Monday, April 23, 2007

HotDocs #5: Tears & Yawns

As I stood in line for my first film today, the woman in front of me began telling all of us within earshot that the movie we were about to see was amazing. Wonderful. Heartbreaking. Brilliant. And all sorts of other superlatives. She said she’d already seen it, but loved it so much that she was seeing it again...”and I never see movies twice at the same festival!” She also warned us that we would need a LOT of Kleenex, and that we’d likely be sobbing through much of the film.

Not surprisingly, she was absolutely right. War/Dance (8/8), from husband-and-wife directors Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine, is described in the fest’s official program book as “immensely moving.” That’s an understatement. The gorgeously shot film profiles three Ugandan children – Dominic, Nancy and Rose – living in a refugee camp as they (along with the rest of the students in their camp’s school) practice for, and compete in, a national music competition. I know it doesn’t sound like it will rip out your heart and drop-kick across the theater, but it does. Chronicling the kids’ horrifying pasts and inspirational present, the filmmakers deftly blend nightmares with dreams. One minute, you have a girl talking about the gruesome murders of her parents, and the next you have a sea of jubilant children engaged in song and dance. I think it goes without saying that I bawled through the entire movie.

A rep from its distribution company, ThinkFilm, was in attendance and said that they’re planning on putting the film “on the Oscar track.” I can totally see why. This movie has Academy Award written ALL over it. It’s also part of a cool initiative called Shine Global, which is an organization aiming to end the exploitation and abuse of children around the world by raising awareness through documentary filmmaking. So, you donate money and they make movies like this one. If you visit the website, you can also watch an extended trailer for the film, which actually includes a bunch of footage not in the movie. So, if you saw War/Dance at HotDocs (or elsewhere) and want to see more, check it out. (And, of course, keep Kleenex nearby, even for that!)

Unfortunately, I think my next film may have suffered from the aftermath of such an emotional experience, because Thin Ice (4/8) sounded excellent on paper but was kind of disappointing onscreen. It tells the story of a group of young women in a remote village in the Himalayas, who are determined to form a hockey team and compete in an annual tournament. But I found the doc lacking, specifically in terms of creating an emotional investment on the part of the audience (or, I suppose, on me, since lots of people seemed to love this movie). The filmmakers only interviewed one girl out of this entire team – which was made up of Buddhist and Muslim girls – and her interviews serve as the narrative. It also seemed a tiny bit odd that a female American hockey player just happens to run into the team during the shoot (at what seems like a dining hall?) and then offers to coach the team. The director was asked about this strange coincidence during the Q&A and said the woman was “just a backpacker. Very common in the area.” I dunno, I wasn’t sold.

The film was preceded by the short The Fighting Cholitas (5/8), which profiles a number of female Lucha Libre wrestlers in Bolivia, who perform in full cholita regalia.

Last up was Four Elements, which I’m not going to assign a slice rating. See, the film was more of a piece of art than a movie that I can critique – it’s basically a quartet of visual poems about mankind and the four elements (fire, water, earth and air). Each 20-minute section is a dialogue- and narration-free look at workers in various nature-based fields (smokejumpers, crab fishermen, miners and astronauts) as they go about their jobs. The film is visually stunning but, to be honest, kind of boring. A number of people got up and left during the screening, and I have to admit that I considered it as well. But, somewhere amid the crab fishermen in Alaska, I found my groove with the film and just kind of absorbed it instead of trying to analyze it.

Before I wrap for tonight, I have to reiterate how cool HotDocs is, and how fantastic it is to see filmmakers out attending other people’s movies. I recognized a number of directors of films I’d seen over the past few days out at movies I saw today, which was most excellent and further enhances the community feel of the fest. Well done!


Lou said...

You gave me a reason to google "smokejumper."

Vickie said...

We here at the 'Pie always aim to inform our readers. Even indirectly.

Lou said...

The trailer at the Shine Global site is great! That's a very generous look at the documentary on the Uganda kids.