Hot Docs

Hot Docs Review: The Crossing [2015, George Kurian]

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The Crossing

The Crossing will open your eyes towards refugees.

We have already seen the narrative as provided by the news outlets – thousands of Syrian refugees pouring into trains and boats to escape civil conflict at home and landing all over the world. We have all seen the shots of random sponsors greeting the refugees at airports and the corresponding joy on the refugees faces. For us, that’s where the story ends.

The Crossing tells the story from the refugee’s perspective. Alternating between a series of home videos and post crossing interviews, the documentary follows a group of Syrian refugees dangerously escaping across the Mediterranean from Egypt to Italy and the immense struggles that happens after.

Spending an hour on film with six refugees, you quickly realize many things. These are people who didn’t want to leave their homeland – they had no choice. Among the group is a journalist, a pharmacist, a student, IT guy and a musician. All of them left careers, friends and family behind in search of a safer life abroad. We as viewers all knew the circumstances but witnessing it first hand lends the story much gravitas.

Surprisingly, a lot of the documentary focuses on the aftermath of the crossing where our group of people face confusion and isolation as they are shuffled around countries and refugee camps in search of a home. It is only the then you realize that their journey is far from over. An eye opening work that’ll make you glad to live in Canada.

For ticket and screening information, click here

Hot Doc Review: The Islands and the Whales [2016, Mike Day]

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Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 10.53.42 PM

A breathtaking documentary that poses many questions, The Islands and the Whales is a gorgeously shot film that explores the relationship between the people of the Faroe Islands and the nature that surrounds them.

You see, the citizens of the Faroe Islands are hunter gatherers in the truest sense. Punished by their location (between Norway and Iceland), these people have chosen to hunt the animals around them including puffins, guillemots and controversially, pilot whales. With the seas being increasingly polluted, the citizens of Faroe Islands are faced with a stark reality – their diet of marine animals may no longer be healthy for them due to toxins in the animals.

The resulting films deals with that and other issues faced by the citizens, who are also fighting to preserve their culture. The documentary deftly swims around multiple themes, including

– man’s relationship with nature and the balance of life
– cultural preservation in the ever changing landscape of human life
– hunter gatherer lifestyle in the face of globalization

There are some some astounding footage in this documentary and some may not be for the squeamish, but the film will also make you want to visit the island’s rugged landscape.

Highly recommended

For screening information and ticket information, go to the Hot Docs link here

Film Review: The Winding Stream (2014, Beth Harrington)

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

The Winding Stream is a charming and informative look into the lives and careers of The Carter Family, from their humble origins to the great influence that they continue to have in the world of folk and country music. Their influence is made clear from the number of musicians interviewed for this doc, with the likes of Joe Ely, Jim Lauderdale, Murray Hammond, Mike Seeger, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Jeff Hanna of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band all offering up some words on the band’s history and significance. As Ely puts it, “People should know who they are just like they should know who the first president of the United States is.”

While the full title of the film is The Winding Stream: The Carters, The Cashes and the Course of Country Music, the film focuses mostly on the Carters. Not that the Cash family doesn’t play an important part – Roseanne and John Carter Cash as well as Johnny himself are featured in interviews throughout and one of the more memorable moments was watching Johnny speak sweetly about the first time he met and fell for June Carter – but this is largely the Carter Family’s story. And it is quite the story. Through interviews and some archival footage, their story unfolds – their first recording sessions, their rise to fame, and the effect it had on their lives (A.P. and Sara Carter eventually divorced). The film also touches on A.P. Carter’s savvy and somewhat opportunistic idea to travel around collecting old songs, which he would then pass off as his own for the sake of collecting royalties. Looking back at it now, it seems a little shady, though as Roseanne Cash points out, these songs would have faded into obscurity had he not done so.

The Winding Stream is a compelling look at one of the most important, influential groups in the history of country music and well worth watching for both the novice and the hardcore Carter Family fans.

The Winding Stream will be showing at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema until April 14.

Hot Docs Review: City of Gold (2016, Laura Gabbert)

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City of Gold is a charming love letter to both the city of Los Angeles as well as Jonathan Gold, one of the most accomplished writers in the world of culinary writing. Known for weaving cultural stories around his food reviews, the documentary shows how Jonathan Gold’s writing has not only transformed food writing but also in many ways, the city of Los Angeles and it’s citizens. Watching the documentary, you realize that the democratic sense that Gold has in reviewing restaurants (treating food trucks with the same respect as high price restaurants) opened up the large and complicated city of Los Angeles to experience foods of all sorts. It’s hard to imagine a time when people didn’t go out of their way to eat some random taco at a dive bar, but that was pretty much the norm before this past decade. It would seem that Gold’s reviews had a huge influence on this movement.

As with any biographical documentary, the doc is only as interesting or charming as it’s protagonist and Jonathan Gold seems like a completely nice guy with an interesting and varied past (he also wrote about music for Rolling Stone before). In fact, the absence of any real conflict in his life actually provides a stark contrast to most documentaries. I’m not saying the film is lacking in drama, but with most doc’s, I kind of expect some sort of “AND THAT’S WHEN THE DRUG ADDICTION KICKED IN” part that never came.

The film features glorious shots of not only Los Angeles, but also, a lot of very tasty food being cooked. Be forewarned, that butter drenched popcorn you are holding while watching this will feel vastly inferior to what’s on the screen.

Overall, an enjoyable documentary that will make you rather hungry at the end.