hot docs

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

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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]

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“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)

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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.

Hot Docs Review: Images of a Nordic Drama (Nils Gaup, 2021)

Posted on by Paul in Hot Docs | Leave a comment

Photo Credit: Paranord Film

As the old cliched saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and that phrase was certainly going through my mind while watching Images of a Nordic Drama.

In telling the story of Norwegian art collector Haakon Mehren and his quest to garner some recognition for relatively unknown artist Aksel Waldemar Johannessen, Images of a Nordic Drama examines the idea of what’s considered ‘real’ art, what gets allowed into the established canon and all of the issues that might arise when one dares to go against the art establishment.

After finding a cache of Johannessen’s long forgotten art in a barn, Mehren makes it his life’s mission to become Johannessen’s champion, constantly pushing for this art which he sees as a unique portrayal of the common people of the time. And while many come to agree with him on this, the elites of the Norwegian art scene, including those in charge of the National Museum, instead see Johannessen’s work as awful and unworthy, with some even suggesting the only thing it’s fit for is the rubbish bin.

While it seems unlikely that Johannessen’s detractors will ever change their opinions on him, the film makes it abundantly clear that Mehren’s life has been forever changed by his association with these paintings. And that, in itself, is a testament to the power of art to affect people, even if some can only see it as trash.

Sat, Apr. 30, 11;30 AM @ Varsity Cinema 8
Thurs, May 5, 8:45 PM @ Varsity Cinema 8