting some class materials for civil disobedience. It really makes you rethink if the crackdown should be replaced with more positive measures. Perhaps law enforcement and the bikers should come to a truce and set aside time/place for these activities? But maybe that WAS the point, the thrill, that these youths seek. I highly recommend seeing this film, if nothing, as an introduction to how much life can suck but you can still enjoy living it. Do you remember when you rode your bike/magic-carpet down the pavement/snow so fast that you went into the traffic? I do. On several occasions, too. Who am I to judge then, if dirt-biking remains as innocent as it was portrayed in this film – just a past-time until you grow up?

Hot Docs Review: Oil Sands Karaoke [2013, Charles Wilkinson]

Posted on by Paul in Hot Docs | Leave a comment

At one point in Oil Sands Karaoke, one of the subjects speaks of the unifying nature of karaoke, how he would see people coming together at the bar who otherwise wouldn’t have anything to do with one another. In a sense, this is probably the key message behind this film, a portrait of Fort McMurray, home of the oil sands, and the residents who take great pleasure in the simple joy of singing and the escape that it offers.

While the oil sands are undoubtedly a controversial issue, the film doesn’t really dwell on the issue other than to basically say that there are no easy answers and that while it has it’s drawbacks, it’s also an industry that the community relies upon.  Where the film really comes alive is in the scenes at the karaoke bar, the heart of the town in many ways.  Many but not all of the participants are involved in the oil sands and it really does seem to be a release for them.  All have a back story as to what brought them to this point, one of the more interesting being Massey Whiteknife, who performs karaoke in drag as his alter ego Iceis.  I imagine that this was not a commonly seen sight in Fort McMurray before Iceis came along.

While the film was entertaining enough and an interesting portrait of the town and it’s people, I kind of feel like it was trying to be two things at once, which doesn’t entirely work.  The issue of the oil sands isn’t really dealt with in any deep or meaningful way and so when a bunch of statistics scroll across the screen at the end related to the oil sands, it just seems kind of disconnected from the more personal focus of the majority of the film.  And while the film probably wasn’t meant to offer up any deeper analysis or solutions to the problem, the times when it is discussed, it almost feels shoehorned in.  Still, if you’re a fan of karaoke, you’ll probably find something to relate to here.

Sat, May 4 @ Scotiabank Theatre