Instead of our usual five screenings at Hot Docs, this year we kept ourselves to three. Good thing too; my Habs have done better in the playoffs than I expected. We were very happy with the three we did see, though:
GasLand (hot docs | imdb) won the special jury prize at Sundance, and for good reason. This had everything a good documentary needs: interesting subjects, a shocking story and a passionate teller. Filmmaker Josh Fox was offered money to allow drilling for natural gas in his property in upstate Pennsylvania. He began to investigate the effects of such drilling (and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, to release the gas) on people who had signed over their drilling rights. More specifically, he wanted to see the effect on their drinking water. See, back in 2005 the Bush White House passed the Energy Policy Act which exempted natural gas drilling from having to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, which meant natural gas companies didn’t have to worry about the EPA shutting them down no matter how much environmental damage they did. Anyhoo…while traveling around the country visiting drill sites Fox found numerous families whose water had been so infused with gas it could actually be lit on fire coming out of the tap, farmers whose livestock was rapidly dying, entire towns with extraordinary chemical content in their air because of their proximity to natural gas pipeline valves, and so on. Obviously Fox turned down the offer to drill on his property, but many others around him did not. The watershed on which Fox and his neighbours sit supplies water to New York City, Philadelphia, and much of New Jersey and Delaware, and other water systems are similarly threatened. And, lest we Canadians get too smug, fracking has been happening here too, primarily in Alberta but also in Ontario. If you want to know more you can check out GasLandTheMovie.com.
Czech Dream (hot docs | imdb) was a little lighter. Basically two film students, knowing how addicted Czechs had become to shopping at hypermarkets after the fall of Communism, wanted to see what would happen if they launched a huge ad campaign for a store that didn’t exist. Hilarity ensues, mostly at the expense of the advertising industry who claim deceit is not their modus operandi, and then at the thousands of people who showed up in the middle of an industrial park, then ran hundreds of yards across a muddy meadow, to ultimately reach a big fake storefront. The film was made six years ago, at a time when the Czech government was spending millions on ads to convince citizens to vote to join the EU, and the parallels weren’t lost on those who slunk across a field, knowing they’d been sold a bill of goods.
Our final film, Talhotblond (hot docs | imdb) was downright disturbing. I can’t describe it in detail as I’d be giving away too much, but let’s just say it involves three internet connections, two people with mental issues and a lot of innocent bystanders who have their lives ruined. You can watch the trailer at talhotblond.com, and I believe the movie’s already out on DVD and on demand from cable providers.