hot docs

Hot Docs Review: Band (Alfrun Ornolfsdottir, 2022)

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


Everyone has their own definiton of success. In the realm of performing musicians, some might strive to be mega-pop stars selling out stadiums while others will be satisfied with playing DIY basement punk shows for the rest of their lives, but odds are that all of them want some measure of recognition for their efforts. This notion of what it means to succeed, or to “make it”, is at the core of Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir’s Band.

Örnólfsdóttir is not only the director of this film, but as a member of The Post Performance Blues Band (or PPBB for short), she’s also one of its major protagonists. With all three members having been at this for awhile, they begin to wonder whether it’s worth it to continue playing to minimal crowds while also balancing their family lives as well as their other artistic pursuits. So they give themselves an ultimatum – if they’re not a success within one year, then the PPBB will call it quits. And if they fail, then so be it.

Along the way, the band meets up with a cast of colourful characters who offer up advice or assistance in one form or another, including their collaborator Petur, whose role in the PPBB as a sort of Schrodinger’s Cat of bandmates (is he or isn’t he in the band?) is one of the sources of tension within the film.

In a brief intro before the screening, Örnólfsdóttir advised the audience to just “have fun” while watching and while there are some moments of drama and tension along the way, Band is ultimately a lot of fun. The members of PPBB (and Petur) are all quite likeable and the live footage of the band in action were something to behold.

And those who stuck around last night were treated to an extra bonus as the band took to the stage post-screening for a short performance that demonstrated up close and personal what they’re all about. Part performance art, part modern dance, part electro/punk/pop/whatever, the Post Performance Blues Band put on an entertaining mini-set that definitely captured the crowd’s attention. I’d count that as a success.

Hot Docs Review: TikTok, Boom (Shalini Kantayya, 2022)

Posted on by guestwriter in Hot Docs | Leave a comment


What started as a platform for users to lipsync to their favourite songs has evolved into the highest downloaded app with over a billion active monthly users. Tik Tok has become the most engaging and lucrative social media platform for businesses to promote products and for Gen Z to share the newest dance trends and lifestyle hacks and to voice political activism.

Shalini Kantayya’s Tik Tok, Boom tells the stories of various Tik Tok content creators navigating their experience on the app. The documentary highlights concerns using this app and allows the audience to reflect on the implications of a highly curated “for you” feed.

Tik Tok, Boom is a must see for anyone connected to the internet. For those looking for a primer on Tik Tok, this documentary summarizes the history and concerns around the app. Despite the concerns raised by Kantayya, Tik Tok is still around, and will continue to exist. Tik Tok, Boom gives the audience an opportunity to reflect and question how we can influence or let Tik Tok influence our culture and the world.

Hot Docs Review: African Moot [Shameela Seedat, 2022]

Posted on by Gary in Hot Docs | Leave a comment


“May it please the Court, I beg Your Excellencies’ indulgence to expound on the meaning of a MOOT as opposed to that in the vernacular?”
“Senior council, it is a mock trial. This particular one on the human rights of refugees.”

Let’s just wind back. This is a documentary about a student debate team competition, with none of the typical lack of gravitas. Slyly against interlaced shots of the servers and the humdrum of the city, polished, well-manner students with sartorial class argue in shiny conference facilities. The implicit conflict between the intellectual wealth of the African (future) elite and the stereotypical, Western view of the state of African lives is plain to see. The equivalence with any institutional elite, be it Asian, European, or any other social order, is also clear. This is of course further contrasted by a celebration of intellectual achievement and the visceral weight of the matter at hand.

However, unlike their counterparts elsewhere, these students have a keen awareness that their own worlds can also fall apart with short notice. It’s never far removed from their mind. So, this is very different from a Scripps National Spelling Bee or an Intel Science and Engineering Fair. Besides coaching from their own debate mentors, as preparations, students visit practicing refugee lawyers and interview refugees in clinics. They are given a fictional but clearly relevant case, where they must argue both sides of the situation and often against their personal beliefs. It exposes those who do not examine the situation fairly and comprehensively. It also exposes the students to clear disparities between African states, from which perspective a pan-African union seems just as unreachable in the present as the pan-European notion did.

Normally, I find debates pointless. Stimulating thoughts simply for the sake of contest is merely intellectually amusing. But this was a case of forcing steam through fissures in both law and morals, and upon fictional structures. Was this a simple test of knowledge of the letter of the law, or were the students used, cynically, as quality control on the existing laws and conventions? Will potential loopholes and limitations be re-examined? In that light, these exercises could be a far more healthy and impactful case-studies, when viewed against the spelling bee’s effect on Scrabble. As the outro pointed out in a less than subtle manner: the numbers of refugees and internally displaced people around the world continues to rise. We will never build walls tall enough to keep all of us out.

Hot Docs Review: Still Working 9 to 5 (Camille Hardman, Gary Lane, 2022)

Posted on by Paul in Hot Docs | Leave a comment


The film 9 to 5 came out more than forty years ago. A comedy that dealt with the issues faced by women in the workplace, it became fairly successful at the time, spawning a TV sitcom as well as a Broadway musical many years after the fact. Inspired by the 9to5 political movement, star Jane Fonda and producer Bruce Gilbert set out to make a movie that would deal with a serious issue in a comedic way in the hopes of reaching the widest audience possible. Still Working 9 to 5 tells the story of the making of that film while also examining its impact and legacy and showing that four decades on, it’s still quite relevant.

Placing the film within a larger cultural context, directors Camille Hardman and Gary Lane examine both the fight for equal rights and equal pay decades ago and the fact that even today we still have a long way to go. “It’s not about politics,” says Dolly Parton. “It’s about downright fairness.” And when put as simply as that, it’s hard to argue with her, but of course, the fight for such “downright fairness” has indeed become a political issue. We see it in this film through the ’70s and ’80s era fight for equal rights as well as in the rise of the Me Too movement over the past few years.

Ultimately, Still Working 9 to 5 is an entertaining and compelling doc that is equal parts heartwarming reminiscence on the making of the film and serious look at the film’s political impact. Well worth checking out.