10 movies you must see at Hot Docs 2019, covering everything from Saskatchewan to Gaza
|Toronto Star 19 Apr 2019 at 13:28|
“All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie,” Bob Dylan sang in his Oscar-winning tune “Things Have Changed” from the movie Wonder Boys.
This certainly seems the way of the world these days, as U.S. President Donald Trump fibs about “fake news” and social media spreads corrosive calumny.
Veteran docmakers Julia Reichert and Steve Bognar reveal what happened when a billionaire Chinese auto-glass mogul bought a shuttered General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio. (Ian Cook photo courtesy Sundance)
In Gaza, we meet Gaza residents like teenagers Ahmed, who dreams of becoming a fisherman, and Karma, a cellist who makes music while gazing across the Mediterranean Sea. (Andrew McConnell / Andrew McConnell photo)
.Honeyland follows the story of Macedonian beekeeper Hatidze Muratova as destructive neighbours and their cattle move in, threatening serenity. (Samir Ljuma / Samir Ljuma photo)
Knock Down The House follows four women — notably New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — as they seek to topple incumbents across the U.S. in important election races. (via Sundance film festival)
Stanley Nelson’s latest documentary deep-dive is kind of brilliant in the way it covers and contextualizes more than 50 years of groundbreaking music in barely two hours. (Guy Le Querrec / Guy Le Querrec photo)
One Child Nation is a devastating account of China’s “one-child policy,” a brutally Orwellian population-control decree that lasted from 1979 to 2015. (Nanfu Wang photo)
The Hot Docs festival seeks to reverse the rising tide of untruths through artful fact-seeking. Toronto’s annual celebration of documentary cinema, this year running from April 25 to May 5 — ticket and scheduling info at hotdocs.ca — has doubled down on films that show the world as it is, not as prevaricators claim it to be.
Here are 10 of the hottest picks for Hot Docs, many heading to Toronto by way of the Sundance Film Festival:
Get your motor running. Veteran docmakers Julia Reichert and Steve Bognar reveal in ways both dramatic and comic what happened when a billionaire Chinese auto-glass mogul bought a shuttered General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio, and then arrogantly imposed his anti-union, 24-7 work ethic on the U.S. workers who had naively embraced him as a saviour of jobs. Time to take off the rose-tinted glasses for anybody who thinks rigid corporate bureaucracy and quality-of-life concerns can make an easy fit. Remarkable for the access allowed by both sides to the filmmakers over several years, the film ends on a note that’s straight out of horror and sci-fi films — but wait until you see it, which you must.
Assholes: A Theory
Everybody talks about them, but nobody ever does anything about them. Mark Twain could have said that (although he didn’t), but leave it to John Walker to get down to the butt of the matter. Taking his cue from Aaron James’ 2010 bestselling book of the same name, the filmmaker talks to experts and opinionators — among them Monty Python’s John Cleese — about the social ill of “assholery,” which appears to be on the rise in politics, economics, policing, social media and even among Canadians, who get their own proctological assessment. There’s much humour but also a few swift kicks to the derriere delivered, but surprisingly little is said about Donald Trump.
Cold Case Hammarskjold
A shaggy-dog story with bite from Danish docmaker Mads Brugger, told in the whimsical style of Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock. It begins by seeking the truth about the 1961 African plane crash that killed United Nations chief Dag Hammarskjold, an event long suspected as an act of terrorism, perpetrated to thwart his efforts to bring peace to warring African nations. By the end of this nearly 2½-hour film, which starts offhandedly and rather glibly but rises to a bell-ringer of a finale, Brugger has connected scattered dots and the picture that’s revealed is a vast global conspiracy to foment African genocide. But can we fully trust the all-too-talkative old men who appear before the director’s probing lens?
Going by news reports alone, the tiny piece of the Middle East called the Gaza Strip is a crowded prison of violence and misery, where its two million inhabitants constantly riot or fire off rockets against Israel. Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell show more: a resilient people who love their land and who crave a peace they don’t know how to attain. We meet Gaza residents like teenagers Ahmed, who dreams of becoming a fisherman, and Karma, a cellist who makes music while gazing across the Mediterranean Sea. The filmmakers aren’t much interested in politics (Hamas is barely mentioned) and it’s clear where their sympathies are, but they shine necessary light on misunderstood people.
This amazing doc, a prize-winner at Sundance 2019, about Macedonian beekeeper Hatidze Muratova becomes the most primal of environmental allegories when destructive neighbours and their cattle move in, threatening serenity. We first meet the 40-something beekeeper, dressed in flowing clothes and protective headgear, as she nimbly climbs through rough Balkan mountains to check on her beloved cache of wild bees, who produce the unique honey that lets her eke out a living and care for her ailing and aging mother. Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska spent three years studying Hatidze, who despite all her challenges and hardships, just wants to let it bee.
Killing Patient Zero
To much of the world in the late 1980s — thanks to headline writers labelling him a “monster” and bringer of disease — Air Canada flight attendant Gaëtan Dugas was the sexual satyr to blame for the AIDS epidemic. Falsely labelled “patient zero” due to a typological error, he was the common link to dozens of early confirmed cases of the disease, which was all that many people needed to pronounce judgment. Laurie Lynd goes behind the slurs to find a man beloved by his friends and family, a man who — contrary to allegations of criminal indifference — tried to help stop the spread of AIDS by sharing information about his sexual contacts to researchers. He paid a heavy price for his good intentions.
Knock Down the House
History on the run as filmmaker Rachel Lears, funded by a Kickstarter campaign, follows four women — notably New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — as they seek to topple incumbents across the U.S. in important election races. The Bronx-born AOC naturally dominates the story, as her sudden rise last year from humble bartender to incumbent-beating and Trump-battling congresswoman captures worldwide attention. She’s a true force of nature, but the film also inspires with stories of electoral challenges by West Virginia’s Paula Jean Swearingen, Missouri’s Cori Bush and Nevada’s Amy Vilela. The definitive AOC doc awaits, but this amounts to a bracing first draft.
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool
Jazz legend Miles Davis is no longer with us. But his voice — or rather that of an actor reading words from the man’s autobiography — is heard throughout Stanley Nelson’s latest documentary deep-dive, which is kind of brilliant in the way it covers and contextualizes more than 50 years of groundbreaking music in barely two hours. “If anybody wants to keep creating, they have to be about change,” Davis says, as he transforms himself from jazz trumpeter to pop innovator. Yet hearing Davis’ candid recollections of how shabbily he treated people along the way, especially the many women whom he used and discarded, doesn’t make the man seem cooler at all.
nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up
The Cree word for “justice” closely relates to the word for “respect,” we learn in Tasha Hubbard’s cinematic inquiry, an understanding that permeates this powerful work of activist cinema. She examines the August 2016 shooting death of Colten Boushie, a young Cree man in Saskatchewan, and the subsequent controversial “reasonable doubt” acquittal of his killer by an all-white jury. Hubbard challenges Canada’s legal system and outlines the country’s long history of mistreatment of Indigenous peoples, as she and the Boushie family take their cause to Ottawa and the United Nations. George Hupka’s stirring cinematography completes one of the most consequential films ever to open Hot Docs.
One Child Nation
The grand jury prize winner at Sundance 2019 is more horrifying than any screamer you’ll see this year. It’s a devastating account of China’s “one-child policy,” a brutally Orwellian population-control decree that lasted from 1979 to 2015. Filmmaker Nanfu Wang, having recently become a mother and wondering why her birth family was able to have a second child, her brother, during the one-child years, teams with co-director Jialing Zhang to seek answers. They turn up appalling stories of abandoned infants, kidnappings, forced sterilizations and abortions, and evidence that thousands of babies are still officially listed as “missing.” Meanwhile, state officials brag about their brave new world.