First day of Hot Docs

We saw two Hot Docs screenings today: Orgasm Inc. (hot docs) and Carmen Meets Borat (hot docs).

Orgasm Inc. turned out to be more interesting than I expected. I guess I’d forgotten what it was about between when I selected it and when I watched it today. The overriding theme of this year’s festival seems to be the economy, and money in general, and that was the angle that came out here.

Here’s the basic synopsis: Viagra is introduced and makes a bazillion dollars for Pfizer. Pharma companies realize they’re only reaching half the population, though, so the hunt for so-called female Viagra begins. Now realizing that they need to create demand for this, they use questionable research/statistical methods to trumpet the fact that 43% of American women have some kind of sexual dysfunction, and thus the clinical term Female Sexual Dysfunction is born. Now American women think there’s something wrong with them, and hucksters are telling them it can be fixed with a pill. Of course, no one’s profiting too much yet because the pills keep failing placebo tests, and the FDA rejected Procter & Gamble’s attempt. But don’t worry, all you useless malfunctioning women, soon there’ll be a $10 pill for you.

OK, moving on before I get too mad. In short, the content of the documentary was excellent, but the execution — the film itself — was sloppy and felt amateurish. I gave it a 3/5.

Carmen Meets Borat was much lighter (although Orgasm Inc. did have several laughs), showing life in what must surely be the most awful village in all of Europe: Glod, Romania. It’s where the opening scenes of Borat were filmed, passed off as Kazakhstan, and the villagers weren’t in on the jokes. They were, understandably, annoyed. But the main focus of the documentary is a girl named Carmen, and the changes she and her family went through at the same time as — and occasionally because of — Borat. Then the world’s slimiest lawyers show up and it does downhill. Anyway, it was an example of a documentary that covers a fairly insignificant topic, but covers it very well, and benefits from a little luck. I gave it 4/5.

Nothing tomorrow; I’ll be at work anyway. Also, I have two tickets to a screening of Reporter at 9:30 on Monday night at the Isabel Bader theatre if anyone would like them, free of charge. I’ll be at a Mogwai concert.

Is there such a thing as a combination calculator/alarm clock (aside from my Blackberry)?

My apologies for the poor blogging lately. I have once again re-entered the annual period at work which, well, turns my brain to butternut squash puree. I quite literally go to sleep picturing spreadsheets and wake up calculating revenue projections in my head these days. I have another week or so of this delightful experience, including this weekend I think, and then should return to some sense of normalcy.

In between all this I did manage to make my pics for Hot Docs, finish Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and bear witness to my Montreal Canadiens recent swoon. Hopefully last night’s thumping of Atlanta was the turning of the corner.

35 years later, Bobby Francois is still a dick

Today, because of the transit strike, we walked all the way up to Bloor & Bathurst to see today’s documentary, Stranded, I’ve Come From A Plane That Crashed In The Mountains (hot docs). It took us longer to get there than we anticipated, so just as we walked up to the theatre we joined the end of the line that was entering. Good timing…no standing in line and we still got excellent seats.

Seeing documentaries at the Bloor just always feels more like Hot Docs for some reason. I know that for the first few years we went that was the only location, but it’s more than that. Crowds there seem more animated, and the neighbourhood feels more a part of the festival for some reason. In general Bloor Street was jumping tonight…I guess beautiful weather and no subway will get the masses out. Anyway.

The film was good. I’m quite familiar with the subject matter — the crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, which would became the basis of the book Alive and film of the same name — so there was nothing new for me, but I still thought it was well done. Unlike in Air India 182, historical recreations were used well here, just to provide accent and context to the survivor’s interviews. There’s still so much emotion in the men’s voices as they talk about those ten weeks, what they saw, what they suffered.

If you haven’t read the book by Piers Paul Read, you should, and you should watch this documentary too.

[tags]hot docs, stranded, piers paul read, uruguayan air force flight 571[/tags]

Why do the craziest ones always look like schoolteachers?

Last night we watched our third documentary, Dance With A Serial Killer (hot docs) at the ROM theatre. Quick note about that venue: don’t watch any film there featuring subtitles. It’s practically impossible to read them over/around the person sitting in front of you.

Now then: the documentary. Very interesting, considering it was a 20-year-old case. A woman is murdered on a beach, in broad daylight, with lots of people around, but no apparent killer. The documentary follows the thought process of detective Jean-Francois Abgrall as he ran every lead in search of the murderer. Eventually the investigation focuses on one man, who all but confesses but continues to elude arrest. Finally, after a few years (and another murder) Abgrall gets the man to confess, and he’s eventually convicted of nine killings. Because he only partially confesses to crimes (drawing elaborate, detailed pictures of murder scenes police don’t even ask him about, but then professing not to have been there) and is now very heavily sedated in prison, there’s probably no hope of ever confirming the extent of his killing. Abgrall believes him guilty of fifty, perhaps more.

Remember, this was 1989, so Abgrall wasn’t using computer searches, DNA evidence, fancy-pants CSI labs or anything else. Nor was French law enforcement a great deal of help; indeed, his case would be the cause of some reforms. Abgrall didn’t get into high-speed chases or fire his gun; he used doggedness, ingenuity and a lot of luck to bring down a psychopath.

[tags]dance with a serial killer, hot docs, jean-francois abgrall, francis heaulmes[/tags]

And more importantly, white-skinned?

So far we’ve seen two Hot Docs documentaries, and we’re off to see a third in just a few minutes. To date we’ve seen:

  • Air India 182 (hot docs) by Sturla Gunnarsson. It screened opening night at the Winter Garden Theatre (which I’d never been in before…it’s quite strange and lovely) and, while it packed quite an emotional punch, it wasn’t really a very good documentary. It was certainly educational (I was only nine when the bombing occurred and knew only bits and pieces that I’d heard over the last twenty years) and at times infuriating (as the director said, would the bombing have gotten so little attention if the flight had been full of blond-haired, blue-eyed people?), but Gunnarsson mixed documentary interviews with ham-handed recreations. The bar for docudrama has been set so incredibly high by Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday, Omagh, United 93) that this seemed amateurish by comparison. There was no doubting the emotional impact, but technically this was a weak film. The subject deserved better.
  • The Last Continent (hot docs) was far better. The subject was a ship’s crew from Quebec who spent more than a year in Antarctica, with no way to leave, in order to document and study the effects of climate change on the Antarctic winter. The result was obvious, to the point that it endangered the ship and crew (who knew they would need pack ice to lock their ship in and protect it from high winds, but the pack ice is later and later in coming each year) and the animals around them. A great study of science, psychology, and most strikingly of all, the continent itself. The scenery and whirl of life around the little bay which the ship eventually called home was staggeringly beautiful. Apparently the scientific findings will be part of a 3-part special on The Nature Of Things some time soon, and the account of life on the ship will be a series on TV (not sure which channel…may only be in Quebec); in the meantime, check out the documentary for yourself. It’s scheduled to be released to theatres this summer.

[tags]hot docs, air india 182, the last continent[/tags]

What, no genocide? Howzabout some prison torture?

I picked up our Hot Docs tickets today. After our abridged outing last year we got a full slate (five films) this time around:

So, to recap: terrorism, bleak antarctic landscapes, serial killing, a plane crash & ensuing cannibalism, and we wrap up with violently dysfunctional children. It’s the feel-good film festival of the year!


I know a few people who should have a Death Star grill. Like, uh, me.


As if I needed them, the Cameron’s Brewing Co. blog lists 8 healthy reasons to drink beer. Granted, this is not unlike McDonald’s telling you why it’s healthy to eat a Big Mac, but I choose to ignore this particular equivalence. [via]


Today my Google News page showed me something odd. It was an eCanadaNow (whatever that is) story about internet stalkers, but it was the picture that caught my eye. Here’s a screen grab:

Ummm…unless I’m mistaken, that’s Ellen Page in Hard Candy (imdb). And yes, in that film, Page does play someone who’s stalked online, but…well, clearly the real-life scenario does not play out like the film. Also, why wouldn’t this site indicate that they’d lifted a scene from a fictional film to use in their news story? Weird.

[tags]hot docs, death star grill, cameron’s brewing, beer, google news, internet stalking, ellen page, hard candy, ecanadanow[/tags]