Sunday, 28 April 2013

Hot Docs Cornucopia

Whew! I've had a busy few days covering Hot Docs, Canadian International Documentary Film Festival (April 25 - May 5, 2013). Some of my time has been spent viewing media screeners, never as good as watching films on the big screen, but it's my way of giving you the heads up on a few films--mostly through The More the Merrier's Facebook page ( and twitter (

I always try to watch the social docs because I love observing how people go about their daily lives. The political docs are not my first choice any more. Having been on the planet a few decades, I find I can't stare Truth in the face as often as I used to. Not that I hide my head in the sand, it's just that I now need something to balance out the ugliness that I'm constantly made aware of. So, if you're like me, then you will appreciate the films I've seen.

Felix Austria
Mon, Apr 29 6:00 PM
Scotiabank 3
Sun, May 5 3:30 PM
TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
History and the search for identity merge in this doc about Brian Pfeifle, a Modesto, California intellectual who, enamoured of fin de siècle Austria and Otto van Hapsburg (the last Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary), changed his first name to Felix (as in  Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria, nube! – Wars may be led by others – you, happy Austria, marry). He added Etienne-Edouard to honour his father (Steven Edward), who is battling Huntington's disease. Director, Christine Beebe (pronounced "bee-bee") followed Felix's journey for eight years in an attempt to capture his attempt to meet with the Archduke, his unexpected detective work into the life of a fellow Austria-file who bequeathed Felix his  Hapsburg archive, as well as Felix's search to understand his possible genetic inheritance. Felix Austria is a fanciful (animated sequences play an integral part), historically interesting film filled with pathos and humour and a a very particular subject in the dandy Felix Etienne-Edouard Pfeifle.

In the Shadow of the Sun
Mon, Apr 29 8:00 PM
Hart House Theatre
Sun, May 5 8:30 PM
Scotiabank 3
I know I just shared that I like social docs that don't suck the life out of me, but the two main subjects in this film as so captivating, so inspiring that I could not help sticking with the screener until the very end. Director Harry Freeland's six year document of Albinos in Tanzania being killed, and their body parts sold as tokens that supposedly bring wealth to their buyers, is one that held my attention because of the protagonists' love of learning and their willingness to risk their lives in order to fulfill that quest for, and share the knowledge obtained. Josephat Torner (photo left) is an incredible human being who, despite threats to his life, sets out to educate those whose ignorance of Albinism ("how can a Black woman give birth to a white child?") and dire economic situation have lead them to believe that the body parts will bring them wealth. Vedastus, a young man with an eager mind who craves a way to learn more about building homes and working with electricity; unfortunately, schools in his area are not safe, so he stays at home drawing and creating his own world, constructing model televisions, antennae, and fixing the electricity in his home. Josephat's travels to areas to talk to villagers, revealing to himself and us the variety of reasons for the killings, and the many ways devised to keep children and adults with Albinism safe (if not free). Since he started working on the film, Freeland has worked with Albino societies to create a website to raise awareness of the issue: 

Rent a Family Inc.
Tue, Apr 30 1:00 PM
The ROM Theatre
Sun, May 5 1:00 PM
Scotiabank 3
I'm fascinated by the manners of Japanese society, as least as I have viewed them through film. Because the individual is not at the centre of society as it is here in the West, the Japanese operate from a position of doing what seems best for everyone involved, which sometimes mean that secrets are kept buried rather than shared and dealt with. Director, Kaspar Astrup Schröder, has devised an interesting way of showing this conundrum: he inserts television clips of people discussing the pros and cons of open comunications into his doc about Ryuichi, a husband and father of two who runs a small company called I Want To Cheer You Up Ltd. Ryuichi's clients hire him to provide stand-ins to act as their friends, family members or even employers. For example, if your family is dead or estranged, you can hire his company of players to provide guests for your wedding.  Ryuichi himself has attended many weddings as a father or uncle. Ironically, Ryuich's own family has no idea what he does for a living. There is little to no communication between he and his family, and his only display of affection is to his little dog. His wife takes care of the house and the children, and never questions him about anything. As for Ryuichi, he feels that he cannot share anything with her so he lives depressed, in self-/socially- imposed isolation. The juxtaposition between Ryuichi's clients (one girl wants to move in with her boyfriend and needs her "father's" approval) and his unfulfilled home life (he and his wife have separate rooms) is as fascinating, bittersweet gateau of tristesse.

Hill of Pleasures
Tue, Apr 30 3:30 PM
TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Sat, May 4 6:30 PM
Isabel Bader Theatre
Director, Maria Ramos, wanted to invite viewers to see a different side of the Brazilian favela (shantytown) than the shoot 'em up, gangland side that we normally see in films. She doesn't deny that violence exists in the poor hilltop settlements, but she says it doesn't happen every day, and that the country has begun to address the issue through its implementation of "pacification" programs that introduce community-style policing into the neighbourhoods. In these pacified areas, the gangs have been reduced, and police shootings have steadily declined, but drug dealing is still a method of making money in these poor areas, and, while the police try to stay on top of the drug trade and other crimes, residents fear repercussions from criminals, and continue to harbour a mistrust of the police. Ramos offers us both points of in this film, and through her unscored scenes and various subjects ( mailman, bookseller, youth, beat cop, EMT workers) introduces us to  what is normally absent about this region: hardworking people who have developed a community and a culture has defied violence for many years.

Menstrual Man
Tue, Apr 30 6:30 PM
Scotiabank 4   
Wed, May 1 10:30 AM
The ROM Theatre   
Fri, May 3 9:00 PM
TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
I must say, that seeing two men discussing the difference between Western-style panties and Indian-style panties is a scene I have never contemplated before seeing it unfold in this doc about Arunachalam Murugananthama, man who wants to develop, produce, and introduce low cost, locally made maxi pad that will lessen health issues (including death) for millions of Indian women. Not an easy thing to do in a culture where menstruation is not on open topic of discussion, and where most women risk infections by using cloth. Because they are too ashamed to hang the cloths on the wash line where the material could at least be bleached by the sun, many of the cloths are dried inside the home or not washed to an extent that removes all signs of menstruation. Uneducated, but socially conscious with an entrepreneurial spirit, Arunachalam, operates from his own business model where success is based on the contributions made to society, rather than how much money is made. Despite most people thinking he's crazy for talking about such a taboo subject, he is determined to achieve his goal of bringing health, employment and pride to his community. I want to thank director Amit Virmani and his filmmaking team for making this delightful and unique film.

Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival
April 25 - May 5, 2013   

Box Office
Phone number: 416-637-5150
Address: 87 Avenue Road – Hazelton Lanes, Lower Level
Closest Subway: Museum or St. George
11:00 am - 9:00 pm

Individual tickets to regular screenings are $14.60. Tickets to Hot Docs late night screenings are $6.20. Hot Docs ticket prices do not include HST

Students (with valid ID) and seniors (60+) can attend daytime screenings (screenings before 5 pm) for free. Same-day tickets are available at the participating venue one hour before the first screening of the day, subject to availability

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