The festival is going full speed ahead, and I must hurry so I don’t fall behind in telling you about the awesome documentaries to be found here. As a note, I am enjoying the improvements to accessibility in this year’s iteration of Hot Docs. Many issues I noticed last year have been improved upon.
For example, some films that were compatible with Captiview did not really need it last year. Captiview is a device that people with hearing difficulties can use in the theatre that provides private closed captioning at arm’s length. Last year, foreign films used Captiview, and I felt that it was unnecessary at times because the captions were telling me of sounds I could have guessed at given the film’s context. As it was a foreign film, subtitles were on the screen anyway, and sound effects were given to me privately – if the captions for these sound effects were so special, then why not put them on the screen for everyone to see? This year, many Captiview films are English-speaking films that would otherwise be inaccessible to me.
You will have to forgive me for the short nature of some of these reviews – I may write more upon a rewatch, but I do want you to hear about them from me.
Faith Hope Love [dir. Katja Fedulova]
Germany [97 min]
In a search for modern-day heroines in Russia, Fedulova follows three women: a municipal politician, an ex-beauty queen returning from the war in Ukraine, and an anti-abortion activist. While the subject matter is appealing to me, I had difficulty following along since the narrator’s off-screen dialogue was not distinguished apart from subject dialogue in the subtitles I was relying on. It is certainly worth another watch for me with assistance distinguishing the voices. I also appreciated that the anti-abortion activist had to overcome a Russian society reluctant to let women speak out about issues concerning them.
Of Fathers and Sons [dir. Talal Derki]
Germany, Syria, Qatar, Lebanon [98 min]
Derki returns to his native Syria and bravely insinuates himself (and the camera) within the family of Abu Osama, an Al-Nusra fighter, who is proud to name one of his sons after the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Derki spends time with Osama’s children, asking them loaded questions about their father. We also witness moments of brutal violence mixed with moments of genuine familial love. Children often look up to their fathers, and Osama’s children are no exception – often trying to discern what it is their father actually wants from them. In all fairness, the necessities of a good life are scarce in Syria, so the boys are naturally inclined to appreciate the potentially limited time they have with their father, even as they clear the mines near their home.
Love, Gilda [dir. Lisa D’Apolito]
USA [84 min]
My intervenor enjoyed this film even after having read Gilda Radner’s autobiography some years ago and being familiar with the arc of Gilda’s life. I also enjoyed the film a great deal, and I did not know much about Gilda. The film collects a variety of biographical material, including family photos, writings from Gilda’s diaries, and my favourite part, many sketches of Gilda in action. Learning about her dalliances with Bill Murray and Gene Wilder, as well as her modest beginnings in Toronto was pleasurable. Echoing a bit of Tig Notaro (or is it the other way around?), Gilda attempted to make cancer “funny,” but did not receive the happy ending she was yearning for after many years of depression and other illnesses. At the end, though, you can be like her and rewatch her old stuff – which I plan to do.
It was challenging using the Captiview device for this film since it missed a fair amount of words. Thankfully, I was able to fill in the gaps knowing Gilda’s basic life story and discussing with my intervenor. I am ready for the Bill Murray doc on Wednesday.
Netizens [dir. Cynthia Lowen]
USA [97 minutes]
This film starts off with a harrowing recounting of a rape by a tween to another tween. The rape is horrendous, but so are the school’s actions to “curb” the viral video of it going around. To say the material covered here – online harassment – is heavy is an understatement. However, it is necessary watching. A number of activists – the distinction of whether by choice or by necessity is left blurred – speak out against horrible treatment they have suffered by ex-partners and other misogynistic online trolls.
Career paths are ruined with searchable fake histories of supposed sexual shenanigans, and those, like feminist cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian, often have to balance their desire to critique a male-dominated society with feeling safe. As Sarkeesian states, the more hateful e-mails one gets, the more one is desensitized to them, and the more one becomes unfeeling – and what kind of a life is that?
This is an important emerging topic that is expanding perceptions of what can be litigated regarding cyberbullying. What is the difference between a “joke” threat and an actionable threat online? Should victims be able to be recoup damages related to their loss of career and family? What is the difference (as this movie was based in the US) between a First Amendment protection to be a horrible and hateful person and the rights of victims to live happy, safe lives? There are no easy answers, but according to the documentary, more talking is needed to reduce the stigma of being bullied.