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Hot Docs 2011 (Capsule Film Reviews)

22 Apr 2011
 

Weekend Box Office

HOT DOCS 2011

Hot Docs in Toronto is arguable the largest documentary festival in North America.  It is impossible to see all the films screened, so the capsule reviews on selected films below will aid you in your choice picks.

The festival runs from April 28th to May 8th 2011.

For the complete listing and program of the films, check the hot docs website at:
http://www.hotdocs.ca/

The spotlight this year is Italy in the made in Italy series.
The other subjects include:
• Women & Women’s Issues
• Art & Artists
• Big Business & Capitalism
• Central and South Asian Cultures & Issues
• Drugs & Addiction
• Fame & Celebrity
• Health & Mental Health
• Jewish Interest
• Middle Eastern Cultures & Issues
• Russian Culture & Issues
• Terrorism & The War on Terror
• Urban Cultures & Issues
• War & Conflict
• Writers

Capsule reviews on Selected Films:

BECOMING CHAZ (USA 2010) ***
Directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato
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A no holes barred show everything (breast before and after surgery removal) documentary, BECOMING CHAZ, as its title implies, documents the full transition from Chastity to Chaz – female to male.  This involves the clinical aspects such as testosterone shots and top surgery which are humanized by intimate, confessional reflections on identity and gender.  Directors Bailey and Barbuto let Chaz has her/his say before anyone else.  The anyone else includes Chaz’s lover and most importantly, her celebrity mother Cher.  Though the honesty, charm and warmth emanate from the screen, one can probably see the reason as Chaz is the executive producer of this documentary.  But the main message comes across with Chaz championing an all support group for future children acing the dilemma of being born in the wrong gendered body.

BURY THE HATCHET (USA 2010) **
Directed by Aaron Walker
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BURY THE HATCHET is a documentary celebrating the hidden culture of the New Orleans Mardi Gras.  The descendents of the runaway slaves given shelter by the native Americans of the Louisiana bayous now dress up in elaborate costumes, all meticulously handmade to battle which chief has the best.  Director Walker spreads his story among over three Big Chiefs Alfred Doucette, Victor Harris and Monk Boudreaux over the course of five years, both pre and post Hurricane Katrina.  The film also tackles, besides, an exploration of their art and philosophies, other key issues such as the struggles within their communities: harassment by the police, violence amongst themselves, gentrification of their neighborhoods, disinterested youth, old age and natural disaster.  If all these sounds like too much too handle, it unfortunately is, with the result of Walker just skimming the surface instead of delving deeper into each issue.  One also wonders why the native Americans are noticeable absent from this film.  Do the three chiefs derive from original native tribes or did they form they own?  These questions are never addressed leaving this otherwise colourful film meaningless.

ECO-PIRATE: THE STORY OF PAUL WTSON (Canada 2010) ***1/2
Directed by Trish Dolman
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If you have seen documentaries on overfishing, the name of Paul Watson would be familiar.  Captain Paul Watson has been on a crusade to save the oceans for 40 years and he isn’t about to stop now. Through the life and convictions of this notorious often over zealous activist, Trish Dolman crafts an epic tale of the birth of the modern environmental movement, and the founding of Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.  The audience is taken on a high-octane adventure aboard Warson’s ship, together with the crew, and follows them as they hunt down a Japanese whaling fleet in the vast expanse and stunning beauty of Antarctica’s Southern Ocean, and seamlessly segues in and out of a wealth of archival footage from decades of confrontational activism around the world. Dolman intercuts in-depth interviews with Watson, his wife, Bob Hunter, Patrick Moore and Farley Mowat, among others, capture the heroics, the ego, the disputed tactics and the urgency of Watson’s mission. Dolman also brings out the bad side of Watson in the failure of his marriages, especially his first one.

FIGHTVILLE (USA 2011) ****
Directed by Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein
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Brutal. Bloody. Beautiful. FIGHTVILLE throws you into the cage with some of the Ultimate Fighting Championship competitors to reveal the raw power and focused determination it takes to emerge a champion.  Directors Tucker and Epperlein focuses on the training and fights of two talented boxers, one who makes it, Dustin and the other, Albert distracted by his troubled life.  Both have troubled backgrounds and fighting appears the best option to release their anger.  But winning involves dedication, training, discipline and bloody beatings.  Their trainer takes no nonsense and the film reveals the trials each of the men involved in caged fighting have to go through.  The directors succeed remarkably in drawing the audience to their subject.  The film works like a ROCKY type film, complete with a climax where Dustin takes to the ring in a championship match.  Exciting and insightful, FIGHTVILLE is the real FIGHT CLUB!

THE FUTURE IS NOW! (Canada 2011) ***1/2
Directed by Gary Burns and Jim Brown
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It is weird that THE FUTURE IS NOW! is screened as a documentary as it clearly is a non-fiction film containing no documentary elements like interviews or the recording of real events.  The film references the 1949 French film, La Vie Commence Demain.  But Gary Burns and Jim Brown’s innovative film feels like one the way the camera follows the protagonist from start to end of the film.  It all begins when he is caught on an interview by an optimistic journalist (Liane Balaban) giving a pessimistic view of the world and that mankind is hopeless.  She convinces him to go on a journey to enlighten his views beginning with a poetry reading.  When asks for his name, refuses to give it asking her to call him ‘the man of today’, to which she counteracts by having him call hr the woman of tomorrow.  The journey takes Paul (his real name) to Europe and the U.S. where he sees humanity in a different light.  THE FUTURE IS NOW! works well as it has fascinating characters, enlightening debates and more than interesting social issues.  Humour (Gary Burns films like waydowntown and KITCHEN PARTY are very funny) is well blended with the drama making this film an engrossing watch from start to finish.

GRAVITY WAS EVERYWHERE BACK THEN (USA 2011) *
Directed by Brent Green
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A Louisville man builds his home into a kind of healing machine to try to save his wife diagnose with cancer; years later, a filmmaker reconstructs the house and its deeply romantic story with striking creativity and passion.  But the wife did die and the title of the film is so called because the man died falling off the roof.  Once the wife died, the man hoped the house would bring the wife back or at least have her give some visible sign to him.  The trouble with Green’s film is his subject.  No audience would like to root for losers or loners and Green does not make any attempt to connect the audience to him.  Green also shoots his film in short stops with images flickering giving his film an experimental feel.  The images are often blurry and parts of the house can hardly be distinguished.  Green does not give a reason for why a particular room or construction was built a certain way except his own musings, which are unconvincing.  After 10 minutes or so into the film, Green loses his audience.  The film is not really a documentary either with actors re-enacting all the scenes of the film.  I would have walked out of this one except that I fell asleep.

GRINDERS (Canada 2011) ***
Directed by Matt Gallagher
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As described in the documentary on GRINDERS, grinders are poker players that rely totally on the winnings of poker gambling for a living.  They have no other job and make maybe about $500 a day average to survive.  Director Gallagher, an out of job moviemaker is a grinder.  His film documents the lives of several grinders such as Andre (loud, overconfident and a little obnoxious), Daniel (with a wife and daughters who make it with a backer to Vegas for the world tournament) and a poor soul, Lawrence who operates a grinder house.  For a subject of poker which is not so popular with mass audiences, Gallagher achieves the feat of slowly drawing ones interest to the subject and the colourful characters.  The picture of the grinders lifestyle is not a pretty one but the film is fascinating as a poker win.

LIMELIGHT (USA 2011) ***
Directed by Billy Corben
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The Limelight was one of New York’s most famous nightclubs, but beneath its glamour and celebrity was an underworld of drugs, betrayal and murder. Billy Corben’s latest documentary LIMELIGHT is less about this nightclub but more about its creator Peter Gatien through his career and the business of clubbing that nearly destroyed him.  Corben traces Gatien’s history, beginning with his early career in Canada, and captures the historical role the Limelight played in New York’s music and dance scene.  While Gatien kept a low profile, his club became a hotbed for drugs and a focal point for the NYPD. With countless raids and drug busts, and the murder conviction of Limelight’s party promoter, Michael Alig, the Limelight’s days were numbered. Gatien became the centre of a federal investigation that unearthed a dramatic string of corruption and lies leading all the way to the police force. It is clear from the movie that Corben is on Gatien’s side, where his movie proves that the New York judicial system is inapt at nailing Gatien.  But one important point that Corben brings out is that Gatien disd not, in any way profit from the sale of any drugs.  The film puts more emphasis on Gatien’s trials than on club culture or how a club of this stature operates.  The film puts the man high on the pedestal of successful nightclub creator.  It is not surprising then that nothing is mentioned of his failed club Circa in Toronto, after he was banished from the U.S.

MAGIC TRIP (USA 2011) ***
Directed by Alison Ellwood and Alex Gibney
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MAGIC TRIP is the LSD documentary about a group of friends that travel the US on a bus high on the drug.  The group leader is well renowned author Ken Kesey of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST and SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION, both of which were made into films.  They filmed the trip but after all these years, they have not been able to put their film together.  Problems like dialogue synchronization and blurred images are some of them.  Until directors Ellwood and Gibney come along and construct together their road trip film with additional footage.  The additional footage is the only informative bit of the doc informing on the origin of the drug as well as the misuse and misinformation by the government.  The trip just shows the friends doing the stuff of the 60’s like free loving and tripping out.  MAGIC TRIP is quite disjointed but one cannot argue that the film captures the spirit of the group as well as bring back memories of what it was like tripping on acid.

PROJECT NIM (USA 2010) ***
Directed by James Marsh
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Acclaimed director, James Marsh of MAN ON WIRE tackles a total different subject in PROJECT NIM.  Marsh tells the tale of a chimp that was taken from its mother and raised in a human family just like a human baby; the experimenters were attempting to show that language is not unique to our species. The question of success of the project depends on the definition of the term language.  If language be just the communication of intention or the ability to form a sentence from words or phrases, then the degree of success of failure would be different.  Director Marsh identifies the issue but his documentary is not concerned on the project but rather on the inhumanities performed on NIM, the chimp.  This is one film that depicts (almost) all the human beings as bad and that the human race is basically quite f***ed up.

RECESSIONALIZE (Canada 2010) **
Directed by Jamie Kastner
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RECESSIONALIZE or how to survive the recession in 15 steps is director Jamie Kastner’s version of how to make it as shown in his film divided into 15 parts.  The film takes the audience all over the world.  Berlin prostitutes offer eco-discounts, a French hotel promises a hamster experience, Camp Millionaire opens for kids: When times get tough, businesspeople get inventive.  But this film is more fun (Kastner’s fun than anyone else), so take all the non financial advice with a pinch of salt.  But the premise wears itself thin quite early, and very soon one is counting the steps for the film to end.  The only one that is likely going to make money from all this is Kastner himself.

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