A Happy Reality: another weekend of Hot Docs
25th anniversary festival shows films through Sunday, May 6.
By Marc Glassman
For those of us who love documentaries, and even for those who only enjoy them occasionally, this weekend offers a rare treat. It’s the closing weekend of the Hot Docs festival, which is a great time to see films. The excitement of the first days of the festival is gone and the premieres have all occurred. Many of the directors have gone so there are less Q&As. But the films are still here—and that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
Just like TIFF or any other major festival that runs over two weekends, the final Friday, Saturday and Sunday are really for the local audience. International film pros are gone, the publicity is winding down but the crowds remain the same as the cinephiles and curious viewers get to see marvelous films that may never be shown again.
What can viewers see this weekend? Here are just a few of the many treasures available.
Friday, May 4.
11:45 This Mountain Life.
View BC’s gorgeous but rugged Rockies in this wonderfully shot film by Grant Baldwin. Climbing is really difficult even for the adventurers in great shape but in this doc, we get to follow a mother and daughter—and others—as they struggle through a classic Canadian experience.
1pm Anote’s Ark.
The islands and atolls that make up Kiribati should be everyone’s dream: a South Sea paradise. They are wonderful but global warming is catching up with them. The prognosis is terminal. Kiribati will be drowned, under the Pacific Ocean by the end of this century. This doc features the articulate and charismatic Anote Tong, three times president of his country, who has sounded a clarion call for tough measures on climate change. And he’s made Kiribati buy a chunk of Fiji for the time when they’ll have to leave their home.
1:15pm Harlan County, USA.
This Oscar winner covers a major mining strike in Appalachia in the early 1970s. It’s a time now past in the US, when unions were still strong and natural resources were being extracted for profit and no one was concerned about ecological consequences. Barbara Kopple’s verite doc established her reputation, and deservedly so. Return to the past and hear union songs and watch violent confrontations between workers and the establishment. Do Trump supporters really want to go back to this America?
6:45 Slut or Nut.
A tough low-budget film about rape and its consequences, this is a Canadian doc well worth seeing.
8:30 pm Laila at the Bridge
When Laila came back to Afghanistan after decades in Iran, she discovered the notorious bridge in Kabul where addicts score and inject heroin. She felt an undeniable impulse to save them and with the help of an older brother, who conquered his addiction, Laila created a camp, where users were encouraged to break free of their drug habits. A wonderful “doc character,” Laila and her heroic fight to save addicts is intensely watchable.
9pm The Cleaners
Who is actually deciding what images we can see on the Internet? Go to Manila with intrepid filmmakers Block and Rieseweick to uncover who is really “moderating” what we experience. This is an intelligent, revelatory, cyber-thriller.
Saturday, May 5.
1pm A Little Wisdom
A funny, gently spiritual film about youngsters learning their faith in a Buddhist monastery, this is one of the revelations of the festival. Two brothers fight and study and grow in Lumbini, Nepal, the birthplace of the Buddha and one of the most gorgeous places in the world. Yuqi Khan’s spare, elegant direction allows the viewer to see the contrast between these lovingly normal boys and the quiet wisdom of their elders. Will they grow to be Buddhist monks? Only time will tell.
3pm The Trolley
Go down to Cinesphere at Ontario Place and see the latest IMAX film for free, thanks to Hot Docs and director Stephen Low. This film lovingly recounts the history of the trolley from its origins and glory days a century ago through the willful destruction of streetcar systems after World War Two brought on by oil and gas companies in cahoots with city administrators to its welcome comeback in many places today. Well worth seeing—especially if you’re with your family.
3:45 Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance
Indigenous filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin’s masterpiece, this film documents the devastating standoff between the Mohawks, Quebec’s police and eventually the Canadian army. The fight between the rights of a sacred burial ground and the desire to build a golf course is clearly hypocritical by the white settler establishment and yet truly armed conflict was only narrowly avoided. A film not to be missed if you’re at all interested in this country and the rights of Indigenous peoples.
8:15 Victory Day
What is the legacy of Russia’s victory over Germany at the end of World War Two? Director Sergei Loznitsa documents a ritual ceremony in Berlin’s Treptower Park, where people sing and dance in costumes in a celebration that is rapidly losing its meaning.
Sunday, May 6.
10 am Grit
The most stunningly shot of Hot Doc’s eco-films, Grit shows the devastating effects of a tsunami, which unleashed toxic mud all over an area in Indonesia. Its effects both on the land and some of the people affected by that day is brilliantly explored.
12:45 Golden Dawn Girls
When the leaders of Greece’s far right Golden Dawn party go to jail, the women take over, running things surprisingly well. This doc contrasts their human side as grandmothers, friends and wives with the scary politics they embrace. Then, the men come home and all is indeed “right” in the world again.
3:30 Manufactured Landscapes.
One of the best films ever made in Canada—drama or doc—this profile of photographer Ed Burtynsky encompasses politics and aesthetics. Burtynsky’s approach, which shows the beauty of imagery even when the subjects—factory labour, imperiled environments—are repulsive is thoughtful and provocative. This film shows that cultural work, in cinema and photography, is often at its best when it is absolutely engaged with the perils that are plaguing the world.
A terrific biopic of one of one of the greatest fashion designers ever, this film shows McQueen as a tragic genius, who created great work but couldn’t handle his own life. A film that should be seen.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
Tune in to hear Marc Glassman’s Art Reviews
Friday’s at 9:07am on Classical Mornings with Mike and Jean.