hot docs

Hot Docs Review: The Pearl of Africa [2016, Jonny von Wallström]

Posted on by Ricky in Hot Docs | Leave a comment


A gorgeously shot film that is more style over substance, The Pearl of Africa follows the journey of Cleopatra Kambugu, a transgender woman living in Uganda, a country with heavily punitive anti-LGBT laws. Cleopatra is outed publicly and has to leave her country. We follow her and her boyfriend to Thailand as she seeks and undergoes gender confirmation surgery. The director of the film was a former cinematographer and the quality of the film really highlights that. The lighting on each shot was thrilling and at times you could convince yourself that you were watching a music video. As stylish as this was, the film fails to provide some basic information that viewer would wish to know, including:

– How did Cleopatra get outed by a tabloid?
– What did she do for a living? How did they afford to go to Thailand?
– How did they make it back to Africa?

Apparently this documentary was put together from a series of web-documentaries, so perhaps something was missed in the editing stage. The topic is fascinating; I just wish there was more information for this story, which deserves to be told.

For screening times, go here

Hot Docs Review: Migrant Dreams [2016, Min Sook Lee]

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Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 1.48.50 PM

Not here.

That was my outstanding thought as I was watching Migrant Dreams, a documentary from Min Sook Lee. As Canadians and especially in Toronto, we like to trump our diversity and how Canada has many great policies. We look over towards other countries, how they treat their immigrants and hold our chins up and pat ourselves on the back over the cultural mosaic we have established. Then you watch a documentary like this and suddenly you realize that all the atrocities you see and hear about foreign migrant worker abuse is not only very real, but it’s also in our home and native land.

An eye opening film about the treatment of workers in Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, the abuse and mistreatments the documentary’s subjects go through will infuriate you. The irony of this film is high, as many of you know, Canadians recently boasted about supporting French’s ketchup on the strength of it’s homegrown tomatoes. Well you will find out that the location of these homegrown tomatoes take place in the same place as this documentary.

An film that will inform and infuriate you at the same time, it is definitely worth checking out. I would have liked to hear about the policies of temporary foreign worker programs from both the government and employer’s point of view, but they were noticeably absent from the film, probably for good reason.

For screening times and tickets go here

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


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]

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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

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