Hot Docs

expedition ship

When a movie as magnificent as Expedition to the End of the World comes along, it’s hard to find the right words to describe it. Awesome comes to mind, but that sounds so broad. It’s a word that has had its meaning diluted through generations of it being used to merely mean “cool.” For most people, it’s not even a good enough word by itself anymore. First it was unnecessarily given more oomph with phrases like “totally awesome,” and now it’s part of the utterly ridiculous slang expression “awesome sauce.” But the true, original definition of the word is the most fit for a documentary that delivers us to the wonder of our planet’s destruction with such amazing and daunting splendor. And in a way, it’s probably appropriate to use a word that’s lost something in its evolution. The title of the film refers to both the edge of the earth as well as its demise, and yet the journey in question is hardly one of alarm. Just as the physical end of the world is an illusion, given that it’s not flat, the temporal terminus is just a point somewhere amidst the infinity. Expedition to the End of the World follows a group of explorers sailing toward the North Pole along the Northeast coast of Greenland, a trip made possible only recently thanks to global warming, in order to study the newly exposed environment on every level. Scientists aboard the schooner Activ include a geologist, a geochemist, a marine biologist, a […]

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meru closet trio s

While introducing Austin Peck and Anneliese Vandenberg’s Tough Bond at Hot Docs this weekend, a programmer called it “powerful.” That’s an adjective we tend to take for granted, especially at a film festival devoted to documentaries, and I accepted the claim for whatever my mind tends to associate with the word. Which might be nothing. Halfway through the film, I wondered what we really mean when we call a film powerful. There are actually a few different possibilities. An orange glue bottle hanging from the mouths of Kenyan street kids like its an extension of their face. That’s an image I’ll never get out of my head, which means its an image with power. And its an image recurring throughout Tough Bond, which focuses on a national problem of huffing and the societal changes leading youths to turn to the intoxicating adhesive. But that doesn’t make the film itself powerful, does it? It’s not as if the filmmakers created this picture of modern Africa. They just recorded it.

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Asst Manager Bobby Explains Rules (C) Six Island Productions JPG

For his 13th birthday, Shawney Cohen received a lap dance. Gifted to him by his father. It didn’t seem that abnormal for a kid who grew up around strippers. His family owns and operates a gentleman’s club outside of Toronto, and as a kid Cohen often stayed at its adjoining hotel. If he awoke in the middle of the night and needed a glass of water, he would head to the bar like it was no big deal. Decades later, he has now made an irresistible film about the family business, where he also works part time. Named after the club, The Manor presents the place like any of us might share our own childhood backdrop. In a way it’s merely a common setting in the context of Cohen’s life, yet it’s also quite significant to the story of his parents, both of whom have an eating disorder. Over the course of multiple years of coverage, as his obese father has bariatric surgery and his mother is pushed to get help for anorexia, this dynamic is where the documentary maintains its focus.

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Possibly one of the scariest documentaries I’ve ever seen, Sexy Baby explores the over-sexualization of girls and women in the era of the Internet. Directed by Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus, the movie analyzes how social media, Internet porn and general pop culture are affecting the sexuality of women through the eyes of its three female subjects. There’s former porn actress Nichole (aka Nikita Kash) who’s trying to settle in to a more conventional life; precocious teen Winnifred, who’s struggling to come to terms with her own image and sexuality; and finally there’s Laura, who, after years of saving up for it, is ready to get the plastic surgery of her dreams – labiaplasty to be specific – so she can finally feel confident. The three stories attempt to answer the same question – what does it mean to be a woman in today’s hypersexual climate? Images that were once behind the curtain at the video store or at the very least hidden under a mattress are now accessible at the click of a finger, and it’s gotten more extreme. Porn isn’t new, but the types of porn we’re seeing, and the way we access it is. And in most cases, kids are seeing it at a much younger age than they used to. And if it’s not hard-core porn, it’s sexualized images in music videos, billboards, and advertising images. Celebrity sex scandals are frequently covered in the mainstream media, and those who find themselves with a leaked sex tape […]

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Off Label, the new documentary from Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher (October Country), investigates the epidemic of skyrocketing prescription drug use in America – more specifically, how medications are being tested, marketed, sold and used for purposes they weren’t originally intended for, and the toll it takes on human subjects. The film follows seven stories of people who serve as human test subjects – both willing and unwilling – by pharmaceutical companies. There’s a man who’s made his living as a human guinea pig and has just reached the age where he can no longer take part; the middle-aged bipolar woman who takes 18 pills a day with varying degrees of success; the mother of a boy who brutally killed himself when he was put on the wrong medications in a clinical study; and a young Iraq war vet with PTSD who was prescribed a cocktail of drugs instead of getting the treatment he needed. All of these stories are used to make an unapologetic case against the use of prescription drugs for off-label purposes.

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As I stood in line outside the Hot Docs screening of the Rick Springfield documentary An Affair of the Heart, I overheard the couple in front of me tell their neighbors they’d been following Rick Springfield around the world for 12 years. I remember thinking, “12 years? Really? For the guy who sang ‘Jessie’s Girl’?” Little did I know that was only a small taste of what was to come. When I got inside I couldn’t help but notice this was not your average documentary festival crowd. Where usually there are pale intellectuals, all around me were middle-aged women, eyes awash with excitement and in some cases, just about bursting with joy. I knew I was in trouble when the woman next to me declared she was going to faint and promptly burst into tears. Oh, and did I mention Rick Springfield was in attendance? As I learned during the movie (what I could hear between the screams and catcalls form the audience), Rick Springfield has elicited this kind of emotion from his fiercely devoted fan base for 30 some odd years. To some of us he might seem like another mullet-sporting 80s pop footnote, but to a select group of dedicated fans, he’s a larger-than-life character who’s been a constant in their lives since they were teenagers.

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