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Hot Docs 2012 (Capsule Reviews)

26 Apr 2012

Weekend Box Office

Toronto hot Docs, one of the largest documentary film festivals in North America makes its run at the renovated Bloor Cinema from April 26th to May the 6th.  The documentary subjects range from anything to love relationships, to culture to abuse and political oppression.

For complete information of the festival, it is best one checks the website of Hot Docs http://www.hotdocs.ca

This way, all ticket information, film description, venue and show times are available.
This article provides capsule reviews of a few of the films screened.  Hopefully, this will help in the selection of which films to view (or miss) at this year’s Hot Docs.

Happy Hot Docs!


AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY (China /USA 2012) ****
Directed by Alison Clayman

This is the opening film for HOT DOCS and the story of China’s most famous and controversial artist Ai WeiWei.  If you have never heard of him, this is the film to see.  Ai was the artistic consultant for the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics.  But he is also a fighter for freedom, anti-censorship and human rights.  So, it is of no surprise that he speaks right out against the Chinese Government re: many of their policies that he disagrees with.  Clayman’s doc is exactly what a doc should be and perhaps the best pick as the opening film for Hot Docs.  The film is educational, informative, riveting and ultimately uplifting.  The film introduces Ai, informs the audience of his works, his influence on society and vice versa and also concludes with his present status, which shows a more quite restrained humbled artist.  This is a vast contrast to a man who would wear a banner ‘Mother f**er’ on his head opposing the government.  But Clayman’s film gives the audience the artist’s highest respect, especially after the government has bulldozed his studio and imprisoned him for 2 months.

BALLROOM DANCER (Denmark 2012) **
Directed by Christian Bonke and Andreas Koefoed
image BALLROOM DANCER is the story of a world famous ballroom dancer and his partner, their dance routines, ambition and ultimately their fiery relationship.  The egoistic Russian Slavik has partnered with his lover Anna with hopes of winning many more world competitions and fame.  But when Anna ditches him for another boyfriend, their partnership breaks up.  Finally, under much pressure Slavik flies to Hong Kong to dance with Anna and hopefully patch things up. The climatic scene is their final confrontation.  Slavik is a beautiful dancer and it is a pleasure to watch him rehearse and perform on screen, despite his at times, undesirable character.  Slavik and Anna play themeselves.  The problem I have with this film is the final confrontation scene in which the two eventually break up.  Slavik is seen really upset and by himself curled up for a while.  It is obvious that this segment is an enactment, so pretending that this really happened in real time is kind of insulting to the audience.

Directed by James Franco and Ian Olds
This is the documentary starring and directed by a famous actor (James Franco) that most audiences would want to see during the festival but should not because the film is pure egoistical rubbish!  FRANCOPHRENIA contains extended length scenes of Franco wardrobed or his hair groomed and many with him just meeting the public and signing autographs.  The story? A baby’s been stolen and Franco, the homicidal performance artist, is the prime suspect. Actor James Franco’s behind-the-scenes take on his guest stint on daytime soap opera General Hospital starts out as an observational document of the production—rehearsal, take, break, repeat—but quickly evolves into a wild stream-of-consciousness whodunit. Franco the actor and Franco the character bleed into one another until there is no discernable difference.  Will the real Franco please stand up?  Do the audience really care?  If all this sounds pretentious, it surely is!  One would expect something more worthwhile from the Oscar nominated actor from MILK and 27 HOURS.

JEFF (USA 2012) ****
Directed by James Chris Thompson
JEFF is a quiet, occasionally brilliant documentary best seen if you know nothing about it.  But chance is that one would likely already know that the film is about a real life serial killer by the name of JEFF who has hacked up more than 20 victims and keeping their body parts in various containers in his flat.  The doc begins with interviews and with shots of Jeff (an actor plays Jeff) going on their daily routines.  So nothing about a serial killer is even put on screen till after the film moves right into the second third, when it becomes more disturbing.  The film does not focus on Jeff, the killer his motives or his actions.  Rather, the film concentrates on the effects Jeff’s deeds had on others, like the police investigator who gained his confession and Jeff’s black neighbour.  The reconstruction including Jeff’s trail is eerie and disturbing, to say the least.  Nothing graphic is shown on screen but the horror is more substantial imagined.  All the interviewees are real but the parts with Jeff are enacted, because the name of Jeff is splashed on the screen as the fag of the courtroom scene in which Jeff wears the shirt loaned to him by the detective.  It is interesting to note that the real Jeff is quite good-looking and likely a charmer (as he has picked up gay victim from the bars) while the actor portraying Jeff looks homely.

Directed by Tiffany Sudela Junker, Jason Banker and Jorge Torres-Torres

MY NAME IS FAITH is the story of a girl named faith with a detachment disorder.  Her plight is put into perspective as the directors interview other children with disturbing disorders.  They capture on camera children talking about killing their pets, torturing their siblings and murdering their parents.  All this make really disturbing material.  But the directors have good intentions in mind as they impress audience the fact that despite a child’s past or ailment, a love relationship between the child and parent (or foster parent) can develop.  But the key character is Faith and the film traces her progress to stability.  The heroes of the story are the long-suffering parents and a dedicated therapist.  What the film lacks (research in the disorders, for example) is more than made up, as the film has lots of heart.  Perhaps the most moving film of the festival!

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