hot docs

Hot Docs Review: Do Donkeys Act? (David Redmon and Ashley Sabin, 2017)

Posted on by Gary in Everything, Hot Docs, Reviews | Leave a comment

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In your younger days, at zoos, did you ever imagine the fate of the animals that brightened your half-day, in 10 to 20 years? It’s a strange question, in spirit similar to “if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, does it make a sound”? If we go further with the anthropomorphization – does the tree hurt? Do Donkeys Act if no one is watching? This film is a meditation on these oblique questions, seen from the inside of donkey rescue centres around the world.

Rather than asking why, it’s perhaps easier to question why not donkeys. They aren’t often thought highly of. They aren’t typical mascots of sports teams, and have rarely been imbued with any honorable ideals unless steadfast stubbornness is a virtue. And unlike bird or whale songs, all that braying can be harsh and almost too primal to relate to as a human. The fact that asses still bookend jeers and jokes all around the world in many cultures is telling. But of course they are just as adjective as that horse on the Ferrari badge. And all any human has ever done with either is to burden them – with weights, status, morals, and other mostly human concerns. Without all the projections, even donkeys can be interesting.

As with many engrossing and immersive projects, Do Donkeys Act requires a degree of patience. Watching veterinarians’ and donkeys’ daily routine has never topped any list of things to do before one dies. But we (some of us) naturally become observant and empathetic if there are no immediate alternatives. This film will definitely draw a self-selected crowd. As a conservation slash humanitarian piece, Do Donkeys Act is indeed very charming. Many things magically transform when put in front of a portrait lens with good bokeh. My problem, which will perhaps be other people’s delight, is the poetic narration courtesy of Willem Dafoe. If the whole idea of removing imposed morals and emotions to see whether “donkeys act” of their own volition was the aim, then the pointed prose instructing the viewers on how to interpret donkey behavior is a direct, condescending antithesis. Anyone who volunteered to watch donkeys bray, walk, defecate, and give-birth for 70 odd minutes likely pride themselves in forming cogent thoughts. This film will do just fine without anyone complementing a donkey’s “hidden dynamism” as it trots along. Of course, if you are looking for an Ode to Beasts of Burden Past, this is perfect. Personally, I’d rather imagine the smells in those rescue centres than be told of it.

Hot Docs Review: Shiners [Stacey Tenenbaum, 2016]

Posted on by Paul in Hot Docs | Leave a comment

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Shiners is an interesting look at a line of work that many of us rarely even think about – shoe shining. The film even makes this explicit with the first lines spoken from a man on the street being interviewed:”If I’m being honest, I’ve never thought about shoe shining.”

It’s true – I’d imagine most people, if they even notice shoe shiners, are apt to walk past and ignore them, but luckily, director Stacey Tenenbaum took the time to interview shiners from locations around the world and look into what drew them to the job.

The film profiles several people from various walks of life coming to the job for various reasons. There’s a Toronto based man who works out of a hipster-ish barber shop, drawn to the job while recovering from an accident, there’s Don in New York, who went through several careers before settling on shoe shining because he likes the freedom of it, and then there’s the San Francisco and Japan based shiners who see what they do as more of a niche, elite service. The most intriguing story, however, is that of the Bolivian workers who mostly have to wear masks to protect their identity due to the stigma surrounding the job there. Regardless of what brings them to it though, each and every one of these shiners takes a certain pride in the job, with some even seeing it as a calling.

Ultimately, Shiners is is a compelling look at an overlooked and somewhat out of the ordinary career.

Screenings:
Sun, Apr 30 1:00 PM @ Hart House Theatre
Thu, May 4 9:30 PM @ Hart House Theatre

Hot Docs Preview: Becoming Bond [Josh Greenbaum, 2017]

Posted on by Paul in Hot Docs | Leave a comment

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Becoming Bond is a light hearted, entertaining film about the life of George Lazenby, the man who became known for famously taking on the role of James Bond for one film and one film only before giving it all up.

Told through a series of reenactments and narrated by Lazenby himself, it tells the tale of his early life, how he made his way up from car mechanic to salesman to male model and eventually, to somehow bluffing his way into replacing the departing Sean Connery in one of the most iconic film roles around.

While he spins a good tale, one gets the sense that Lazenby must be embellishing his story for effect to at least some extent. He’s got enough charm to pull it off though and the performance by Josh Lawson as Lazenby as well as cameos from Jeff Garlin, Jane Seymour, Jonathan Slavin, and Jake Johnson make for an entertaining watch.

Screenings:
Wed, May 3 @ 8:30 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Thu, May 4 @ 3:45 PM, Isabel Bader Theatre
Fri, May 5 @ 7:00 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

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

Posted on by Ricky in Hot Docs | Leave a comment

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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