Hot Docs

Ricky’s Hot Docs Preview Extravaganza

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It’s the end of April.

You know what that means.

It’s Hot Docs time!

Easily my favorite film festival of the year, Hot Docs once again brings an unmatched selection of documentaries from near and far, featuring some of the best that documentaries have to offer. I get so inspired by documentaries that I actually took a documentary directing class last year. That’s no lie. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy as following someone around someone with the camera, so I kind of backed off for that…for now. My failures aside, there are a lot of talented filmmakers out there seeking to tell stories. Real stories. For real people. Like you.

Take some time these next two weeks and check out some films. Here are some of our suggestions!

Mistaken For Strangers
Tue, Apr 30 9:15 PM @ The Royal Cinema
Thu, May 2 11:59 PM @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Sun, May 5 4:00 PM @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

This documentary from Tom Berninger is known as “The National” documentary, but really, it’s about sibling rivalries, the film making process and fighting your inner demons. The fact that it features a lot of tour footage of the National, and a lot of personal interactions with Matt Berninger is an additional bonus. It’s a fascinating documentary and one that deserves your time.

Rent a Family

Sun, Apr 28 9:00 PM @ Scotiabank 4
Tue, Apr 30 1:00 PM @ The ROM Theatre
Sun, May 5 1:00 PM @ Scotiabank 3

Japan’s weird, man. I had first hand experience there last year on my month long journey in Asia. Japan is also fascinating. I’m surprised there’s not a bazillion documentaries about it. There is, however, Rent a Family, a documentary about a man whose business is to pretend to be your husband, brother, grandfather, coworker or whatever it is you need at the time. His goal is to make other people happy, meanwhile, his family is falling apart at the seams. An intriguing look at an intriguing man.

Big Men
Thu, May 2 9:00 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Fri, May 3 8:00 PM @ Hart House Theatre
Sun, May 5 11:00 AM @ Isabel Bader Theatre

Oil! Africa! Together! It’s two hot topics converged into one extremely well balanced film. Following the lives of several groups upon the discovery of oil in Ghana, Big Men gives us a taste of what’s at stake and who are the “big men” that are after this valuable resource. We will meet slick Texas business men, Nigerian militants, back room New York money lenders and honest men just looking out for their country. An intriguing look at one of the most controversial industries out there.

Tales From the Organ Trade
Sun, Apr 28 7:00 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre
Mon, Apr 29 1:00 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Thu, May 2 4:00 PM @ Scotiabank 4

Speaking of hot topics. Organ Trade! Who’s selling? Who’s buying? Who’s operating? This film lays it all out for us. Narrated by David Cronenberg, this high budget documentary introduces us to all players of this nefarious black market trade and almost makes a case that it benefits everyone. Watch it and decide.

Shooting Bigfoot
Tue, Apr 30 8:29 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Wed, May 1 11:58 PM @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Fri, May 3 9:30 PM @ The Royal Cinema

Sometimes you need to take a step back from all the documentaries about poverty, abuse, famine and all things depressing. Shooting Bigfoot is that documentary. The film follows three different groups of bigfoot trackers as they try to track down and capture this elusive beast. Hilarity ensues. Also, you will have your mind blown at how easily these people are able to acquire high power rifles.

In reality, any documentary you watch at Hot Doc will be good. So go out and check it out.

Documentary Review: West of Memphis (2012, Amy Berg)

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West Of Memphis is one of the most infuriating documentaries I have seen.

It’s also one of the best.

West of Memphis takes a complete and exhaustive look at the story of the West Memphis 3. For the uninitiated, the West Memphis 3 are three teenagers who were wrongfully imprisoned after the gruesome murder of three children in the town of West Memphis. The documentary is about the murders and the fight to get the three out of the correctional system. Witch hunts, shoddy police work, incompetent doctors and many other things led to the incarceration of the three. West Of Memphis spends a good portion of it’s time laying out the investigative issues out in great detail. The story and characters of this investigation and trial are so ludicrous that it seems more like a Coen Brothers’ movie then actual history.

The second part of the documentary focuses on the efforts to get the three out of prison, or in the least, to face a fair trial. Herein lies the frustration where most viewers will encounter as the people trying to free the WM3 encounter the stifling bureaucracy and politics that is known as the Arkansas judicial system. Let’s just say the documentary is not going to do a whole lot for Arkansas’s reputation. The story catches on with several notable celebrities including Eddie Vedder, Peter Jackson and Henry Rollins in particular, all of whom take it upon them personally to help the cause. Johnny Depp is in there too, but only for a second, making it the second documentary in which Johnny Depp appears and you are like, what’s the point of that? (The first being Strummerville). With the star power rolling in, the case takes on national and international acclaim and more and more information comes to light. Eventually, after two and a half hours of viewing, the West Memphis 3 are freed under the Alford Plea, which frankly, sounds like a cop out. Either way, one of the guys is out of death row, so I guess that’s good. The documentary also takes the time to solve the mystery (unofficially) by laying out all the evidence it has against one Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the sons. Good luck walking around anywhere after this film, man!

The story of the West Memphis 3 is a phenomenal one, as is the documentary. With the production power of Peter Jackson, the filmmakers were able to pull in some highly regarded talking heads to fully educate the viewers on some of the reasons why the investigation of the murders was not done correctly and combined with archival footage of the trials and the sort, gives the view a pretty satisfying look at the whole story. You will leave with many questions, my biggest one being – why didn’t the people who came forward as the case got notoriety speak up before? It’s all pretty messed up, which I guess is one of the reasons why this story and documentary are so memorable. I would say this film is inspirational, but when you look at the fact that it took some major money, Hollywood power, three separate documentaries and eighteen years for the system to buckle, it just paints a picture of how daunting the system can be.

The documentary is also scored by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, which is pretty awesome.

Here’s a GQ article about the West Memphis Three

Hot Docs: United States of Africa [Yanick Létourneau, 2012]

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Playing at Hot Docs Theatre this weekend, Yanick Létourneau’s United States of Africa is less a lesson in African hip hop and more of a lesson in activism in Africa. The primary story within the doc is that of Senegalese hip hop artist Didier Awadi. Set in roughly 2008, Awadi is preparing for his next album and hopes to use it as an educational tool for his fans. The album will highlight some of the more revolutionary aspects of Africa’s past, aspects he suspects is not being taught in the educational system.

The seventy minute doc follows Didier’s quest to gather information and resources for this album, and along the way educates the viewers on some of the plights of countries in Africa. We’ll meet other hip hop artists and you get a sense that there is some momentum building within the hip hop community in terms of wanting to do something about the current state of the continent.

As a documentary, the film does a good job highlighting some of the issues that Africa as a whole face today. As we follow Didier Awadi through a swath of impoverish African countries, we briefly learn about the leaders of the past who fought for Africa and subsequently paid for it with their lives. These stories make up the most compelling part of the film. Those who are fans of the artists involved might be disappointed as little footage is shown or discussed about the actual creative musical process behind the album. Actually, there is very little mention for the album at all aside from the concept behind it. It would have been nice for the director to include information about the aftermath of the album – how did it do, did it change anything, etc etc considering the whole concept of the film. However, this is one of those docs where the destination is not what counts, but the journey.

The remaining shows at Hot Docs are

Sunday July 29th at 8:45pm
Monday July 30th at 9:00pm

Hot Docs Review: The Invisible War [Kirby Dick, 99 Minutes, USA, 2012]

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There are many types of documentaries at a film festival.

There are documentaries about interesting stories, interesting people, a particular place in time and even particular places.

There are also documentaries about stories that need to be told.

The Invisible War is one of these stories.

Directed by famed documentary maker Kirby Dick, The Invisible War is a grim look at what should be considered an epidemic in the United States – the absurdly high rates of sexual assault in the military. The numbers are startling (1 in 5 female veterans reported sexual assault) and as the film painstakingly points out through a series of talking heads, it’s an issue that reaches across all branches of military and has been an issue for decades.The impact these assaults have on their victims is devastating. It is one of those documentaries that you watch and are constantly thinking WTF.

The Invisible War is a focused documentary that does a great job pointing out a problem and identifying a potential solution. I thought that Kirby Dick did a great job of resisting the temptation to pull it back a little and covering a lot more angles (and perhaps lessening the impact of the subject at hand). The result is a shocking look at one of the most powerful organizations in the world.