HOT DOCS FILM FEST REVIEWS
DOC ON, DUDES! OVER THE NEXT 11 DAYS, ONE OF THE WORLD’S BIGGEST DOCUMENTARY FESTIVALS ROLLS OUT DOZENS OF PREMIERES. HERE ARE REVIEWS OF THE BIG-BUZZ FILMS AND THE TINY GEMS YOU SHOULDN'T MISS.
AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY
(Alison Klayman, USA, China). 91 minutes. Subtitled. Rating: See interview and review, page 10. Apr 26, 6: 30 pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema; Apr 26, 9: 30 pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema; Apr 28, 4:15 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1.
THE KID AND THE CLOWN
(Ida Grøn, Denmark). 53 minutes. Subtitled. Rating: Emotionally draining and only as long as it needs to be, this look at Danish children’s hospital clown Angus and his bond with young patient Tobias, who’s battling cancer and has only a 30 per cent chance of surviving, does a great job of showing how hard it can be to put on a happy face for work every day.
It can be hard to watch Tobias undergo painful chemotherapy and pine to feel better, but Angus lets us know it’s okay to feel something even if
has to stay distant because of his job. His on- camera remarks and confessions feel like years of catharsis coming out all at once. Apr 27, 1: 30 pm, Isabel Bader Theatre; Apr 28, 1: 30 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3; May 5, 2 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3.
THE INVISIBLE WAR
(Kirby Dick, USA). 99 minutes. Subtitled. Rating: Having confronted an abusive Catholic priest in Twist Of Faith and closeted antigay lawmakers in Outrage, director Kirby Dick addresses another obscene abuse of authority in The Invisible War: the culture of rape that exists within the U. S. armed forces.
Dick and producer Amy Ziering open with the statistic that approximately 20% of women in the military have been sexually assaulted while serving – and proceed to show how that’s possible, depicting a culture of alpha- male entitlement further enabled by a military structure that blames the victim and discourages the filing of complaints. ( A rape victim can be charged with adultery if her rapist is married.)
It’s an important, infuriating work. The testimonials from assaulted servicewomen and men should be screened on a loop in recruiting offices around the world. Apr 27, 3: 30 pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema; Apr 28, 9 pm, ROM Theatre; May 5, 3:15 pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.
(Mads Brügger, Denmark). 94 minutes. Rating: After infiltrating North Korea as a phony comic in his last film, Danish journalist Mads Brügger seeks to expose just how easily diplomatic accreditation can be purchased in Africa for the purposes of smuggling and illegal trading. From setting up backroom deals with crooked consuls and brokers to creating his own front operation in the Central African Republic, he crafts a coal-black comedy that gets exponentially more dangerous the deeper he goes.
The film plays things almost too straight at times, making Brügger seem far from likeable and even a bit racist. It’s hard to tell what’s genuine and what’s manufactured. But the up- close look at a blood- diamond mine and the wit and chills in hidden- camera interviews carry lots of weight. Apr 27, 4 pm, Isabel Bader Theatre; May 4, 4: 45 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2; May 5, 9 pm, Regent.
(Helena Trestikova, Czech Republic). 83 minutes. Subtitled. Rating: In 1974, Helena Trestikova made a documentary about Jana and Petr Kettnerova, a Czech couple about to have their first child. Trestikova stayed in touch with the Kettnerovas over the decades, and this is the story of their family as told through films, videos, photographs and Petr’s exhaustive diaries.
It works as a metaphor for recent Czech history. Their eldest son, Honza, becomes an anarchist, a dropout and a pothead (in that order); the Soviet regime comes and goes. Through it all, Jana and Petr maintain a pleasant stability. It’s intriguing to watch the family grow up right in front of you, but the linear organization packs a lot of birthdays and Christmases into an hour and a half. Apr 27, 6 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3; Apr 29, 1 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3.
(Rory Kennedy, USA). 97 minutes. Subtitled. Rating: Kennedy junkies will go wild for this tender love letter to Robert Kennedy’s wife, Ethel Skakel Kennedy.
The gold here is the archival footage (the wealthy Kennedy and Skakel clans took massive quantities of home movies) and the film gets added emotional punch from having been made by Robert and Ethel’s youngest child, Rory,
who never met her father; Ethel was pregnant when her husband was assassinated. Interviews with Ethel and her children flesh out the portrait.
Unfortunately, the doc makes the fatal error of concentrating almost entirely on her life while Robert was alive. Ethel raised her 11 kids – you read that right – and has been furthering her own personal causes for over 40 years since his death in 1968. Apr 27, 6: 30 pm, Isabel Bader Theatre; Apr 28, 11 am, Isabel Bader Theatre; May 6, 6: 30 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1.
MOM AND ME
(Danic Champoux, Canada). 52 minutes. Subtitled. Rating: Danic Champoux combines grotesque animated sequences and interviews with people with varied perspectives (investigatory, journalistic, astrological, his mother) to recreate his childhood obsession with the Hell’s Angels in SorelTracy, Quebec, northeast of Montreal.
Focusing on the rise and fall of Angels leader Maurice “Mom” Boucher hampers the film’s later moments, and the over-the-top animated recreations are silly rather than shocking, but overall this is an entertaining portrait of a depressed neighbourhood run by hoods. Apr 27, 6: 30 pm, Cumberland 2; Apr 29, 3: 30 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 4.
MY THAI BRIDE
(David Tucker, Australia). 54 minutes. Subtitled. Rating: UK businessman Ted (his line of work is, unfortunately, never revealed) loves his Thailand trips, especially the sex tourism. When he meets Tip, who’s working at a bar, she’s helpful and caring. Soon, he’s liquidated all his assets, moved to Thailand, married her, financed a pig farm and built them a house. Thai laws restrict foreign ownership, so Ted naively puts all his holdings in Tip’s name.
He’s a sad case, virtually invisible to women in his country of origin and looking for love in all the wrong places. She moved into the sex trade after working three years for $ 4 a day at a plastics factory and realizing she’d never make enough money there to change the life of her young daughter. So who’s exploiting whom? Viewpoints shift so quickly, it’s an almost dizzying experience. This doc is a lesson in neutrality. Apr 27, 7 pm, Innis Town Hall; Apr 28, 4: 30 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2; May 5, 4 pm, Regent.
TILMAN IN PARADISE
(Julian Vogel, Germany). 27 minutes. Subtitled. Rating: In Julian Vogel’s short, a middle-aged German bartender named Tilman tries to find love in a brothel called Paradise. Claiming to be too shy to talk to women in everyday circumstances, he frequents Paradise (at considerable expense) to court the working girls, looking for one who might offer more than sex.
What starts out as an interesting flip on the stereotype of the manipulative prostitute – here, the client is the one looking to trap someone into a longterm relationship – grows more complex, and somewhat more unsettling, the more time we spend with Tilman. It’s a strong character study that makes the most of its compact running time. Apr 27, 7 pm, Innis Town Hall; Apr 28, 4: 30 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2; May 5, 4 pm, Regent.
WHERE HEAVEN MEETS HELL
(Sasha Friedlander, USA). 80 minutes. Subtitled. Rating: Sasha Friedlander’s doc on Indonesian sulphur miners is worth a look for the striking cinematography alone. Contrasting the sulphur’s bright, toxic yellows against the mine’s harsh, grey backdrops, the director composes Edward Burtynsky-worthy visuals.
Workers carry 70 to 90 kilos of sulphur on their backs while navigating their way around Kawah Ijen, an active volcano that would give the WSIB a heart attack. The miners break their backs and risk their lives for an income that doesn’t even pay for a basic education for their children.
Friedlander allows them to speak for themselves about their lives and dreams, but never develops a greater narrative or argument. She’s satisfied to simply observe a social injustice without mining its greater impact. Apr 27, 7 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2; Apr 28, 11 am, ROM Theatre; May 5, 7:15 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3.
SHE SAID BOOM: THE STORY OF FIFTH COLUMN
(Kevin Hegge, Canada). 64 minutes. Rating: Kevin Hegge’s near- hagiographic doc about the local founders of the queercore music movement revives the spirit of the 1980s queer art scene in ways that will make you giddy.
Subversive all-female outfit Fifth Column – including GB Jones, Caroline Azar and Beverley Breckenridge, all interviewed here alongside other collaborators and scene- makers – challenged art conventions, gender roles and punk’s homophobia while embracing multimedia strategies and the teen music sensibility punk loathed.
Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kills and Le Tigre wonders why Fifth Column never got credit for helping birth the riot girrl movement. Truth is, Fifth Column had some self- destructive habits, not the least of them their tendency to fight with each other incessantly.
But, claims Hegge, all that conflict may have been the fuel for their creativity.
A cool trip down memory lane. Apr 27, 7:15 pm, Royal Cinema; May 1, 9 pm, Cumberland 2; May 4, 7 pm, Fox Theatre.
AIDA: A NATURAL-BORN ARTIST
(Shogo Watanabe, Japan). 99 minutes. Subtitled. Rating: In Japan, the land of conformity and regimentation, unkempt, chain-smoking contemporary artist Aida Makoto is an anomaly, and this fascinating doc captures him in all his contra dictions as he procrastinates on two massive projects, one depicting heaps of dead salarymen.
Makoto doesn’t reveal much about his process or inspirations – he seems obsessed with sailor-suited girls – but Shogo Watanabe’s camera catches everything, including his loving if slightly frustrated artist wife, a son who seems to have inherited his dad’s ADHD, and what it’s like to live a bohemian life in middle age. Apr 27, 7:15 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 4; Apr 28, 1:15 pm, Cumberland 3; May 5, 1:15 pm, Cumberland 3.
(Angad Singh Bhalla, Canada). 81 minutes. Subtitled. Rating: Herman Wallace, a member of the Black Panthers, has been in solitary confinement at Louisiana’s Angola prison since he was accused and later convicted of killing a guard – in 1972. In 2003, New York artist Jackie Sumell asked Wallace what his dream house would look like, resulting in a project dedicated to imagining and designing that space, along with a replica of the 6- by-9-foot cell in which Wallace actually spends his days.
Necessity dictates that director Angad Singh Bhalla spends most of his time with Sumell, and as engaging as she is, the movie suffers from the lack of Wallace, who’s heard in a phone interview and glimpsed in a few old photos. We’re supposed to feel his absence, of course, but Bhalla struggles with that more than he should. Apr 27, 9 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1; May 2, 9:15 pm, ROM Theatre; May 6, 9: 30 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2.
MY THAI BRIDE
AIDA: A NATURAL-BORN ARTIST
SHE SAID BOOM: THE STORY OF FIFTH COLUMN