Tag Archives: oscars

Saving Face

A film about women disfigured by acid attacks is not usually something I want to unwind to at the end of a long, stressful day. But when I spotted this year’s Oscar award-winning short documentary on HBO Canada’s on demand list, I decided to give it a peek, thinking, if it gets to be too much I will turn it off, no guilty feelings.

Though “Saving Face” angered me and disturbed me with its vicious acts – most often perpetrated by the husbands of these women for the most absurdly imagined transgressions – the film engaged me to the end for two main reasons:

– it didn’t dwell on the misery – in fact, the women were bravely coming together to make lasting legal reform, and

– the doctor character at the centre of the film, Dr Mohammed Jawad, had such spark, humour and compassion that I really enjoyed his presence on screen

The tone of the film was therefore less activist and more sharing. Unlike many “cause” films, this one embraced me and encouraged my compassion instead of forcing me to pick sides and get angry. I promptly suggested a plastic surgeon friend of mine to consider contributing his talents to this cause.


Food Inc. Made Me Think

Many stupefying assertions are made in “Food Inc.”, one of this year’s feature documentary Academy Award contenders. I’ll roll some out for you:

 –         3 or 4 companies control meat production in the U.S.A. – probably not much different in Canada

–         a typical chicken grower (no longer called farmer) in Kentucky has borrowed $500,000 and makes $18,000 a year

–         there has been a massive reduction of food inspections in the US lately

–         13 mega slaughterhouses for that nation means there can be parts of a thousand different cows in a single hamburger

–         libel laws in the US mean that a mother can’t criticize poor food safety standards for the death of her son without facing a lawsuit

–         Monsanto owns over 90% of the patents of seeds (and thus crops.) It, along with the meat mega-producers and the mega-slaughterhouses mean tight corporate control over food production in the US

–         Federal US subsidies make it cheaper for poor families to eat corn and it’s thousands upon thousands of (mostly unhealthy) by-products than eat a home-made salad (thus rampant obesity and health problems)

These are some of the realities that Americans must face with their crippling food system. It seems to me a crisis akin to many of that nation’s other crises: economic, health (connected), wars. What a devastating toll our neighbours to the south are suffering. Especially those who really don’t have a choice because they are bound by this insane “food hierarchy.”

This documentary is a call to action – and done in a way that is colourful, bold and fighting. It’s what I call a “soap-box” doc – has a strong message, stands on a box and shouts for attention. Like Michael Moore’s docs, it is a strong piece of propaganda, so bear that in mind. But it’s an entertaining way to get a needed conversation started and I hope that it is seen by millions.

We in Canada are best to pay attention, as we may not have it much better up here. It’s time to take a critical look at food production in this country as well.

One thing I’m grateful for: my partner’s uncle’s bison farm in Saskatchewan and the hand-butchered, naturally-raised meat that I am blessed to nourish my body with. Thanks, Uncle Peter!

Visit the Food Inc. website here.

Food Inc. airs in Canada on CBC News Network Sunday April 11 at 10 pm ET/PT & Saturday April 17 at 7 pm ET, and after it has aired, will be available to Canadian residents to watch online for free here for a limited time.

Two Lists

List #1: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Thursday this year’s Documentary Feature Shortlist. I wrote about two films that appear on this list (Burma VJ and Mugabe and the White African) in a recent post.  Glad to see that they made it. Fellow docs blogger (read: guru) AJ Schnack writes to the fifteen picks and also to some notable snubs in this post.

Check back here for my thoughts on two other shortlisters: Which Way Home and The Cove. I’ve got some things to say about each.

List #2: IDFA (the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam) is the world’s largest and prestigious documentary gathering and showcase. Several of the docs considered for Oscars this year were debuted at IDFA last year. So as we look backwards to the year that was in documentary filmmaking, the air is electric with the documentaries that await us. If you are interested, you can read more about the festival and the hot entries in this IndieWire article.

Boy does this Dutchy docs gal ever wish she was going to IDFA. I will have to live vicariously through my boss instead. At least I’m only one degree of separation away.

Oscar for Best Documentary Feature – Man on Wire


Petit continues to hijack us with his capers! For my review of “Man on Wire,” see previous post. (Photo via Times Online, Gary Hershorn/Reuters)

June 9, 2009 UPDATE: the “Man on Wire” trailer won a Golden Trailer Award:

Best Documentary
Man on Wire, The Editpool, Icon Film Distribution

The trailer successfully captures the caper nature of Petit’s feats, and the clips, images and music used are choreographed in such a way that this 2 minute inspiration piece leaves me wanting to watch the movie a second time.

Oscar’s Short Documentary Category

The first short documentary to ever win an Academy Award was in 1941 and it was a Canadian film produced by the NFB on WWII called “Churchill’s Island.”  It’s a propaganda film for sure, but if you can get past that, you’ll see  some pretty exciting footage from aerial fights, to submarines, and torpedo boats.

For this year’s Oscars Short Doc category , I’ve linked clips for the nominees:

The Conscience of Nhem En

The Final Inch

Smile Pinki

The Witness – from the Balcony of Room 306

My prediction is that The Witness will win on the coattails of President Obama’s victory.  The others are commendable, “important” documentaries that so often fail to garner an excited audience.

Encounters at the Edge of the World

From the opening scenes of “Encounters at the End of the World,” it is clear that Werner Herzog is taking us to a place that is nearly as lonely and strange as the Moon. That excitement builds upon landing and we are introduced to the ugly scattered town of McMurdo, the American Antarctic research station, and the continent’s largest community at just over a thousand or so transient residents.

The town is full of big yellow trucks and Quonset huts and the odd people who populate it, professional dreamers and those who have simply fallen off the edge of the map.

This is an unusual place where during the austral summer the sun never sets. It is a place of disorientation: of the imperceptible passing of time, of snow and ice into any horizon, and of an indefinable community of scientists and philosophers who to a large extent abandon their nationalities to become anonymous citizens of this frozen land. It is no wonder then, that it is a natural fit for Herzog who specializes in documenting the lives of unusual poets lived in off-the-beat places.

I saw the film twice, and on my second viewing, I looked forward to the sorts of mini-documentaries Herzog has cobbled together. Of all the films of his that I have seen, this one feels most journalistic in nature. Herzog is determined to capture the highlights of the current activity in the Antarctic, from the eerie electronic underwater sounds of seals brilliantly captured by his soundman, to the volcanologists perched at the edge of the constantly “bombing” volcano, Mount Erebus. And from Shackleton’s hut, its artifacts literally frozen in time, to an underwater cathedral with its frozen ceiling and jellyfish angels.

Werner Herzog always seeks enlightenment in any endeavour he embarks on and that is why I love watching his films. When scientists return from a dive and study their primordial soup under a microscope, they exclaim that three new species of unicellular creatures have been discovered. Herzog asks: “Is this a great moment?”

But his genius, what makes him such a loveable filmmaker, is his willingness to share the wisdom he has been offered with those he meets. When he talks to Libor Zicha, a man whose escape from behind the Iron Curtain is so fraught with nightmarish memories becomes choked up and is unable to speak, Herzog steps in and says “The best description of hunger I have ever heard is the description of bread.” Zicha manages a smile and a nod and the conversation ensues in a new direction.

This is a gorgeous film, full of strange images, sounds and people. My suggestion would be to rent the DVD version of the film that comes with the extras. If you are a Herzog fan you will find rewarding and enlightening the interview with Jonathan Demme.

Man on Wire

Here’s another Hot Docs 2008 Festival selection that has made it to the Academy Awards best documentary category shortlist.  I am reviewing all five on this blog before the Oscar envelope is torn open. See my post “The Betrayal” for my first review.  Now for “Man on Wire.”

Since I work with documentary professionals, I had heard that “Man on Wire” is both a competent and inspirational doc. No one disliked it, but also, no one had anything particularly passionate to say about it either. Do we just watch too many docs?

My interest in the filmed perked when I found a Tribeca Film Festival interview with filmmaker James Marsh on YouTube. He said something in particular that pulled me into this magical tale about French tightrope walker Philippe Petit who dared to walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre back in 1974.

Imagine a British filmmaker arriving to the fabled land of New York to hear this story from years ago, tweaking his imagination. It had become “part of the mythology” of the city, he said. “It’s become one of those stories we’re all dimly aware of.” Having spent some time in New York, I can only imagine that even the tallest and most spectacular of tales gets lost in the vast archives of fantastic tales that this city has experienced over the centuries. That you recall a single story sets the imagination in flight.

Marsh has been touted for constructing the film as a heist movie, but it is the act itself that was, by its very nature, a caper. Petit also had some sense that the story would lend itself to film – many of the scenes are of him and his team preparing for months in advance and practicing similar walks in Paris and Australia. The clips are lovely windows into artistic collaboration and the power of the conviction of youth.

Equally as interesting is the archival footage of the construction of the twin towers. I watch the construction of the Ritz Carlton from out of my window at the CBC every day and there is no comparison in scale.

I’m glad Marsh became lulled by this legend to the point that he contacted tightrope walker and thief Petit to make the film. Had he not, our collective consciousness of those towers would be marred by the terrible act of violence that would destroy them twenty-seven years later. Instead, we are gifted with a wingless man balancing his fragile life on a wire. It is in watching those steps, so gently placed, that we can imagine the breath-taking closeness of death and then the glorious singing of the opening up of the spirit, that make the film.