Reviews

Hot Docs Review: Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (2016, Werner Herzog)

Posted on by Jack Derricourt in Hot Docs | Leave a comment

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In a world where the amount of data and content produced online every day could, when burned on cd and stacked, reach to Mars and back, October 29th, 1969 seems a moment long out of date and insignificant. But, as Werner Herzog establishes in the first minutes of Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, on that very date, at UCLA, the internet was born.

For those returning to Herzog’s documentary work, there will be many familiar effects; and for those coming to the auteur for the first time, the themes will carry viewers into the filmmaker’s most comfortable zones of discussion: sublime forms found in the world, the ludicrous hubris and astounding errors of human life, and truths that often move through our days like icebergs, happily unseen.

The prospect of historicizing and documenting something as fluid as the internet is a haphazard enterprise, as the one constant online seems to be that multiplicity is king. The most cohesive moments of Lo come from those first repulsive corridors and revolutionary ideas in UCLA, back when the military grade network of the internet even had a phone book, listing each user’s email and full name. But once the world wide web hit, once the whole world went online, things became cosmic and unreal within a short period of time. It is this sublimity of content and intent that fuels Herzog’s investigation.

Lo and Behold‘s study of the new, intertwingled universe takes viewers on a journey across the old, geographically-minded earth. Herzog interviews internet savant Tim Nelson, self-driving car prophet Sebastian Thrun, infamous hacker Kevin Miltnick, technology rejectionists, cell tower conspiracists, and he even shares a rather tender moment with Elon Musk, pondering whether the internet has dreams.

It’s interesting, this unbound sense of futuristic opportunity and the overly humble origins of a technology that rests at the heart of it. Many of the old school coders and engineers found in that early phone book of the internet speak of the pervasive network like an old friend, allowing Herzog to play up the humanity of something as cold as wires and servers.

Fans of some of Herzog’s more recent, popular documentaries like Grizzly Man, Encounters at the End of the World, or Cave of Forgotten Dreams may feel themselves in shallow water here. Lo and Behold has a broad focus, many interviews, and that does diminish the impact of each subject’s speechifying. But there is a different emphasis being placed in this documentary, and shows a growth of perspective on the part of the filmmaker. The story being told is of a humanity caught up within an artifice, pushing it ever-forward, often refusing to question the practicality of such a boggling speed of technological development. I’ll certainly never think of solar flares again the same way after watching this film. Gulp.

Lo and Behold is not so much a documentary, as a report, back from the edges of technological outer reaches — the place where both sides of the unimaginable become reality. The incredilble and the deeply troubling.

Hot Docs Review: The Crossing [2015, George Kurian]

Posted on by Ricky in Hot Docs | Leave a comment

The Crossing

The Crossing will open your eyes towards refugees.

We have already seen the narrative as provided by the news outlets – thousands of Syrian refugees pouring into trains and boats to escape civil conflict at home and landing all over the world. We have all seen the shots of random sponsors greeting the refugees at airports and the corresponding joy on the refugees faces. For us, that’s where the story ends.

The Crossing tells the story from the refugee’s perspective. Alternating between a series of home videos and post crossing interviews, the documentary follows a group of Syrian refugees dangerously escaping across the Mediterranean from Egypt to Italy and the immense struggles that happens after.

Spending an hour on film with six refugees, you quickly realize many things. These are people who didn’t want to leave their homeland – they had no choice. Among the group is a journalist, a pharmacist, a student, IT guy and a musician. All of them left careers, friends and family behind in search of a safer life abroad. We as viewers all knew the circumstances but witnessing it first hand lends the story much gravitas.

Surprisingly, a lot of the documentary focuses on the aftermath of the crossing where our group of people face confusion and isolation as they are shuffled around countries and refugee camps in search of a home. It is only the then you realize that their journey is far from over. An eye opening work that’ll make you glad to live in Canada.

For ticket and screening information, click here

Hot Doc Review: The Islands and the Whales [2016, Mike Day]

Posted on by Ricky in Hot Docs | Leave a comment

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 10.53.42 PM

A breathtaking documentary that poses many questions, The Islands and the Whales is a gorgeously shot film that explores the relationship between the people of the Faroe Islands and the nature that surrounds them.

You see, the citizens of the Faroe Islands are hunter gatherers in the truest sense. Punished by their location (between Norway and Iceland), these people have chosen to hunt the animals around them including puffins, guillemots and controversially, pilot whales. With the seas being increasingly polluted, the citizens of Faroe Islands are faced with a stark reality – their diet of marine animals may no longer be healthy for them due to toxins in the animals.

The resulting films deals with that and other issues faced by the citizens, who are also fighting to preserve their culture. The documentary deftly swims around multiple themes, including

- man’s relationship with nature and the balance of life
– cultural preservation in the ever changing landscape of human life
– hunter gatherer lifestyle in the face of globalization

There are some some astounding footage in this documentary and some may not be for the squeamish, but the film will also make you want to visit the island’s rugged landscape.

Highly recommended

For screening information and ticket information, go to the Hot Docs link here

Film Review: The Winding Stream (2014, Beth Harrington)

Posted on by Paul in Hot Docs, Movies | Leave a comment

The Winding Stream is a charming and informative look into the lives and careers of The Carter Family, from their humble origins to the great influence that they continue to have in the world of folk and country music. Their influence is made clear from the number of musicians interviewed for this doc, with the likes of Joe Ely, Jim Lauderdale, Murray Hammond, Mike Seeger, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Jeff Hanna of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band all offering up some words on the band’s history and significance. As Ely puts it, “People should know who they are just like they should know who the first president of the United States is.”

While the full title of the film is The Winding Stream: The Carters, The Cashes and the Course of Country Music, the film focuses mostly on the Carters. Not that the Cash family doesn’t play an important part – Roseanne and John Carter Cash as well as Johnny himself are featured in interviews throughout and one of the more memorable moments was watching Johnny speak sweetly about the first time he met and fell for June Carter – but this is largely the Carter Family’s story. And it is quite the story. Through interviews and some archival footage, their story unfolds – their first recording sessions, their rise to fame, and the effect it had on their lives (A.P. and Sara Carter eventually divorced). The film also touches on A.P. Carter’s savvy and somewhat opportunistic idea to travel around collecting old songs, which he would then pass off as his own for the sake of collecting royalties. Looking back at it now, it seems a little shady, though as Roseanne Cash points out, these songs would have faded into obscurity had he not done so.

The Winding Stream is a compelling look at one of the most important, influential groups in the history of country music and well worth watching for both the novice and the hardcore Carter Family fans.

The Winding Stream will be showing at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema until April 14.

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