Hot Docs

Hot Docs Review: Taming the Garden (Salomé Jashi, 2021)

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In a nutshell, Taming the Garden shows you long, slumbering shots and vignettes where you can observe deeply, which troubled/bored my fellow PM reviewer Ricky and in turn enriched my experiences with the film immensely. Each of these moving slide shows depicts the removal of a large tree from an unnamed Georgian countryside. Out of the backyards of farmers, playgrounds of generations of villagers, and the hedgerows of old ladies. With the help of enormous machinery. Simply gargantuan, lumbering pieces of lumber walk upright out of the woods where they have lived for hundreds of years to little music and a certain lack of pomp and circumstance.

The cinematography was consistently great and meaningful when each tree was moved. In the dark, some writhed as if Ents spurred on by the Orcs to their last-stand in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. In the daylight, throngs of onlookers mourned their loss while workers relentlessly drove piles that were comically detrimental to the trees they were supposed to protect. The great size of these trees both signaled their demise and also meant that they had to be trimmed to fit through the temporary roads built to access them. Through gaps between a forest, through the middle of a village. It was like drilling an access into someone’s chest from the skull down to remove a beating heart, only to find that the heart won’t fit through unless it is first dried and pickled.

As I watched, quite a few moments earned a Monty Python parallel. The larch. The diver walking out of the mud flats. The bickering of neighbors about absolutely nothing yet everything. Like a lot of objects, thoughts, and tomes out of Eastern Europe, this initially seemed absurdist for both the viewer and the people in the film. But it does not contain an ounce of irony. Rather, it is more pervaded by a resignation borne of impotence. The villagers and the workmen know well what they are losing and inflicting but cannot do much about it, except to sit around the fire, speaking of the beauty of trees as if chatting about the opposite sex. The repeating lack of progression – plucking of tree after tree after tree – perfectly suits the behavior on display.

Yet in all honesty, this was likely how presently well-respected gardens and exotic menageries like Versailles were built back in the 17th century: the reduction of Nature into the simplistic and gaudy forms that the human mind can comprehend and pretend to lord over. The film delivers all of its venom and sarcasm in one concentrated dose at closing, with a musical number that nicely summarizes the exercise as a theatrical farce. If you prefer your activism in a spectating flavour, this one is highly recommended.

Hot Docs Review: Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliche (Paul Sng, Celeste Bell, 2021)

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Far from being your typical rock doc, Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché takes the viewer on a much deeper and more personal journey than is often standard for this type of film. This personal touch comes courtesy of co-director Celeste Bell, who just so happens to be the daughter of Poly Styrene herself. As such, this is as much Bell’s story as it is her mother’s, with many of the film’s memorable moments coming through in Bell’s reflections upon Poly Styrene’s life and her legacy as both a performer and a mother.

And what a legacy – if Poly Styrene (born Marion Joan Elliott-Said) were only known for her part in creating X-Ray Spex’s punk classic “Oh Bondage Up Yours!”, her place in music history would be guaranteed. But as the film demonstrates, there was so much more to her than that. As Bell puts it early on in the film, “I think my mum got to the point where she said ‘I’m gonna carve out my own place in the world.’ And you know what? She did.”

Indeed she did.

Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché is screening now as part of Hot Docs.

Hot Docs Review: La Madrina: The Savage Life of Lorine Padilla (Raquel Cepeda, 2020)

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From the outset of La Madrina: The Savage Life of Lorine Padrilla, it seems that the focus of the film might be on the violence and hardships experienced by Padrina during her time as a member of The Savage Skulls gang during the 1970s. Hearing Padrina state bluntly that “I was born with gangsterism is my blood” early on in the film certainly seems to suggest this, though the film doesn’t take too long to head off into a different direction and reveal that it’s about much more than that. As the story develops, we see her journey as she moves from the path of gangsterism towards a life dedicated to activism, finally ending up in her current position as a respected matriarch within her community.

La Madrina presents a deep and surprisingly moving examination of a fascinating life. In telling Lorine Padilla’s story, director Raquel Cepeda is ultimately telling a story on the importance of community and family and the good that can be done by just one person, regardless of where they may have started out.

La Madrina is currently streaming as part of Hot Docs.

Hot Docs Review: Come Back Anytime (John Daschbach, 2021)

Posted on by Ricky in Hot Docs | 1 Comment


I deliberately picked Come Back Anytime as my first Hot Docs experience this year because in a time of chaos, what I needed most was something warm, inviting and a reminder of good in the world. These are words which describe this documentary well, but which can also be used to describe the primary focus of the documentary – ramen. See what I did there?

Come Back Anytime is a documentary about Masamoto Ueda, a self taught Ramen Master who owns a ramen shop in Tokyo. Now you might be thinking – well, there’s probably 5000 of those in Tokyo. While that is true, this little restaurant goes beyond your normal food porn doc. The documentary explores food as a place of community, a place where individual, sometimes lost souls can find a place of being – certainly a challenge in a place as sprawling, daunting and busy as Tokyo. It looks into how a restaurant of any sort can move beyond a mere transaction and the how it can eventually change the people’s lives around it.

Also – there’s a lot of delicious looking shots of ramen. Makes you hungry and also feel all warm inside.

Hot Docs Link