Monday, April 30, 2007

HotDocs #10.5: One more award...

The fest announced today that War/Dance won this year's Audience Award. They also announced that the 2007 festival had a whopping 33% increase in attendance over 2006, with more than 68,000 sitting down to watch docs for 10 days. Impressive!

The top 10 films, as selected via audience votes, are as follows:

WAR/DANCE (D: Sean Fine, Andrea Nix Fine; USA ; 105 min)
WE ARE TOGETHER (D: Paul Taylor; UK ; 86 min)
GARBAGE WARRIOR (D: Oliver Hodge; UK ; 87 min)
THE SUICIDE TOURIST (D: John Zaritsky; Canada ; 90 min)
FORBIDDEN LIE$ (D: Anna Broinowski; Australia ; 107 min)
NANKING (D: Bill Guttentag, Dan Sturman; USA ; 89 min)
CITY IDOL (D: Arturo Perez Torres; Canada ; 90 min)
HEAR AND NOW (D: Irene Taylor Brodsky; USA ; 84 min)
CHICHESTER’S CHOICE (D: Simonee Chichester; Canada ; 64 min)
FOREVER (D: Heddy Honigmann; Netherlands ; 95 min)

Okay, now I can put the HDD to bed for the year.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

HotDocs #10: That's a Wrap!

I’m afraid that my final day at HotDocs had me seeing only one film. Life got in the way a bit today, so it’s all I had time for. Thankfully, I ended the fest with a good film and not a stinker.

Unspeakable (6/8) is all about stuttering – what it means to be a stutterer, what causes the disorder and what sort of treatments and therapies are available for individuals hoping to speak with more fluency. Its director, John Paskievich, is a stutterer is fest programmer, Andrew McIntosh, who introduced the film and moderated the post-film Q&A. It was an informative screening for those of us with limited knowledge of the condition...except for the clueless woman at the rear of the theater, who – as a stutterer in the audience stood up and began (with some difficulty) to ask his question – SHOUTED out rudely, “CAN’T HEAR THE QUESTION!” Dear madam, did you not just watch the movie, wherein it’s mentioned that public speaking is often extremely difficult for people with a stutter? Did you think that it would help this gentleman if you screamed out while he was attempting to make his point? Geez.

With that, HotDocs 2007 drew to a close for me. I have to say that, exhaustion aside, I loved it. It was my first time attending as a semi-hardcore audience member instead of a casual attendee, and I found it to be a wonderfully well-run, well-organized and relaxed fest. I can’t stress enough how great it is that they offer free daytime screenings for seniors and students, and I think that contributes a lot to the overall sense of goodwill that permeated the past 10 days.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to officially found the Myrocia Watamaniuk Appreciation Socity (MWAS). A programmer at HotDocs and the Worldwide Short Film Fest, she RAWKS. She is easily the best moderator the fest has going – her introductions are always flawless, breezy and informative without sounding sycophantic or rehearsed, and her Q&A sessions are always spirited, well-run and entertaining. When she says she loved a movie, I believe her and, as with TIFF’s Michelle Maheux, I’m starting to think she and I have the same taste in films. I wish she’d work TIFF, because I’d rather hear her stand onstage and recite the official fest rule book for three hours than listen to one second of Noah Cowan try to sound spontaneous as he rattles off 50-dollar words or, worse, witness some anonymous TIFF lackey shoved onstage to awkwardly intro a film. My hat is off to Myrocia – see you at the WWSFF in June!

And to HotDocs, thanks for a kick-ass 10 days! See you in 2008!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

HotDocs #9: Loving Lovable

As the fest winds down, I find myself feeling more and more emotionally exhausted. I hadn’t taken into account how psychologically draining it can be when you see one heavy film after another – so far, the only “light-hearted” docs I’ve seen are Girls, Rock!, Yoga Inc. and Forbidden Lie$. The rest have hardly been laughing matters. Not surprisingly, as much as I love film festivalling, my mind and body are ready for it to be over.

First up today was the Doc It! Showcase, a collection of short documentaries made by youths between 14 and 18. There were nine films shown, and they ranged from the benign (school uniforms: good or bad?), to the poignant (Sent to the Right, about the after effects of the Holocaust), to the self-indulgent (City of Names, which felt very staged and tracked teenage graffiti artists in Germany). The quality of the films also varied widely, with some standing out for their skilled execution while others felt a little sloppy, especially since all but one of the films were done as assignments for school (spelling errors? really?).

My next film of the day had been hotly buzzed about (as great) earlier in the week, and the screening I attended was sold out...with a rush line so eager to get in that people were actually standing by the Bader doors asking for extra tickets. The film was Lovable (8/8), director Alan Zweig’s look at what it means to be single – more specifically, what it means to be a single woman – once you hit your 30s, 40s and beyond, and examines why it can be so hard to find love. Based solely on its description, I (correctly) suspected I’d enjoy the film before I even saw the first frame, but I didn’t expect to be so moved by it. Alternately funny and poignant, the film exposes the stigma often associated with being alone at a certain age, and how singledom is viewed as some sort of deficiency in so many circles. As one single woman in the film puts it (I’m paraphrasing because I can’t remember her exact words), “If you’re still single in your 30s, that immediately becomes your most unattractive quality.” I thought the documentary was exceptionally, but very subtly, powerful. And, on a rather telling note, I also noticed more people checking each other out as they exited the theater than I have at any other screening.

Folks in Ontario can catch Lovable when it airs on The View From Here on TVO on Wednesday, May 2nd at 10pm.

If you’re single, you should watch. If you’re coupled, you should watch. And if you’ve ever said “I can’t believe you’re STILL single!” to anyone you’ve ever met, you should watch it AND tape it and then watch it again.

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

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.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

HotDocs #6: No docs

I regret to inform you that, due to professional demands (i.e., work at the office), I was unable to see any films today. At all. This makes me very sad. Unfortunately, I didn't get home from the office until 7:30pm today, which was just too late an hour for me to turn around and head back out for a screening. So, I did not see Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, the film about American soldiers and their practices at the notorious military prison, and I did not see Wings of Defeat, the doc about Japanese kamikaze pilots during WWII...which features rare interviews with some pilots who actually survived their missions. I was scheduled to see both, but didn't. I apologize.

And, from the looks of things, I'll only be able to see one film tomorrow and one on Thursday. There's more work to be done at the office than I'd figured, and what was to be two half-days of work is turning into 2 1/2 full days. Thankfully, there's still five days of docs left after today, so I'll be able to cram some more films in on Friday and the weekend. Hooray!

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!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

HotDocs #4: Audience Appreciation

I don’t know if it’s because my body simply isn’t accustomed to film festivalling in April, or because the weather’s been unseasonably warm lately, or because my last two films today were at the ROM...where the air conditioning wasn’t working and where those of us in the theater could actually feel ourselves melting into human puddles...but MAN, I’m wiped. And it’s only day four!

I managed to snag tickets to three screenings today, and downed the World’s Biggest Smoothie in between to keep myself fueled.

First up was Helvetica (5/8), a documentary about the font of the same name – its origins, its history and its ubiquity. It features interviews with type designers and graphic artists, alongside an endless stream of examples of Helvetica in everything from advertising to street signs. But, to me, it felt like it would have made a superb short film. As a feature, it ebbs and flows from one talking head to the next and started to lose my interest along with its momentum. It might have been the nature of the subject matter – how much can one really say about a font? – or it might have been that director Gary Hustwit set a curious, and somewhat off-putting, tone during his introduction.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m of the mind that one probably shouldn’t mock or insult the audience right before starting one’s own movie. I’m totally certain he was just trying to be playful or funny, but his delivery tanked: Hustwit walked out onstage, kind of shook his head in disbelief at the packed (every spot filled in the 500-seat house) audience and said that he knew “the geeks” would come out in force for a movie about a font. Then he asked us why we were there on such a nice day, and told us we were in need of some kind of treatment. Again, I *know* he was kidding, but it felt a little self-congratulatory in a phony self-deprecating way...especially since almost every other filmmaker (here and at other fests) begins by thanking the audience for coming. He didn’t know us well enough to mock us, I thought.

I should have turned to the guy sitting next to me – doc director Aaron Woolf – and asked him if he planned to mock his audience when his film screened. I didn’t know it was Aaron Woolf sitting next to me at the time, mind you, and didn’t realize that his film (King Corn) is one that I totally would have seen had it not been screening at 11:30pm at the Bloor. We only chatted long enough for me to find out that my in-theater neighbor was a filmmaker with a movie called King Corn, so I looked him up when I got home. I mention him because he’s my only “celeb” sighting today (and because I regret not asking for a screener). Well, him and FashionTV host Jeanne Beker, who was trying to go incognito as she wove through the food court at Toronto General Hospital, where I had my smoothie.

My second film today was Billy the Kid (5/8), which I really wanted to like more than I did. It had good buzz but, as it stands, I’m struggling with the 5/8 rating because part of me wants to drop it to a 4. The film is about the titular 15-year-old, who’s got some “issues” (they repeat this several times) that clearly have to do with his social skills and some sort of ADD. He’s like the male version of Molly Shannon’s Mary-Catherine Gallagher schoolgirl character, right down to the obsessive referencing of movies, only real and not played for comedy and kind of sad. The movie was fine, but I couldn’t help feeling that we were being given a skewed sense of its central figure and that some of the other people in his world were behaving differently towards him (i.e., being nicer than they would have otherwise) because he had a crew following him around. Turns out the film was also shot in only eight days (five in summer and three in winter), which only added to the sense that it barely scratches the surface of who this complex, friendless, awkward but endearing boy is. I can’t put my finger on it, but I just didn’t feel satisfied as a viewer.

Billy the Kid was preceded by the short, The Truth About Tooth (6/8), a clever little Scottish gem about children’s belief in the Tooth Fairy.

Last up was Strawberry Fields (6/8), which examines the impact of the Disengagement in the West Bank on a group of strawberry farmers in Gaza – specifically, the exporting of their produce through Israeli-controlled ports. Admittedly, my knowledge of the politics of the region is cursory, so I can’t really speak to any geo-political issues it may or may not raise (though one audience member, a Palestinian, did stand up to accuse the film’s Israeli director of not painting a full picture of the situation). I looked at it as a human story about the farmers and their struggles, and to that end it was interesting and occasionally jarring.

The film was preceded by Shit & Chicks (7/8), a brilliant short about a Ghanian farmer and his ingenious way of sustaining his small flock of chickens. It’s told without dialogue (save for a few explanatory paragraphs of text onscreen at the end) and, considering it came from a director who claims he has no knowledge of filmmaking, is a great visual story.

Earlier in the HDD I commented that HotDocs is much more accessible, price-wise, than TIFF, and I completely forgot to mention one of the greatest reasons this is so: ALL daytime screenings are FREE for students and seniors! TOTALLY FREE! You can’t get more affordable than that. And, on a final “Gee, ain’t HotDocs grand?” note: I must point out the joy that leapt in my moviegoing heart today as I saw the maaaaaassive rush line (easily 100 people) waiting for the chance to see Helvetica...a movie about a font, and the similarly lengthy queue of folks waiting to find out if they might be able to see a film about strawberries in the Middle East. I mean, people desperate to see movies about letters and fruit! How great is that?!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

HotDocs #3: Why the Bloor is My Least Favorite Venue...and: Girls, Rock! RAWKS!

I’d like to take a moment to talk about pee. More specifically, peeing. More specifically than that, peeing at the Bloor Cinema...which is a pain in the bum if you’re a woman. Pun fully intended.


Because the Bloor is a theater that seats more than 800, yet they only have THREE toilets for us girls. Three. So even if only half of a packed house is made up of women, that’s upwards of 400 people trying to tame full bladders long enough to stand in a massive line and wait for an open stall. For someone who drinks as much water as I do, this is a nightmare.

Now, the Bloor Cinema is a historic landmark and a gorgeous theater and it routinely screens great movies at low prices, but for an event like HotDocs – where theaters often fill to capacity – it suddenly becomes seriously unfriendly to users who need to pee. I mention this because I saw two films at the Bloor today, and both skewed to a decidedly female demographic. Guess how long the washroom lines were?


By comparison, the Isabel Bader Theatre is magnificent. Pristine, new and, with a seating capacity of only 500, a whopping TEN women’s toilets! Even the tiny Innis Town Hall, which only has 200 seats, offers its female visitors five stalls from which to choose. Three toilets for 800 seats is just a sad, uncomfortable ratio and, trivial as it may seem, it’s something that will definitely factor into my future screening selections. There’s only so much I can hold in for so long!

Moving on...

My first film today was Yoga, Inc (5/8), an entertaining but not wholly satisfying look at the commercialization of yoga in the United States. Examining the relationship between commerce and what’s *supposed* to be a spiritual pursuit, the film spends a great deal of time demonstrating how the yoga phenomenon has exploded in the U.S., and how Bikram Choudhry, the Harvey Weinstein of the industry, is almost a cult-leader-like creep. But I think director John Philp missed a prime opportunity for comedy and insight by never asking any of his interview subjects – some of whom are fanatical -- why they do yoga. Why is it so important to them? What do they get out of it? I’d guess that more than a few would have given gems of answers.

Oh, and it was preceded by a very short short, Liquidman (5/8), which profiles a free diver and features some lovely underwater photography.

After the film was over, I spent two hours walking around the city. I had a veggie dog from a street vendor for dinner, and sat on the steps of the ROM to people watch while I ate it. It was beautiful out today, so it was a perfect, shady spot to unwind. I wanted an soft-serve ice cream cone (chocolate/vanilla twist, since you ask), but was unable to find an ice cream truck from which to procure one. So, back in line!

I’m thrilled to report that the one movie I was desperate to see at HotDocs was just as wonderful as I’d hoped. Girls, Rock! (7/8) RAWKED! Much in the same way that I loved Summercamp! back at TIFF, or Spellbound before that, I was totally into this doc about a Portland, OR, rock & roll camp for girls. (I know, shocking, right? It’s not like I’m a fan of girl bands or anything. Quit snickering.) Centering on four colorful campers – death-metal fan Laura, precocious 7-year-old Palace, bespectacled chatterbox Amelia and newbie bassist Misty – the film looks at ups and downs in the week-long experience and how, as one tearful mother puts it, the camp instructors (all musicians themselves) “teach the girls how to treat other girls.” Punctuated by hyper-saturated animated sequences with random grrrrl-power factoids, it’s a rockin’, rollin' and remarkably insightful good time. With a killer soundtrack. Someone needs to get a screener to Ellen or Oprah, pronto.

Since I’m bound by the review constraints laid out by the fest, I have to reserve my full review for later...much later, it turns out, since the film won’t start unspooling near you until late-2007 or 2008. In the meantime, you can find out everything you wanted to know (and much more!) about the film and the camp on your own.

You can even watch the trailer! Or a a second trailer!

What I want to know is: how can I get one of the skully camp T-shirts the girls wear in the film? If anyone’s driving past the camp, swing in and see if they’re for sale!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Hot Docs #2: Strategy

This afternoon, I went to the HotDocs media room and picked up my press pass. Yay! But the process, however thrilling, was an exercise in non-security: I didn’t have to show any I.D. (?!), I just walked up to the desk, said my name and they handed it to me. Given the hoops one has to jump through to get accredited at other fests (*cough*TIFF*cough*), I was somewhat taken aback at how easy it was. After she handed me my pass, the volunteer manning the desk smiled, gave me an envelope and said, “And heeeeere’s the most important part – your party tickets!”

I wanted to tell her that party tickets were waaaay down on my festival priority list, but I simply thanked her and left (not before snagging a “Your Mommy Kills Animals” button). Most of the invites are for one person only, which is understandable but (for a wallflower like me) makes the thought of flying solo at an event where everybody knows everybody else kind of daunting. I don’t know that I’ll actually use any of those tickets.

Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t be able to use my shiny new press pass right away because I had to spend most of the day today waiting by my phone to do an interview with an athlete...who never called. Neither did her agent. It’s now 10:40pm and I still haven’t heard from them – no apology, no rescheduling, nada. It’s times like these that I long to interview celebs, whose handlers are at least very apologetic if their clients don’t behave. Anyway, I’d spent all morning waiting, and eventually dashed to the HD industry centre for my pass before dashing home...all for nothing. I could have seen more movies today if I’d known my interview subject was gonna flake out on me.

As I sat on my couch watching time crawl by, I began to restrategize my HD moviegoing. When I first flipped through the schedule last week, I picked films based on their marquee value – i.e., which ones look like they’ll be big crowd pleasers and which ones have the most amount of pre-fest buzz? But today I realized that I was making a mistake. If everyone and their cousin was clamoring to get tickets to high-buzz flicks like Manufacturing Dissent or Let’s All Hate Toronto (which I’d originally planned to see tonight), who’s going to cover all the other, smaller, perhaps lesser-known films screening this week? Who’s going to champion the little guy? What if there are some magnificent movies playing to half-empty houses because people were too busy trying to scam their way into Punk the Vote! (which looks fun but is screening at the very tiny Innis Town Hall later in the week)?

So, I redid my sked. I picked different films. I reorganized my week and decided to see movies that I might not otherwise see. I mean, if I can be blown away by In the Shadow of the Moon, which I had zero interest in seeing, what else might I discover if I expand my horizons a bit? I therefore decided to skip Let’s All Hate Toronto (which I’m sure is good but which will also likely wind up airing on the CBC) ce soir and see something else. And I’m delighted to report that the two films I saw instead confirmed that I was totally making the right call.

The first was a short called Magic Night (6/8), which profiles a blind Finnish bird “watcher,” who spends every night walking along a road through bird-filled brush in order to listen to the array of avian voices that fill the air. Simple and poetic, the film is a smart and melodic rumination on beauty – do you need to see the bird in order to enjoy its song? (Hint: nope.) This short was also a brilliant companion piece to the feature-length documentary that made up the rest of the screening.

As an accredited member of the press for this fest, I’m not allowed to post full reviews of the films I see (only capsule reviews until the films’ theatrical release dates). But oh, how I wish I could, because the second film of the night -- Hear and Now (8/8) -- was simply breathtakingly good. If I could, I would give it 9 out of 8 slices. Or 10. I absolutely loved it. Filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky trains her lens on her 65-year-old parents, Sally and Paul, who have both been deaf since birth and who both decide (at 65) to have cochlear-implant surgery, which would allow them to hear for the first time in their lives. Simultaneously joyous and heartbreaking, the film is a beautiful portrait of love more than anything else, and had most of the audience crying on and off throughout. It also shows the struggles and frustrations inherent in giving up the life you know for one that may or may not be better, depending on your point of view.

Both Paul and Sally were in attendance at tonight’s screening, and they received a standing ovation when they took the stage after the film. Funny, inspiring and true partners in every sense of the word, they made a huge impact on those of us at the Bader. (For anyone reading this in time: the film screens again tomorrow (Sat.) at noon at the ROM. I highly, highly recommend checking it out if you can. Bring Kleenex!) Again, I wish I could ramble on about the movie for ages, but I can’ see it for yourself and enjoy.

Tomorrow, OMG, it’s Girls, Rock!

HotDocs Diary #1: So, this is what it's like to be invited!

Today was my inaugural HotDocs 2007 event, and the first one I’m attending as an invited guest. My trek to the theatre was not an easy one, since the bus I’d planned to take to the venue was almost 20 minutes late (or 5 minutes early, depending on which scheduled bus it actually was). Once I arrived at the Bader, I exchanged my email invitation for a hard ticket and took my place in the ticket-holders line.

There, I observed.

The audience for the opening-night screening was made up almost solely of industry folks and corporate sponsors, so it was not unlike attending a TIFF Gala screening. There were numerous exuberant greetings between friends who presumably hadn’t seen each other since the last fest they attended, and more cell phones than you could shake a brain tumor at. Unlike TIFF, big bear hugs seemed to replace air kisses, which was nice.

(As an aside, the weather for today and the next few days is supposed to be exceptionally sunny and warm, so I wonder if the Bader bees will make an early appearance?)

Remember how I theorized that there might not be much to gripe about at HD? I was wrong...because I forgot about APL: Annoying People in Line! They’re the ones who cut in front of you, or smoke cigarettes right beside you, or yap on their phones about a foot from your head.

Or, they’re like the two young women who were in front of me, who actually stop the progress of the line. You know the ones I mean. They don’t keep pace with the people in front of them, so once the doors to the theater are opened and the line begins moving, you and the rest of the folks behind you wind up in the line equivalent of a drain clog...watching helplessly as the gap between you and the first chunk of the line widens with each passing second. People behind you start to get antsy and you can see random linemates starting to move around to flank you. They’re thinking of going around. Chaos is imminent.

These two women, who were so engrossed in themselves, their cell phones and their outfits, didn’t have tickets, either. Nevermind that the volunteer working the line earlier specifically asked everyone “ticket holders? you have your tickets?” and they nodded. They lied. They had their invitation – the one that said, in big letters across the front, “submit this invitation at the theater box office to receive your ticket” – but hadn’t actually followed its instructions.

So, anyway, the doors open and the line starts to move. I notice immediately that the two women in front of me are walking extremely s-l-o-w-l-y. Like, sloth slow. And they were slowing down further with each step until they achieved the least amount of movement possible without actually standing still. I wasn’t sure what the hold up might be, but when we finally reached the main doors, it was revealed: they were waiting for someone and trying to delay their entry in case that someone magically arrived. Then, an eagle-eyed volunteer spotted the fact that they didn’t have tickets and pointed it out to them. They seemed confused. “What? Oh, really? What do we do?” He pointed to the clearly printed exchange instructions.

By now, the line had come to a dead stop as Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dolt debated whether to go in and sit down, or wait outside. Tick tock tick tock. I could sense the line behind me getting impatient. Finally, they took a half-step out of line and I moved briskly past them, with the rest of the line following me in. Sheesh!

The opening-night documentary was In the Shadow of the Moon (7/8), a beautiful film chronicling NASA’s Apollo space program. It features insightful, funny and occasionally moving interviews with eight of the surviving Apollo astronauts, archival footage of their training, news reports from the era and some breathtaking footage taken during their missions to the moon. It also manages to simultaneously be a meditation on planet Earth amid a discussion of outer space. Walking in, I thought I would be bored silly, but I was completely mistaken. I thought it was excellent, and surprisingly emotional.

The only celeb sighting (and, really, I didn’t think there would be any at all during HD) was Sarah Polley, who also attended.

Today, I pick up my press pass and, if it’s anything like the industry passes some folks were sporting last night, it’s HUGE. Sort of like wearing a laminated sheet of paper around your neck. Still, it means free tickets, so it’s fine by me!