ezra winton: Hot Docs 22: CanCon and BrandCon

North America’s largest and most sweeping doc-deluge, the Canadian International Hot Docs Festival, is once again in full swing, and the moment wouldn’t be complete, for me at least, without some form of commentary that assesses this institutional giant as it marks another year. In that spirit and as with past “taking stock” previews (2014 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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, ...

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

The international film festival is a strange creation. Like documentary, it isn’t any one thing. Instead, it resembles a leaky holding tank, the contents of which constantly seep, form new bodies, expand, transform and otherwise confound precise categorization. It is an organism eschewing stasis: regardless of size, import or cultural capital, the festival must constantly ...

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 ...

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

While at Hot Docs this month we met a small dedicated, talented and bright crew of filmmakers who were challenging traditional documentary-making practices. They are the energetic team behind the in-progress documentary The Secret Trial 5, a film about human rights, security certificates and the “War on Terror” inside Canada. We usually select finished films ...

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

At the end of Steve James’s new masterpiece documentary three words are employed to thank the film’s characters—those who gave incredible, intimate access to their lives and work—for their “courage, candour and inspiration.” These are indeed fitting words for some of the bravest, most committed and selfless heroes ever to be shown on the screen. ...

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

Frightening, enthralling and important – these are the first words that come to mind when thinking of the documentary Better this World, screening at Hot Docs 2011. The story focuses, very sympathetically, on two Texas activists who set out to protest and disrupt the 2008 Republican National Convention only to end up behind bars under ...

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

Donald Trump is a profound source of inspiration to so many all over the world. He inspires in us a sense of right and wrong, a sense of justice, and of course a sense of success. As a megalomaniac bully with too much money and nary the wit to match, The Donald embodies the role ...

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

The Redemption of Butt Naked (Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasion) is a complicated, difficult film. It is not only difficult to watch, in terms of the footage of atrocities committed during Liberia’s sixteen-year civil war, but scenes of victims confronting their oppressor are so thickly layered feelings of anger co-mingle with feelings of anxiety, deep ...

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

The mixed tape is a cultural phenomenon that, thankfully, refuses to die. From the time of the earliest printed booklets through to the ubiquitous mixing of audio cassette tapes in the 80s to the sampling and remixing of the 90s and 2000s, people have taken existing media and sculpted into their own assemblages. The Black ...

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

At last night’s Hot Docs opening and Canadian premiere screening of Morgan Spurlock’s POM Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold the peppy logo-clad filmmaker told the audience his film will have the effect of changing the way we look at advertising, TV, and films. Maybe Spurlock has been hanging out with a different crowd ...

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

It’s that time of year again — when documentary makers, buyers and fans dust off their shoes and head to Toronto to feast on a ten-day diet of non-fiction cinema. Once again, like the 18 years before, the world’s second largest doc festival is delivering its usual panoply of prize-worthy productions, political powder kegs and ...