hot docs

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

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

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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

Hot Docs Review: Magic Island [2015, Marco Amenta]

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In the world of reality tv, it’s easy to paint the children of celebrities as spoiled rich malcontents whose easy lives are the envy of all. Magic Island choses the show the opposite. Andrea Schiavelli is the son of Vincent Schiavelli, a great character actor who has played a part in many movies you saw in your youth. It is clear from the outset of the film that son and father did not have the best of relationships and this is a theme that is explored throughout the film. Vincent has since passed away and leaves something for his son…. in Sicily. The resulting documentary follows Andreas as he journeys back to his family origins, visiting all his fathers friends and family and facing the grim reality that he’ll never be well liked as his father as well as dealing with people who seemed to have a better relationship with his pop then he had. It’s a lot to take in and it’s what’s at the heart of this film.

The film features some lovely shots of life in Sicily and it was nice to see shots of a place I don’t know a lot about aside from mob movies. The story struggles at times because as the principle character, Andrea doesn’t come across as a very willing participant in the film at times and was not entirely engaging. It might be because of his reserved nature or the personal nature of the story. In a way it is refreshing because the film shows that movie stars can also have normal children with semi normal lives, a thought that rarely crosses our mind.

Hot Docs Review: On the Bride’s Side [Khaled Soliman Al Nassiry, Gabriele Del Grande, Antonio Augugliaro, 2015]

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


If we have friends and countrymen who are down on their luck, we would certainly help however we can. But would you break the letters of the law to help?

That’s what several Italians did late November in 2013. Having been in war-torn Syria, they cultivated an affinity for the country, its people, and their plight. While 17 EU member states have apparently promised to help shelter Syrians fleeing the conflict, most take less than a passive role in accepting refugees, leaving them vulnerable to human traffickers, smugglers, and other illegal trades. The Italian journalists/activists decided that to do their part, they would host a sham wedding party and smuggle their Syrian friends across multiple borders, from Milan through France, Luxembourg, Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, and finally to Sweden, where the refugees apparently have the best chance. The documentarians follow the bridal party,
using stories of the Syrians’ escape, humiliating treatments at the hands of many officials, and their hopes and dreams to weave together a powerful statement, in the hopes of igniting a positive response from their governments and their people.

On the Bride’s side is a very poignant, but conflicting film to watch. It is so because it asks the audience to choose between two dark sides. The calculus here really isn’t about civil disobedience to advance justice (trust me it ain’t; I’m sitting in the middle of one right now with military choppers overhead). This is a much more intricate conflict between dreams and pragmatism. As the film progresses, one realizes that on the shoulders of the Syrians in the film, sit the hopes and burdens of their family and comrades deceased and living. Many carry survivor’s guilt, and are determined to make it for the memory of those they’ve lost. While the circumstances of their acceptance into some countries were debasing, it was far more crushing to realize that the promises they followed were hollow. Yet what the filmmakers are not able to show in their one-sided quest, is that everything has a cost. Would everything be better if others heed the call and repeat this bridal party trick in other guises 50,000 times? You don’t need high school algebra to understand that no country in the world, to say very little about the world itself, has an unlimited capacity to provide economic opportunities, cultural plasticity, and substantive compassion on the books, let alone off the books. While we celebrate the bridal party’s arrival in Sweden and their chance to realize their dreams, we should also realize that xenophobia isn’t reserved for bigots. People sympathetic to refugees can still develop a sense of injustice when their society become unbalanced by those who circumvented democratically vetted (we hope) immigration process. Obviously, many are willing (and have the luxury) to wait. At the beginning of the film, one of the refugees became an Italian citizen after 5 years, and the joy of finally having a solid support behind him was quite beautiful. Other aren’t, and some times can’t afford to be so patient. Obviously one hopes that films just like this will galvanize the public to demand higher quota and more humane treatments – and the filmmakers were prescient in that this indeed came to a head recently), but I think the socio-economics of immigration should not be lightly cast aside so that we can summit the nearest moral high-ground.