Tag Archives: hot docs


ImageThe Bob Marley music doc simply titled “Marley,” enjoying two Special Presentation screenings at this year’s Hot Docs, is one heck of an excellent music doc. It accesses all the family members close to Marley, his wife, children, distant relatives, who speak candidly about “Robert.” The film travels to the lush, mountainous village of his childhood to the streets of Trench Town. It contains footage from his years in London, his travels on European and American tours, to his trip to Africa. The film recounts Bob’s relationship with Rastafarianism, touches on his infamous virility (12 children by 7 women), and illustrates the politics and social movements of his time which injured him with bullets and tear-gas, and left him shaken. Despite this, he never gave up “music for the people.”

Though the film hears from his band-mates and musical colleagues, what this documentary thankfully avoids is a bunch of contemporary musicians extolling his virtues ad nauseum. Bob Marley’s musical talent and innovation clearly has left a lasting mark on our culture, and in my heart particularly. I certainly don’t need to be told of his talent. When music documentaries resort to this “filler” I am always tempted to tune-out.

“Marley” is a gorgeous, interesting, wholistic journey about a fascinating man and his soulful music. It will probably come to be known as the difinitive Bob Marley film.

For more about the film: http://www.bobmarley.com/

For Hot Docs screeening times: http://www.hotdocs.ca//film/title/marley


Morgan Spurlock Gets You To Eat Your Spinach

“I want you to eat your spinach, but I’ll make it taste like cotton candy,” is how Morgan Spurlock describes his brand of educational documentary. From “Super Size Me” to “30 Days,” Spurlock has always been shining a light into dark corners of popular human experience. He shines again with his newest film “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” which takes viewers behind the scenes of marketing and advertising and shows how they pervade nearly every facet of North American culture.

Spurlock’s great ambition as a documentary filmmaker was to have the entire budget of this film paid for by sponsors, and turn that process into the film itself. Such is the premise – to make a film about marketing and product placement that is paid for by the brands themselves. As he works advertising agencies, corporations and lawyers, he makes transparent a shadowy business of product placement and cross-promotion in our everyday lives.

The film is a lighthearted, playful essay about the pervasiveness of advertising today, but also brings up some concern about how sneaky and manipulative advertising will become in the future. In one scene, Spurlock is subjected – by an advertising executive – to a brain scan which records his reaction to emotionally-triggering advertisements (narrowly focused clips triggering fear, sexual arousal and craving.) The dopamine levels don’t lie: Spurlock, it is clear, is addicted to Coca Cola.

“In the future,” Spurlock explained to me after the Opening Night Gala at Hot Docs, “they will film commercials with the product as a green screen to which they can superimpose any beverage, cereal – whatever – according to your tastes that you’ve expressed by say, searching the Internet for a similar product. The way that Google provides you with ads tailored to your tastes today, TV commercials and television programs will tailor ads to you in the very near future.”

I told my husband, who colour-corrects TV commercials, this information. He concurred – in fact, he had just worked on a commercial which had been shot half a dozen ways to promote half a dozen different varieties of a product.

“So you believed this brain-scan guy?” I asked. “Oh absolutely,” Spurlock replied.

In a segue during the film, Spurlock takes us to São Paulo, Brazil where public outdoor advertising has been banned. Without billboards and posters weighing down and distracting us, there is a calm – even in the bustle of mid-day traffic – that seems both lonely and releasing at the same time.

And that is the spinach eating part of the film to me: in our world where advertising and marketing business is a multi-billion dollar business to make us buy things we don’t even need, there is a quiet stream nearby where we can take a walk and remember what being human is really like.

“POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” opens in theaters across Canada on Friday.

Hot Docs Opening Night

Which Way Home

* This doc is temporarily available to view on CBC’s Passionate Eye website here.*

I missed Which Way Home when it screened at the Tribeca Film Festival last Spring when I was in New York, so I was happy that it turned up at Hot Docs in Toronto a week later. I had a hunch that this film would move me.

I didn’t know anything about it beyond it’s description in the Tribeca FF catalogue, something about migrant children from Central America who, largely indepedently from their parents and families, make the fateful decision to migrate illegally through Mexico and into the United States. Many of them fail along the way – they are abducted, they injure themselves, they run of of funds and call home for help. Some of them die.

The bulk of the film is spent on the trains that cross Mexico where we were exposed to expansive shots of lush and dreamy landscape. We encountered several well-rounded characters like 14-year old Kevin, full of hope for a life and career in Manhattan, and nine-year old friends Olga and Freddy who hope to reunite with parents in the United States.

These children, we hoped as we watched, the filmmaker would be able to reassure us made it to safety… but Director Rebecca Cammisa told her Hot Docs audience that sadly, their fate remains unknown. 

It’s an anguish for documentary filmmakers, who’s job is to witness and record an event with the purpose of communicating that event with an audience, to have to let go of the subject.

But there is a point when filmmakers must draw a line. For the directors of Which Way Home (Cammisa hired additional camera-people) the line was drawn somewhere approaching the Mexico/U.S. border where bandits and smugglers too often act with ruthless violence.

At this point the filmmakers stopped following the children because they decided it was too dangerous for them – for them! They who were traveling with health insurance and passports – not to mention sheer adult physicality.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a criticism. I can only imagine how heart-wrenching it must have been to film these beautiful, hopeful and spirited children as they embark on what they imagine is their journey to a better life, when in reality most never make it safely to the U.S. They are caught at the border and sent to jail-like detention centres before being shipped right back where they came from. Or they suffocate in the trunks of smugglers cars. Or worse.

Yet Which Way Home is a testament to a child’s huge stores of hope and courage while it puts a face on the realities of illegal immigration.

Which Way Home airs on CBC News Network Sunday January 24th at 10 PM ET/PT. Click here for details.

For more:

NPR interview with director Rebecca Cammisa including transcript.

El Olvido (Oblivion)

I watched “El Olvido” for two reasons. First, because my parents really wanted to see a “Dutch film” during Hot Docs and were willing to drive for two and a half-hours to accomplish that goal; second, because I wanted to see Lima. 

In a sense, my parents didn’t get a Dutch film, but a film set in Peru directed by a Dutch filmmaker. Who was born in Lima. And returned to Lima after many years to reconnect with the city of her youth.

My parents are so cute, wanting to see Dutch films. Is it because they emigrated in their early 20’s and miss the Netherlands? Probably. I am the child of immigrants and I’ve never lived outside of my birth country. I’ve been to Holland, sure, many times. But I am itching for more…. of the world. Perhaps this is why I was interested in seeing this film. Take me somewhere, Heddy Honigman, I wished. And very competently, she did.

“El Olvido” means oblivion, a place where director Honigman believes Peru to be stuck. It is a country largely absent from the world’s consciousness except for Macchu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas. Yet it is a country of stunning beauty from the Andes to the Pacific Ocean, pulsating with rich and vibrant Amerindian, Mestizo and colonial European cultures. This I don’t know firtshand – only through the lore of friends’ experiences.

All I know of Peru with my own eyes is what Honigman showed me through the lens of her camera: Lima, the nation’s capital, population 7.6 million.

Lima is not an easy city and many of the characters in this film tell their stories framed by decades of political corruption. Politics play a role in this film – they provide the context for life in Lima – but its Honingman’s limited focus on two sets of characters – smiling service staff and circus-performing street kids – that provides deeper insight.

How do you tell the story of a nation’s capital in a little over an hour? Honigman let her characters do all the showing and telling. And she chose them wisely – from the master bartender who has shaken piso sours for a legion of presidents, to cartwheeling sisters performing for coins in the middle of frightful Lima traffic. We follow these characters from classic colonial restaurants to home-life in the barrio.  They are at once lonely lives, and lives rich with memory, all captured by an intimate, natural filmic style unusual to documentaries.

This is not a film about Peru. It will not take you to the spiritual hights of the Andes. It is a frank look at a gritty city. But I think that’s why I like it. I like cities. Now Lima no longer exists in oblivion for me.

The Yes Men Fix the World

Director Andy Bichlbaum of The Yes Men Fix the World

Director Andy Bichlbaum of The Yes Men Fix the World

There must be something sexy about Andy Bichlbaum . I think this as I watch a Naked News TV reporter lean in towards him. He, along with co-director Mike Bonanno, form the core of The Yes Men, “a couple of gonzo political activists [who] infiltrate the world of big business and pull off outrageous pranks that highlight the ways that corporate greed is destroying the planet.” Sounds sexy enough.

The Yes Men Fix the World enjoyed a Special Presentation screening at this year’s Hot Docs festival and much of the crowd lapped up the Yes Men’s pranks.

Here’s one of their capers as described by Hot Docs programmer Sean Farnel:

In December 2004, BBC World viewers tuned in to receive the surprising but welcome news that Dow Chemical was fully accepting responsibility for the 1984 Bhopal disaster, a toxic gas leak in which 18,000 people were killed. Even better, Dow spokesman ‘Jude Finisterra’ announced a $12-billion aid package for the people of Bhopal. The broadcast was seen by millions. The Yes Men had struck again.

Jude Finisterra is of course a character  Andy Bilchbaum creates to represent Dow Chemical, remakably through a fake website the team created called “Dow Ethics,” they landed a interview with BBC World. Just one of their coups.

I’ve been following their pranks for several years now and I’m happy to see that they received a lot of positive feedback from the kind and like-minded Hot Docs audience. Unfortunately for me, the outrageous sex-appeal of their pranks has worn thin. Glad though, to pass on the torch to new fans.

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: http://www.cbc.ca/documentaries/doczone/2008/dolphindealer/)

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.