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Art Threat: The Condemned exposes the dark lives of convicted murderers

On the outside, The Condemned is what you would expect of a documentary about a prison: bad food, unsympathetic guards, tearful family reunions, letters from Lonely Hearts, and a lot of tattoos. But Federal Penal Colony 56, buried deep in the wilderness of Russia, contains so much more.

A prison exclusively for murderers with 260 men inside, the film provides a unique look at a world most of us should hope to never know. The Condemned spares no punches in exposing the dark and troubled soul of this place and its inhabitants.

Over the course of the film, we are (Read more…)

Art Threat: Asking the right questions: A review of Private Violence

Private Violence, a heart-wrenching documentary about domestic abuse, follows one advocate and survivor’s journey to improve upon the resources and support systems for abused women, as well as hold accountable the criminal justice system in the United States that allows abusers to go free.

Director Cynthia Hill explores intimate, emotional stories of women and their families as battered women’s advocate Kit Gruelle endeavours to bring them support, justice, community, friendship, and hope through her work. Composed of private interviews, court room footage, events such as police training exercises, and shocking, yet necessary, evidence from abuse cases, the film helps (Read more…)

Art Threat: A soulful assemblage: A review of Come Worry with Us!

Come Worry With Us! is a film by Helene Klodawsky that follows Montreal-based band, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra on a North American tour. A collage-like documentary, the film highlights Jessica Moss and Efrim Menuck, bandmates, partners and parents to toddler-aged Ezra, who is traveling with the musicians.

An assemblage of visual stylings (hand-held low-fi camera techniques, artistic cinematography, painterly colour schemes) combined with the original artwork of Jessica Moss and the soulful rock music of Silver Mt. Zion, the film offers a visceral experience.

Touching on that core feeling that some can’t get away from [insert whatever (Read more…)

Art Threat: Sheen and gloss, personal and political: A Review of We are the Giant

We Are the Giant, a powerful portrait of five human rights activists in Syria, Libya, and Bahrain, personalizes the multiple, simultaneous, and in many ways ongoing struggles often monolithically referred to as the Arab Spring.

Through first-person interviews as well as archival, news, and cell phone footage, director Greg Barker goes beyond Western media’s surface portrayal of mass protests and celebration of Twitter and social media to give individual voice to the people behind these movements and pinpoint the moments at which peaceful protests devolve into government massacres in these three countries. In this regard the film offers a (Read more…)

Art Threat: A visceral, jarring work: A review of Children 404

“Children like me simply don’t exist for them.”

With these ominous words, spoken over a crackling telephone connection, Children 404 draws to a close; its unsettling conclusion signaled by an image of the Russian landscape fading into obscurity, scrubbed out by a layer of broken cloud seen from above, through an airplane window.

The sequence is dense, thick, and pointed, condensing into a single frame the themes of loss, secrecy and abandonment that texture Pavel Loparev and Askold Kurov’s deeply affecting new documentary, which explores the impact of Vladimir Putin’s ‘gay propaganda bill’ on the lives of LGBT teens (Read more…)

Art Threat: Evaporating Borders explores asylum-seekers in Cyprus

“… it’s a place I call home, although I blend in only as a familiar stranger.”

Evaporating Borders, written and directed by Iva Radivojevic, is a five-act exploration of asylum-seekers in Cyprus.

Beginning with a personal, essayistic voiceover and lush compositions, the film’s first act also uses subtly executed re-enactments of events in order to establish a first-person connection with the viewer. This not only creates a sense of intimacy through the film’s introductory segment, but also amplifies the increasing depersonalization and dehumanization portrayed throughout the remainder of the film.

The documentary moves from the first segment’s depictions (Read more…)

Art Threat: Hot Docs 2014 preview: politically punchy program, diversity festival gap still needs work

It’s springtime in Toronto and that means Canada’s premiere documentary showcase is back for another jam-packed ten day event that will deliver the world of doc to eager local audiences and international festivalgoers.

This is Hot Docs‘s first year with new Executive Director Brett Hendrie steering the ship (Chris McDonald is now overseeing the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema) and it looks like Hendrie has continued his predecessor’s legacy of putting on huge, popular and energized festivals.

In particular, the Hot Docs talks this year look fantastic, with discussions around environmental activism, Sesame Street, gay marriage, and free speech and (Read more…)

Art Threat: Hot Docs turns twenty

Twenty years ago today, it was a year like any other. The ceremonial swap between less liberal and more liberal leader of the United States took place when Clinton picked up where Bush left off (launching a cruise missile attack on Iraq just half a year into his term and fine-tuning the ongoing regime of domestic and international deregulation for the next eight), Czechoslovakia emitted more post-Soviet fragmentation moans and became two independent states, North Korea announced its imminent withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and Canada saw the four-month reign of its first and last female Prime Minister, Kim (Read more…)

ezra winton: Black Sea pirates at Hot Docs

Svetla and I are giddy with anticipation with the thought of attending the world premiere of a new doc by our Bulgarian friends Vanya and Svetlo, THE LAST OF THE BLACK SEA PIRATES at this year’s Hot Docs. If the film is half as good as the incredible trailer above, then we’re in for a real treat. The action takes place at our favourite beach in Bulgaria, a magical sandy place where the sun always shines and where crazy characters are in abundance.

Art Threat: The Ghosts in Our Machine defends the animals on our screen

Over the last decade of programming political documentary for Cinema Politica I can say with confidence that there are two subjects that have always been decidedly divisive and caused the most vociferous backlash from audience members. One of those subjects is the ongoing illegal occupation of Palestine and the other is animal rights.

Expecting More — Or Less?

Over the years I recall audience revolts occurring where we had screened shorts and features interrogating the ugly spaces of the non-human animal world’s subjugation to the biped food chain champs, homo erectus. PETA shorts have always inspired the most passionate responses (Read more…)

Art Threat: More houses, less prisons – A review of the compelling documentary Herman’s House

It’s hard to make a house without materials, and even harder if you are in solitary confinement in a US prison and have been there for forty years. What is required in that situation is imagination and perseverance, mixed with a healthy dose of love and anger — all of which the wonderful new documentary Herman’s House deliver.

Directed by Angad Singh Bhalla and produced by the keepin-it-real folks at Storyline, Herman’s House was deservedly very well-received at Hot Docs this year. The film follows New York artist Jackie Sumell who forges a relationship with former Black Panther Herman

. . . → Read More: Art Threat: More houses, less prisons – A review of the compelling documentary Herman’s House

Art Threat: A doc that makes you want to occupy – We Are Wisconsin at Hot Docs 2012

Yesterday we caught three political docs at Hot Docs, and before I race off to The Law In These Parts, here is the first of many more micro-reviews.

We Are Wisconsin, directed by Aimee Williams, is the first film I’ve seen at the festival that champions activism and calls on the audience to join in the fight, while offering a jumping-in point that so few other docs this year have been able to provide. The doc follows the Madison, Wisconsin uprising against Scott Walker and the legislature, after pro-labour and social-political activists learn of a bill that would

. . . → Read More: Art Threat: A doc that makes you want to occupy – We Are Wisconsin at Hot Docs 2012

Art Threat: Hot Docs 2012 Midpoint Roundup – A guide to the political stuff at Toronto’s fest

Today is day five of Hot Docs 2012 and unlike last year, a lethal combination of meetings, movies and meanderings have kept me from a daily tally here at Art Threat. No mind, I intend to make up for in the remaining five days of the fest, beginning with this round-up post. At some point I will also publish my suggestions for an improved festival – improvements that would contribute to a better more fulfilled experience for the documentary genre and community, and are very easy to implement. For now, the goods on the films I’ve seen so far.

From

. . . → Read More: Art Threat: Hot Docs 2012 Midpoint Roundup – A guide to the political stuff at Toronto’s fest

Art Threat: Hot Docs 2012 – The good, the bad, the incomprehensible

The 19th edition of North America’s largest documentary showcase and one of the world’s largest film festivals begins this week, running from April 26 to May 6 in Toronto. With Charlotte Cook replacing Sean Farnel as head programmer, new directions (less films, more focus is the official line), new initiatives (Hot Docs’s very own Kickstarter, Doc Ignite), new sponsors (Nescafé, Dundee Wealth and Sun Life Financial, to name a few of the more spurious corporate family members) and a gorgeously renovated new venue (The Bloor / Hot Docs Cinema), Canada’s non-fiction champ continues their tradition of perennial

. . . → Read More: Art Threat: Hot Docs 2012 – The good, the bad, the incomprehensible

Art Threat: A film festival grows up – Hot Docs wrestles with the politics and popularity of documentary

Dissecting the huge sprawling beast that is the Hot Docs film festival. . . . → Read More: Art Threat: A film festival grows up – Hot Docs wrestles with the politics and popularity of documentary

Art Threat: St-Henri, the 26th of August – Documentary offers a cinematic look at a vibrant Montreal neighbourhood

Shannon Walsh’s feature documentary À St-Henri le 26 août (known in English as St-Henri, the 26th of August) takes the viewer on a visceral and honest journey through the bilingual, working-class neighbourhood St-Henri in Montreal. The film follows a day in the life of about a dozen diverse residents as they navigate the neighbourhood, each [...] . . . → Read More: Art Threat: St-Henri, the 26th of August – Documentary offers a cinematic look at a vibrant Montreal neighbourhood

Art Threat: Help make this documentary! – Friday Film Pick: The Secret Trial 5

A new crowdfunded documentary looks at Canada’s security certificates and asks you to get involved. . . . → Read More: Art Threat: Help make this documentary! – Friday Film Pick: The Secret Trial 5

Art Threat: Courage, candour and inspiration – A review of The Interrupters

The new Steve James documentary is courageous and beautiful social cinema. . . . → Read More: Art Threat: Courage, candour and inspiration – A review of The Interrupters

Art Threat: The activist-terrorist complex – A Review of Better this World

A new documentary charts the courageous and tragic course of two activist’s lives, now charged under anti-terrorism laws. . . . → Read More: Art Threat: The activist-terrorist complex – A Review of Better this World

Art Threat: The sordid tale of the Trump golf course – A Review of You’ve Been Trumped

A new documentary takes aim at Donald Trump’s Scottish golf course adventure. . . . → Read More: Art Threat: The sordid tale of the Trump golf course – A Review of You’ve Been Trumped

Art Threat: Forgiving a mass murderer – A review of The Redemption of General Butt Naked

General Butt Naked was Liberia’s most ruthless and feared general – now he’s asking for forgiveness in a new documentary. . . . → Read More: Art Threat: Forgiving a mass murderer – A review of The Redemption of General Butt Naked

Art Threat: History reloaded and remixed – A review of The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

Remixing the revolution: new doc resurrects archival footage of the Black Power movement. . . . → Read More: Art Threat: History reloaded and remixed – A review of The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

Art Threat: Ad nauseam – Morgan Spurlock cashes in on commercialism

Morgan Spurlock’s newest documentary just doesn’t ad up. . . . → Read More: Art Threat: Ad nauseam – Morgan Spurlock cashes in on commercialism

Art Threat: Hot Docs 19 begins – Toronto festival brings another round of quality documentary

A first look at some promising political offerings from this year’s Hot Docs program. . . . → Read More: Art Threat: Hot Docs 19 begins – Toronto festival brings another round of quality documentary

Art Threat: Surviving car culture – Friday Film Pick: To Costco and Ikea Without a Car

A film, and a book, about that ubiquitous four-wheeled monster… . . . → Read More: Art Threat: Surviving car culture – Friday Film Pick: To Costco and Ikea Without a Car