Hot Docs

HotDocs review: Enemies of the People [2010, Thet Sambath / Rob Lemkin]

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

Toronto – “How many holes of Hell will I be in? I will never see the sun as a human being again. I am desolate.” The person who said this believes in reincarnation. I have heard very few people who honestly detest themselves to that degree. Enemies of the People showed us several. 30 years ago on the Killing Fields of Cambodia, indirectly or directly, with and without comrades, they murdered millions. Apocalypse Now was horrendous, but Marlin Brando and Martin Sheen was just passing through…

“… a ditch there, by the banyan tree. One in that rice field. Two more that side… we didn’t want to put too many in each…”
“I was the first to come back… the decomposing bodies made the rainwater boil…”
“I got used to it, and I used to always carry human gall bladder for drinking… now I am disgusted.”
“I bathe in the pond, but I know there are bodies in there so I don’t drink…”
“… I choose the nation. Individuals I can cast aside… these people need to be solved (sic).”

People still have to live on that land. They don’t have the option of leaving; but they do have the need to find out who did and ordered the killings. So Thet Sambath did. His family was destroyed during the purge. Father killed by cadres, mother died during child birth after a forced marriage, brother mistaken for elements of another faction within the regime. He poured a decade into getting close to and wrangling confessions out of the commanders (he spent years getting close to Brother number 2, the second in command in the Khmer Rouge regime, above) who did the deed. I really don’t have too much to write about this film in the same way that I can’t have much to write about going to heaven/hell. There’s really no other way to present this type of material. It is heavy but also nuanced. And when I came away from the film, knowing that Sambath got some type of reconciliation, while the leaders and commanders faces War Crime trials and self-loathing, there is no vindication, just an overwhelming sense of dread. Whether anyone told the whole-truth, whether you or anyone detected a hint of remorse/deceit, or if the film will be used in the tribunal, is no longer important. I guess I’m just disappointed by history. Don’t say I didn’t warn you: this is not a bad documentary, but you’re unlikely to be glad that you watched it.

Hot Docs Review: Joan Rivers, A Piece of Work [2010, Ricki Stern, Annie Sundberg]

Posted on by Ricky in Hot Docs | 5 Comments

Toronto – When you mention Joan Rivers these days, all you really think of is the plastic surgery and all the red carpet hi-jinx she gets into at award shows for the E! Network, where she probably comes off as half-wacko, half-bitter brash comedienne. Many people have forgotten/do not know about her trailblazing ways as a brash female comedy in the 60s and 70s and this documentary, directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, looks past all the recent history and reveals to us the real person behind Joan Rivers – a tireless workaholic always looking to prove herself to her detractors.

I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary – it was hilarious and really did go behind the scenes of what it is like to be a (fading) celebrity. Joan Rivers is funny and well aware of what it’s like to be in the “industry”. You really get an appreciation for how hard she works, although you do feel a hint of sadness at the fact that at 75 years old, she is still trying to prove herself and get into the spotlight. My only qualm with the film is that it doesn’t really address why she decided to do all that plastic surgery. There was a few minutes on it and that’s about it.

You should probably see this if you are a fan of pop culture or are looking for a good funny documentary.

Joan Rivers, A Piece of Work plays again MONDAY, May 3rd at 4:00 at Isabel Bader Theatre.

Hot Docs Review: The Parking Lot Movie [2010, Meghan Eckman]

Posted on by Ricky in Hot Docs | 1 Comment

Toronto – Documentaries that are light and funny are quite rare these days, since it’s definitely more meaty as a filmmaker to focus on some unknown social issue taking place in some unknown city in some random third world country. This is why the Parking Lot Movie was so appealing when I saw it on the schedule. The documentary takes a look at the lives of current and former parking attendants who work at the corner parking lot in Charlottesville, Virginia (home of University of Virginia). This parking lot is special because owner Chris Farina does not use a automated system and instead employs a steady cast of misfits and miscasts, most of whom are too overeducated and overqualified to be working at a parking lot (including Yo La Tengo bassist James McNew).

The documentary mostly consists of testimonials of all the attendants coupled with footage of day to day interactions with clients, most of whom look down upon the attendants. Meghan Eckman did a great job with finding quality comments from the attendants and the attendants were all very well spoken and quite humorous.

Definitely recommended if you are looking at having a good time.

Parking Lot Movie plays on the Cumberland Parking lot Rooftop on Thursday, May 6 at 8:00 pm

HotDocs review: Made in India [2010, Rebecca Haimowitz / Vaishali Sinha]

Posted on by Gary in Everything, Hot Docs, Reviews | 2 Comments

Toronto – “We’ve been trying for 7 years. I’m 40 years old. And all I’ve ever wanted is to have a child of our own.” To paraphrase Lisa Switzer, the protagonist of Made in India, is to sink into that same futility that she feels. I suppose I’ll never know how much that urge to express one’s maternal instinct can drive one to attempt far-flung solution, but then again it’s really no different from any other human endeavours – when all else seems to fail, we WILL try what option is left to us.

As we are told in a short introduction just before the film, Made in India wast the fruit of labour spanning 3 years, between Rebecca Haimowitz, who is expecting, Vaishali Sinha, and their team. Through the Switzers, they present a first-hand account of Westerners’ foray into the booming reproductive/procreative tourism scene. I’ve honestly never heard of such word combination, but it is a fitting description. More and more, desperate perspective parents turn to help in countries such as Lithuania, Ukraine, Thailand, and India, where “wombs are available for hire” at a modest cost relative to their home country. I use the quotes completely without derogatory intentions – that is surrogacy. The fact that we can use plain, non-euphemistic language does not mean that one should wade boldly into these ethically murky waters. In this case, the Switzers acquired the help of Planet Hospital, who arranged the doctors and fertility clinicians in Mumbai that will extract, inseminate, and implant their children into a local surrogate mother. Proceeding from that irretrievable junction, we follow the pair and the surrogate through pregnancy scares, legal contests, social stigma, and much unspoken undercurrents, to the return of two baby girls to San Antonio, TX.

I liked the directness of the narrative. The flimmakers interviewed all of the usual suspects, and pointed out several inadequacies that require delicate handling. For a film that deals with difficulties in making babies, it is surprisingly evenhanded. Lisa and Brian was not particularly emotional, surrogate mother Aasia did not burst into fury when she found out that she wasn’t going to get paid sufficiently. I think members of the audience was more emotional than all involved – maybe the camera was a calming factor. The issue of regulating this “trade” and the women rights involved was brought forward by several spokeswomen, while the Indian government insisted on providing guidelines not laws. I think many countries are waiting for legal precedence, but no one wants to go first. The ramshackle hence dishonest nature of the current system is in plain view. Aasia was held in the hospital for nearly two weeks and managers asked for her fees to be paid by the genetic parents, all the while restricting or denying anyone’s access to the babies. That was effectively ransom. Only the involvement of the US consulate facilitated the release of these children – imagine if the Switzers were citizens of a country of little international presence. The filmmakers may have won the lottery the day they teamed up with the Switzers, but I doubt that these troubles are rare occurrences like the agencies/clinics suggest. Arguments about how much the surrogates should be paid will no doubt surface in other reviews/commentaries and I won’t do a detail accounting of how much percentage the agencies/clinics took (> 50%), but the film was not as thought provoking as it could be. There’s no attempt to discover the US legal system’s response to this new trend. There is only a muted expose of the schemes ran by the fertility clinics and their overseas partners. And, where are the gloves? Everyone in the fertility clinic was around the biosafety hood with hairnet and mask sans gloves! Does no one care for the genetic/surrogate mothers’ safety? Where are the consumer rights groups that mandated themselves to protect people from enterprising salesmen in these “international health care agencies”? There are some missing pieces that could have made the documentary a more valuable project. The one thing that stood out for me was how dominant the Hindi-turned-Islamic surrogate was, in deciding to take on such a project. There are undergraduates in universities here with less tact/guile than her, and I would not easily associate her with the slums of Mumbai. Perhaps its for the best that the filmmakers did not interview any neighbours, leaving Aasia in peace to raise her own children as best she can – which is really what both families involved in the film ever wanted for themselves.

Made in India will be screened twice more in the festival:

May 2 (Sunday) @ 6:45pm, Cumberland 2
May 9 (Sunday) @ 8:00pm, Innis Town Hall