Monday, May 05, 2014

Ten days, eleven movies

Last year I paid attention to the Hot Docs film festival for the first time. This year I did quite a bit of pre-festival volunteering, which got me seven or eight vouchers for films, and I worked five shifts during the festival, earning more vouchers. Volunteers got to rush the opening night screening for free, and I gave Stephen some tickets, so it worked out that I saw 11 films.

I made lists as soon as I got the screening schedule, picked volunteer shifts based on where I wanted to be when, changed this and that, found that seeing too many movies starting at 9:30 pm was not a good idea, cancelled shifts, saw movies I didn't expect to... I have a better plan for next year already!

There were two movies I really wanted to see that I missed. One is 112 Weddings, which I stopped worrying about when I learned it would be coming to our local cinema in May; the other is Advanced Style, which went rush almost immediately. I was going to try to see it on Saturday but that didn't work, and I have since learned that they turned away 100 people from the rush line. I can just hope it shows up somewhere!

Here's a quick look at the ones I did see.

(And I now realize I should have been writing this as I went ...)

The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz: This was the opening film of the fest. Aaron Swartz was a young programmer and internet activist who irked the powers that be. It's a horrible story of how a good person in the wrong place at the wrong time can be "made an example of," and how an individual can get forgotten in the mess of legal showing-off. Really good, but very sad.

Sacro GRA: This film looks at the people who live around the GRA, the ring road around Rome. I kept wanting a map, but that was not the point. The road wasn't really that important. Even Rome wasn't really that important! It was just a few stories of quirky people doing their quirky things.

The Basement Satellite: Another tale of a guy with an idea. Our hero is an artist, not a technical whiz kid, but he wants to build a satellite and get it launched. Individuals usually don't do this!


We see him filling out reams of paperwork and trying to raise money for insurance and fees; finding a machinist who can make his parts quickly and precisely; soldering things together carefully on a strict deadline. He sold T-shirts, which took a lot of time and brought in little money, though it was his main fundraising idea. Really interesting, if a bit slow.

I Love Kuduro: Kuduro is modern dance music from Angola. This film was full of great characters and stories of people who'd lived through civil war, but there were just snippets of the music and dance scene. Not as great as I'd wanted it to be!

Alfred and Jakobine: Ah, an adventure and a love story, with an ancient London taxi!


Really fascinating -- Alfred and Jakobine were "shutterbugs" even back in the day, so the filmmaker had their Super-8 movies and photos from the fifties, when they drove their taxi around Africa and Asia. Lovely story and beautiful film.

Meet the Patels: This was my favourite! The characters were charming and real and funny. The use of animation here and there was brilliant. The story was gripping. (Will Ravi find true love??) I think this will win the audience award, but it's not been announced just yet.

Super Duper Alice Cooper: I was lucky to get tickets to this showing, with the directors and Alice Cooper in attendance. (Often the directors are at the screenings and answer questions afterwards, but on this occasion they actually got to sit in chairs and be interviewed in a more formal manner.) I remember singing School's Out in 1973, but then Alice Cooper faded from my consciousness a bit. This movie talked about his beginnings, his stardom, his excesses. Highly recommended.

(Funniest non-movie moment of the festival: We were waiting for the movie to start, people were coming in to the cinema, and Barack Obama walked in, wearing a suit and tie, waving to the crowd! We gawped, until I remembered that a movie called Bronx Obama, about a lookalike, was also showing at the fest! Photo to prove it.)

Everything Will Be: A beautifully made movie about Vancouver's Chinatown. These few blocks have been home to Chinese Canadians for more than a hundred years. Now, things are changing, with old buildings being knocked down, new businesses coming in, condos whose residents don't want to shop at little green grocers, and the mah-jongg societies still holding on!

ThuleTuvalu: Thule is in northern Greenland; Tuvalu is in the Pacific Ocean. The film follows a few families in each place as they see first-hand how in one place the ice is melting and the hunting season is changing, and in the other, the lagoons are becoming salty, the beach is eroding, the little reef that makes up the country is in danger of being flooded.

Shield and Spear: Very interesting look at artists in South Africa today.


One of the main stories was about this painting called the Spear, by Brett Murray, and how strongly the governing party objected to it. Also featured were photographers, musicians, designers, black and white, who are trying to move forward, to live in a country with real freedom of expression.

An Honest Liar: The Amazing Randi is a magician and escape artist, a professional deceiver of audiences. He objects to people who pretend to be "inspired" or channelling supernatural forces when they are using the tricks of the magician. He and Uri Geller have a long history! Really good movie, delightful story, fascinating interviews.

You can see trailers for gazillions of the festival movies here.

Of course I knit waiting in line. That's up next!