The Boxing Girls of Kabul follows the lives of a group of young Afghani women who break from the mold by joining a female boxing club. It’s a heart-wrenching dive into a world that feels very foreign to westerners who wouldn’t bat an eye at girls participating in sports. That this is actually a contentious issue in Afghanistan that results in persecution and even death threats underlines substantive cultural differences. We follow not only these young boxers, but their respective families, some of whom are supportive, and many who are decidedly not.
Without proper facilities or even a boxing ring, these women gather regularly to train and then compete against other nations. I don’t know if enjoy is the right word, but I really did appreciate the insight into the rigid social structure they were born into, as well as the uplifting persistence of these athletes challenging their status quo. My only complaint was one particularly jarring sequence during the competition coverage where we went from following one boxer struggling with her loss to another who all of a sudden found herself in a championship match. It was a real WTF moment where it felt like the camera men had lost a day of footage. Either way, this is a fascinating insight and stark reminder of how women’s rights are at different ages and different stages the world over.
The Boxing Girls of Kabul screens on April 30, May 1, and May 6. Details here.
The following review is written by our friend and fellow documentary lover Joe from Mechanical Forest Sound, check out his blog for Hot Doc reviews, exceptional live recording and probably a helluva lot more thought out writings
An historical document with a strong and living pulse, Hegge’s film tells the story of Toronto’s Fifth Column, who were most active in the decade spanning 1985-1995. The doc tells the story of core members G.B. Jones, Caroline Azar and Beverly Breckenridge alongside the others who came and went during the group’s lifespan, mixing contemporary interviews with copious period footage. Luckily, the band were also film buffs, linked in with the underground movie scene of the time — so there’s a lot of awesome-looking Super-8 material, both from the band as well as film-maker friends, to put on the screen.
A vital link between Toronto musical eras that we might roughly label as Treat Me Like Dirt and Wavelength, Fifth Column took the punk/DIY ethos, but not the sound, inventing their own brand of psychedelic noise. Although standing alone musically (the early material here sounds excellently otherworldly), their uncompromising existence as strong woman musicians was an inspiration to the Riot Grrrl movement (Kathleen Hanna is interviewed, acting as an articulate advocate of their influence on her own work in Bikini Kill) as well as the foundation of queercore. Regarding the latter, the film also explores the overlapping world of zines and their importance in disseminating non-mainstream music in a pre-internet world. Film-maker Bruce La Bruce, who started as the band’s go-go dancer, is interviewed in bringing those elements into focus.
It’s also, of course, the story of strong personalities wresting art out of their many clashes — and those clashes stood at the nexus of a lot of things that read like a list of the best of Toronto’s music culture today — from Will Munro’s gay-straight alliances to the electro-queer sounds of Peaches and Kids on TV, to say nothing of the legion of strong, independent-minded women making music in this city today. Though hardly a household name, considering Fifth Column’s legacy gives hope that this doc will fix them more firmly as groundbreakers. It deserves to be seen; their music deserves to be heard.
Screens with: The Man That Got Away (Dir: Trevor Anderson, 25 minutes, Canada), which asks, in its formal construction, “what makes a documentary?” Telling the life story of director Anderson’s “black-sheep” uncle, this short takes the rather unique approach of rewriting his life as a musical. It’s befitting to the subject, who ran away to join a male chorus on Broadway, and gives the film a fresh and ebullient vibe. A musical is only as good as its music, and the six original songs by Bryce Kulak, who also stars, generally carry the task. (The songs are streaming online at CBC3.) The film also makes excellent use of it’s location, a concentric parking ramp that follows Uncle Jimmy’s sad, spiralling descent. Also: Judy Garland!
Waiting Room is an exhilarating look into what goes on during a typical day in a public hospital in the United States. For the purposes of this documentary, the film takes place at the Highland Hospital in East Oakland, California but the faceless facade of the hospital and the anonymous nature of the people that work there do well to indicate this could be anywhere, USA.
The cameras are everywhere and as viewers, we get put right into the thick of things. We’ll see what the patients, administrators, nurses and doctors all see over the course of the day. The patients are poor, sick and desperate. Almost every patient in this film is skirting the poverty line and as such can only afford the most basic of healthcare. The administrative team are overwhelmed and stressed out, having to manage an increasingly large list of patients while dealing with increasingly agitated people in the waiting room. Equally frustrated are the doctors who not only have to deal with a large and volatile group of people but also the helplessness that arrives from repeat drug addled offenders who take up valuable space inside the hospital. Simply put, the staff is undermanned. The system does not work.
The film moves along at a rapid pace and does a good job jumping between the characters we will meet. You’ll want to get more background on some of the main characters, but there’s no time for that in this documentary. With this 81 minute documentary, director Pete Nicks easily demonstrates some of the major problems that exist within the US healthcare system as it exists today.
The Waiting Room is a great example of a documentary that takes a snapshot of the moment. It doesn’t spell out any solutions to the problems you see – rather, it opts to just lay it all out on the table for you look at, think about and discuss among your fellow film goers and friends. It’s a film about people, and ultimately, for the United States to be willing to reform it’s ways, it’ll be the people who’ll have to rise up and make some noise. Having discussions is a good starting point.
A very good documentary. Highly recommended.
Fri, May 4 7:15 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Sat, May 5 6:30 PM, Isabel Bader Theatre
Sun, May 6 9:15 PM, The Royal Cinema
This much is clear (or should be), but how did this happen? when did it start? and more importantly, who is responsible for the monopolization of media today? These are the questions that Jean-Philippe Tremblay answers in his greatly detailed talking heads documentary Shadows of Liberty. This high end production features an impressive cast of people including Julian Assange, Dan Rather, Amy Goodman and the one and only Danny Glover. They all regale you with information and stories that you may or may not already know, all leading to the undeniable fact – mainstream media in the United States is largely run by conglomerate whose main interest is not providing real news, but to make a profit. The fact that these conglomerates are funded by government contracts has led to the censorship of mainstream news.
Jean-Philippe Tremblay’s film is an exhaustive study into this subject and topics such as the Nike sweatshop scandal, TWA airline crash and the Iraq war are discussed thoroughly. The film is extremely well made (great soundtrack), with seemingly unlimited resources to archival footage and impressive personalities. While the film seems a bit one sided in nature (no one defended the conglomerates in this film), it does serve as a great introduction to those who are unaware of topics of media, news and government censorship.
Now comes the real problem. Shadows of Liberty will be definitely be a hot movie among the audiences at any documentary film festivals. However, this is the type of audience who already knows about most of the cases and information presented in the film. The real challenge would be to have this film air on a national broadcast somewhere, which as we all know, will require a bit of work. So watch this movie, and then tell a friend about it.
Sun, Apr 29 4:00 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3