Friday, April 27, 2007

HotDocs #8: The Curious Case of Khouri

I started the day with the film that, inexplicably (to me, anyway), was later announced as the winner of the fest’s best international documentary award. I say “inexplicably” because I found the film to be mind-numbingly dull. It was called Losers and Winners (3/8), and it documents German and Chinese workers dismantling a coking plant in Germany for reassembly in China. Admittedly, I know nothing about coking plants, or what’s involved in taking one apart, or what history there exists of this process with the countries involved in the film...but I know I was bored throughout. For me, and I stress for me, it was like watching an industrial training video. Plus, I watched the whole film and still don’t really know what a coking plant does beyond the fact that it converts coal into...something.

I was bored enough that I started to wonder if I should even bother seeing any other films today. Maybe I should cut my losses and just head home to relax. But something told me that I should, at the very least, give my second film a shot...and I’m SO glad I did. I should also preface this next bit with the fact that I get really skeptical whenever a fest programmer raves and raves about a film during its introduction. Experience at TIFF has taught me that, sometimes, that’s a signal that I may hate the film I’m about to watch. So, when programmer Angie Driscoll stepped onstage at the Bader and enthusiastically said, “This is my absolute favorite film at this year’s festival!” (I’m paraphrasing), I immediately thought, “Oh no.”

But I was wrong. The film was riveting!

Forbidden Lie$ (7/8) tells the story of Norma Khouri, a writer whose memoir, Forbidden Love, purportedly tells the story of her former best friend, who was murdered by her family in an honor killing in Jordan. The book became an international bestseller, and Khouri was featured on countless television programs condemning the Jordanian government and championing the rights of that country’s oppressed women. Thing is, the book – and Norma – quickly came under scrutiny by numerous people who claimed it was a fake. Director Anna Broinowski trains her lens on Khouri and paints a wickedly fascinating picture of a woman who may be a con artist, may be a pathological liar or maybe a teller of half-truths. She’s run scams, that’s for sure. The FBI have had her (and may still have her) under investigation for numerous frauds. The film itself is very cleverly put together; it builds Khouri up for its first half, and then, one by one, exposes her doublespeak, blatant lies and repeated deceptions (to the publishing world and Broinkowski) for its second act. The audience loved it, and Broinkowski revealed that she and her producer would be screening the film for Khouri tomorrow (Saturday) – she said she was very nervous about what Norma’s reaction would be, but nonetheless has a very clear affection for her controversial subject.

Tonight, as mentioned earlier, the fest also handed out a bunch of awards (the audience award will be announced at the close of the fest), and the winners are as follows:

Best Canadian Feature: The Bodybuilder and I

Special Jury Prize (Canadian Feature): Driven by Dreams

Best International Feature: Losers and Winners

Special Jury Prize (International Feature): Without the King

Best Mid-Length Doc: Forgiveness: Stories for Our Time

Best Short Doc: Man Up


Lou said...

Norma Khouri's story is surely fascinating.

vickie said...

The conviction with which she spins her tales is remarkable.

Matt said...

I saw Last Call at the Gladstone on Saturday. In some ways it was similar to Losers and Winners -- just substitute gentrification for globalization. But Last Call managed to be much more compelling, and I don't think it's just because hotels are easier to understand than coking plants. Losers and Winners spent most of its time clinically documenting what happened; Last Call spent most of its time developing the characters.