Thursday, April 26, 2007

HotDocs #6 *and* #7: It's a Two-Fer Tonight...

That’s right folks, it’s two entries in one. Partly because I’m seriously exhausted. Partly because I got home late last night and wanted to watch Lost, and came home even later tonight. Partly because I’m hitting the fest wall and losing steam quickly. Only three days left.

So, I shall once again invoke the Margaret Cho Blog Brevity Law™ in order to offer the day-to-day coverage I promised. Just, you know, shorter.

Wednesday’s Movies

Only two today. The first was an Israeli film called 9 Star Hotel (5/8), which follows a group of young Palestinian men as they work construction jobs (illegally) by day and hide from the authorities in their makeshift camps at night. It was an interesting doc, but it started to become repetitive – run, work, run, hide, run, work, run, hide – and, after a while, it just felt like the filmmakers didn’t know how or when to end it.

My second film was the fascinating Without the King (7/8), which profiles King Mswati III of Swaziland – the last remaining absolute monarch in the world. Unfortunately for the King, the portrait that director Michael Skolnik (who was wonderful before and after the film’s screening!) paints is one of a ruler who’s waaaay out of touch with his subjects. While he’s living the high life, they’re starving and dying of AIDS (46% of the country’s population is HIV+). King Mswati’s story is told in parallel to that of his 18-year-old daughter, who travels to California to go to college and gradually comes to realize that the idyllic homeland of which she often speaks is more nightmarish than she’d known.

Then I had to leave the warm bosom of HotDocs to see Next, the new Nicolas Cage howler. My review will be up at the ‘Pie by Monday. En route to the theater, I was stopped by a tourist on the University of Toronto campus. She wanted me to take her picture in front of a gorgeous old building, but what should have been a 15-second task became a 7-minute ordeal of dying batteries, photo perfection and a story about a stolen bag. Anyway...

Today’s Movies

Maybe it’s because I’m slowly wearing myself out, or maybe – as with TIFF – the number of films I’m seeing is seriously diminishing my cinematic patience, but I found all of today’s selections to be decidedly meh. Not bad, just meh. They didn’t grab me, and I started getting really drowsy with each passing screening. It didn’t help that it POURED RAIN between movies #2 and 3, which meant I sat in my third film with wet shoes and pants that were soaked from the knees down.

My first film today was The Underground Orchestra (5/8), which was running as part of the Heddy Honigmann retrospective. Despite being a 1997 production, the print of the film was so beaten up that my friend Matt and I both initially assumed it was something they’d unearthed from several decades ago. The film profiles assorted musicians who play in the Paris Metro – all of whom are immigrants from other countries, some with tragic stories about why they’re in exile. While it started out well, the film began to drag with each passing performer...and there were a whole lot of them. If it had been 20 minutes shorter, it would have been a much tighter experience. (Note: Matt also correctly predicted that I'd toss an extra slice this film's way solely because of a segment involving a trapeze act with a cat. SO cute!)

I ate an apple in between that movie and the next one. And then spent the rest of the day – until getting home tonight – DESPERATE for a piece of dental floss with which to remove the tiny fragment of apple peel that had wedged its way between two of my teeth.

Next was the double-shot of Holy Warriors (6/8), and In Memoriam: Alexander Litvinenko (6/8). The first film deals with former Russian soldiers and spies who have rediscovered religion (in various forms) after leaving the military, and the second is about the titular Russian secret service agent, who was allegedly poisoned by the Russian government after exposing their nefarious dealings. Both docs were very well done, with In Memoriam having the emotional-impact edge, since the interviews with Litvinenko were shot in 2004...two years before he was poisoned but when he was astute enough to realize his life was in danger.

My last double-bill of the day (and the one I tried to enjoy despite my drenching) consisted of the short I Just Wanted to Be Somebody (6/8), and the feature A Walk into the Sea (6/8).

Made up solely of archival footage, ...Somebody looks at Anita Bryant’s 1970s campaign to repeal a Florida by-law protecting gays & lesbians from discrimination. It’s part camp and part social study, with a little schadenfreude thrown in for good measure. Similarly, Walk... uses a lot of archival footage intercut with present-day interviews to tell the previously untold story of Danny Williams (uncle of the film’s director), a one-time boyfriend of Andy Warhol and member of the Factory, who disappeared without a trace when he was 27. Did he commit suicide? Did he drown in the ocean? Did he just abandon his life to start fresh somewhere else? The film looks at the possibilities through the eyes of the people who knew the missing man in question.

I had to bolt before that film’s Q&A so I could make it to a screening of Spider-Man 3. The best part of the night? Free popcorn and drinks at the theater! The worst part? Kirsten Dunst. More from me once the film is released.


Lou said...

I bet those Palestinian guys feel the repetitiveness of their days, too. I don't think I could stomach going through Anita Bryant's march to the Keys. So, you're not of the opinion that without Dunst, there'd be no Spider-Man? (g)

Vickie said...

The Anita Bryant short was actually really entertaining, despite its subject.

And I think the Spider-Man franchise could only improve without Kirsten Dunst.trixie