Hot Docs

HotDocs review: Dr. Nakamats [2010, Kaspar Astrop Schroder]

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

Toronto – Being a celebrity can be hard. Being a self-promoting celebrity is even harder. The hardest thing is diamond.

I feel like I need a bit of absurdity to go with the film so I can swallow the protagonist’s claims. Yoshiro Nakamatsu says he holds 3,300+ Japanese patents, all of which he did out of love not money but none of which should be sold at half price. His other eccentricities include smelling cameras for their “goodness”, deriving creativity from diving and depriving himself of oxygen, sleeping 4 hours a night and only drinking for fluid the 55 element-enriched “brain drink” he invented, believing that he’ll live to 144 because it’s a multiple of 6, orchestrating his 3 children to give him a surprise present at 12am, AND keeping his mother’s body in a special contraption on the ceiling of his home so he can telepathically communicate to her for ideas. Ok, so maybe I don’t have to believe him. But when the 81 years old standing in front of you says that he teaches at the University of Tokyo, preaches a 3-step program of creativity with an accompanying 5-tier pagoda of success, you really wonder who’s trying to convince who. What I think we have is a very eccentric man whose ego is in need of 24-7 pampering, and have an endless stockpile of rehearsed lines for each situation. That, at least, is admirable.

Because Dr. Nakamats is so very out of the ordinary, the film didn’t use a whole lot of other visual elements save the sign-post font graphics. I don’t feel like that I have been informed a great lot, either – unless this is meant to be a mockery to the man – in which case it baffles the mind why Dr. Nakamats himself showed up at the screening. And I didn’t like it when the audience skips around this obvious contradiction but was confronted with cutesy one liner responses. Overall I was a little disappointed, not the least because Isabel Bader theater was uncharacteristically 30 minutes late.

HotDocs review: The Mirror [2010, David Christensen]

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

Toronto – “Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the ugliest of them all?” Of the seven deadly sins, only sloth, lust and gluttony need not apply to a small town mayor who wants to build a mirror to reflect sunshine into his town square. So I’d say this magic mirror has shown that he’s the ugliest of them all.

Not that the railwayman (train engineer) is a bad person. The events of this film just doens’t reflect very well on him (OK no more puns, I promise). The small town of Viganella doesn’t have much tourism, it is dwindling in size, and there isn’t much that stirs the residents. That may have been the original reason to mount such a publicity stunt. As Christensen noticed in the Q&A however, the valley tends to harbour mayors with vanity projects. What is one to do after coming up with an idea like this? Well, you get an architect, not an engineer. One that doesn’t understand the basic principles of Newtonian mechanics, nor commonsense, is preferable. Otherwise you won’t have a very engaging documentary. And you need someone to lay the ground works before marching in the mirror. What about some German Buddhists? Brilliant. They endure hardships and require no more than prayer and mental peace. And for publicity? How about everyone? Let’s gather delegates from Spain, Mexico, Japan, local and international (Al Jazzeera, would you believe it?) reporters. We’ll mobilize the entire town to put on a parade 5 minutes before the Sunday mass finishes.

The scene at the valley really isn’t as bizarre as I have described. In fact, the film highlights the cooperation between valley neighbours Viganella, Bordo (the Tibetan Buddhist settlement), and Cheggio (an abandoned ghost town with few residents). The project, and not its culmination in a press frenzy, actually rallied the residents. Even though each has their own opinion on the mirror, a better sense of community is established as a result of the exercise. The Mirror is an evenhanded portrait of the valley, and quietly contemplative at times. Christensen did put a bit more social emphasis on the clash between Germans and Italians. But I think that’s a fair decision given that the tension was inherent, and not in the presentation style of the film. As to the mirror itself, it broke once during mounting, 2nd time at the inauguration, and became something of a non-issue after the fanfare. It wasn’t an architectural wonder anyways – just a very mundane flat steel construction that resembles a reflective billboard. It was quite surprising, though, that all of the soundtrack in the film was from residents of the valley. Accordion, electric and acoustic guitars, indian and steel drums. They and Susan Boyle remind you the talents that are hiding out there waiting for an opportunity. The mayor’s next project is: “building a cafe beneath the mirror”. Sounds like more self-serving public service. The mirror costed EU$100,000, or $500 for each of the 200 residents. Expect more outlandish spending. I wonder what the construction crew will forget to account this time; maybe how many cows they will need to fly-in to make whipped cream.

Hot Docs: The Rainbow Warriors of Waiheke Island [2010, Suzanne Raes]

Posted on by Ricky in Hot Docs | Leave a comment

Toronto – When I first received the screener for this dvd, I thought I was going to watch some documentary about some sort of Maori warriors or something, instead I got a screener about retired hippies who worked for Greenpeace when it first started getting popular in the 80s. The Rainbow Warriors of Waiheke Island takes a look at the original crew of the ship the Rainbow Warrior a trawler purchased by Greenpeace and launched as a protest ship against nuclear testing and whaling among other things. The crew as you would expect, is a bunch of rag tag hippies looking to do something about the planet. This documentary interviews a fair amount of the crew, who seem to have all retired to the same island in New Zealand, where they still live in the peaceful community based lifestyle.

Watching this documentary, I was constantly reminded of this Peep Show scene. Other then that, I can’t say this documentary did much for me, it was interesting to see how the downfall of the Rainbow Warrior inadvertently led to the rise of Greenpeace to the levels its at now. Some of the footage of them on the Rainbow Warrior was somewhat interesting, but all in all, to me, this documentary lacked some kind of fire that you like to see in documentaries. The crew all seemed to have moved on from their days so while they fondly remember their times there, you get a sense of detachment from those days as well.

So watch this documentary if you want to see how Greenpeace become the powerful company it is today, and don’t expect some Maori Warriors to show up, just because the title has ‘warriors’ and is associated with New Zealand.

The Rainbow Warriors of Waiheke Island plays at 1:30 pm TODAY, at the Rom Theatre

HotDocs review: His & Hers [2010, Ken Wardrop]

Posted on by Gary in Everything, Hot Docs, Reviews | 3 Comments

Toronto – From the killing to the loving fields, I guess the switch is very distinct. I believe I saw the best Mother’s Day gift this year – but alas this idea will be unoriginal the moment I put up this article, and rendered impossible since I found out from Ken after the Q&A that it’s not in DVD form (at least not for consumers). Sigh. The shopping will have to continue.

His & Hers is a “vignette of 70 women spanning 90 years as it relates to their male counterparts”. That’s the official composition, at least. I think it is a very neat route of developing a character (his mom) who had, at one point in her life, possessed the same states of mind of each of these women and they, in turn, hers. From baby girls to advanced grandmothers, this is almost a celebration of the collective pains and joys of Irish women in the Midlands, where Wardrop drew a 15 or so mile radius and found his cast. The audience (full house at Cumberland 3) moved up and down with predictable empathy as Wardrop shows us the intimately funny and the depressingly inevitable. This is yet another film that should not be described. Due to the 16mm film choice, the filmmakers really had to stick with stationary shots and just a few minutes with each women (apparently film stock is rare). But the choice of angles were quite interesting. I can definitely appreciate how they selected the shots – you could freeze-frame and probably pick out still photos that are worth exhibiting. True, they’re not portrait shots, but they tell the story AND backdrop at the same time, which is important when your director comes from a short-film CV and intended this one to be a collection of shorts.

I don’t believe Wardrop set out to advance our knowledge about the entirety of the female experience. It’s a simple film about simple experiences. If that’s a sin, well, then one’s experiences must be too complex for the average 90 years old. There are reviews like this which marked it as terrible. Read it if you want to get another perspective; it’s quite funny as well. Take your mom to see it and I guarantee she’ll love it, if she can get through the accent.