Monthly Archives: April 2009

Hot Docs Hot Picks

These are the films I’d like to see and why.

Act of God Because Jennifer Baichwal is a passionate, intelligent and philosophical filmmaker. Hopefully there will be an additional screening added.

Inside Hana’s Suitcase
This will be lyrical and may set a new standard for historical documentary film-making. Will eventually air on CBC TV.

Paris 1919 See great review here.

Burma VJ Because journalists sometimes risk their lives to tell stories and I’d like to learn how they do it. Besides, I’m taking a VJ course in May.

Rembrant’s J’Accuse Because I’m Dutch, love Rembrant and director Peter Greenaway is playful and this will be fun.

The Cove It’s probably going to get a theatrical run – it got rave reviews at Sundance – and I usually don’t see films I will easily see later in the theatre, but we commissioned a similar doc for CBC (“Dolphin Dealer” which you can watch here:

El Olvido (Oblivion) Skilled veteran filmmaker Heddy Honigmann will take me to Lima, Peru and show me the people and the sights.

I am curious about Carmen Meets Borat, Forgetting Dad, and Robinsons of Mantsinsaari. I will see these if they fit into my schedule.

Objectified, Tyson, The Yes Men Fix the World I have a strong feeling these will be available at my local indie video store within six months, so although I want to see these films, they are therefore on my B-List. Fierce Light will be getting a theatrical run in Toronto after Hot Docs so I will check it out then. I saw Fierce when it was at rough-cut stage a year ago and it had a lot of potential to become an inspirational classic.

65_Redroses, Love at the Starlight Motel, Experimental Eskimos Will either air on CBC Newsworld or documentary channel, and are therefore on my C-List.

I am most excited to discover documentaries that I will stumble upon whenever I have the time to see something I’ll snap up the chance – no matter what it is.

For more information on Hot Docs films, please click here.


Ganesh: Boy Wonder



A dairy seller and his wife pray to the elephant-headed god Ganesh for a son. Their prayers are answered, but the boy takes on a trait of his namesake: a large growth erupts from between his eyes. As the boy ages, the growth threatens his health. The parents spend money, that they are forced to borrow, on doctors that are not able to help their son.


Then, an act of goodwill – the parents pick up a stranded motorist at the side of the road – proves fateful. The man observes Ganesh and believes something more can be done for the boy. He contacts his reporter brother at ETV. The reporter contacts the parents; however, the parents are reluctant to draw attention to their son who has been mocked. Eventually, they agree to share their story publicly.


A media sea change has swept through India in the past few years. There are now over a whopping 300 channels and they are hungry for sympathetic stories, like that of Ganesh, since they are popular with viewers.


The Chief Minister of the State sees the story and unites with a local private hospital to announce that they will fund the expensive surgery necessary to remove Ganesh’s growth. Then, another even more remarkable offer comes about and this is when the story gets really interesting.


The station that ran the story is owned by media mogul Ramoji, of Ramoji Film Studios. In a separate plot line, Canadian plastic surgeon, Dr Sanjeev Kaila of Sarnia, Ontario, sets out to India to seek philanthropic projects. He wants to use his skills and reconnect with his roots having been born in India. Dr Kaila learns of Ramoji and finagles a meeting with him – out of sheer interest in this very successful man. Through this strange twist of fate, Ramoji asks Dr Kaila if he “does noses” and tells him the story of Ganesh. It’s not the nose job he is used to, but it is exactly the challenge the doctor was looking for. Dr Kaila begins to consult specialists from all over North America including a cranio facial surgeon from the Mayo clinic. He recruits his surgical team and they all travel to India.


During all of this, Ganesh’ father Krishna endures threats from money-lenders (whom we actually meet) that cause him so much such stress that he attempts suicide. His wife Jayamma convinces him to not give up on his family. Though she is uneducated, she is resolute. The situation with her family and her husband’s near loss of faith, serves to renew hers. She gets training and a job to help with finances. “Only if we make an effort can we hope for God’s grace.”

 This is not a run-of-the-mill inspirational fix-a-poverty-stricken-child-with-an-ailment story. It is the confluence of a remarkable set of events and recounts the various needs and desires of the characters involved.  Everyone’s common goal is a healthy Ganesh – a smiling bright boy who doesn’t even recognize the drama that plays out all around him.

For more information about Ganesh: Boy Wonder, directed by Srinivas Krishna, or to screen it at Hot Docs, please click here.

Fatima Bhutto: Heroine of the Day

I’ve been thinking a lot about short, journalistic docs. I am going to be taking a course with The National’s videojournalist Saša Petricic next month to get some hands-on doc experience, but I’ve never spent any real time thinking about how a short, journalistic doc is pieced together.

Naturally, I’ve been watching a lot of these types of videos where and when I can. Some are too “newsy” to be considered docs. Others are simply innane. But today I came across one that inspires me – it made an impact on me the way that I would like to make an impact one day.

THE OTHER BHUTTO, CBC The National, April 15, 2009

The subject of Adrienne Arsenault’s doc is Fatima Bhutto – daughter, granddaughter and niece of the Bhutto dynasty. She is estranged from her relatives who have ruled the turbulent nation of Pakistan, and witnessed the murder of her own father (she claims by Benazir Bhutto) as a child. Yet she is calm and determined to make and see change in her country. She fearlessly speaks about systemic corruption and the maltreatment of her fellow citizens (no water system in Karachi, no garbage removal) and of women (victims of rape are criminalized.) What’s further remarkable is that she is a beautiful young woman, well-spoken and educated who could succeed anywhere in the world – and she, faithful to her homeland, choses to stay in Pakistan even though she survives thanks to armed guards.

Admittedly, I never heard of Fatima before I encountered this video report, so this bit of documentary journalism achieved what successful docs should  – enlighten, inspire, educate and provoke.

Anvil! Breaks My Heart

Anyone who knows me would be surprised to discover that the documentary which has brought me the greatest joy is about a heavy metal rock band… but it is. And I am so happy to see that Anvil! The Story of Anvil is finally getting a theatrical release in Toronto. (If it doesn’t come to your town, you will be able to rent it from your indie video store soon.)

I first saw this film when it opened last year’s Hot Docs festival. I sat beside Bruce Cowley, creative head of CBC’s digital documentary channel. As I mentioned above, I am not a rocker gal and I had low expectations of the film. Bruce, grey-suited and obsessively pecking at his Blackberry, seemed equally as nonplussed. Then the lights dimmed.

We should have been warned to hang on tight – for we were on embarking on a roller coaster ride.

Watching the official trailer on YouTube just now I cringed at the melodramatic music. If you’ve seen this film – about aging Toronto rockers and best friends trying to relive a near-impossible dream – you would know that there is plenty of melo and plenty drama. No need for overwought music to convince you. But then half-way through the trailer I decided its soundtrack suited the tone of the film – the story really is this emotional!

If you have an idea that Anvil! is going to be a dull film about the history of a rock band, you’re way off course. In fact, there has never been a documentary made about a rock band quite like this before – and it’s because the audience is literally invited to join in on the band’s comeback ride.

Bruce and I were reduced to tears. We were happy to salute Director Sacha Gervasi and original band members Steve (Lips) Kudlow and Robb Reiner in a standing ovation. It isn’t the greatest doc ever, but it’s a thrill – and how often does a doc thrill? I left the theatre thinking then that I can honestly recommend this film to everyone I know. And I still feel like that a year later.

Never give up on your dreams.

(Ondi Timoner, director of upcoming Hot Docs select We Live In Public,  interviewed Anvil! director Sascha Gervesi. For the interview, go to the International Documentary Organization website.)