S&M: Short and Male

    3 May 2008, mid-afternoon

The last film I watched at Hotdocs (last week!) was S&M: Short and Male. The movie is a humorous look at the adversity short people face. Basically, there are countless studies that show if you are short you are destined to make less money and be ignored by women and all other sorts of great stuff. The movie is actually pretty informative, and covers a lot of interesting ground. The problem with the film is that a lot of the characters are kind of annoying. And, as far as I can tell, everyone they profiled is actually really successful. The film is sending conflicting messages. It’s an OK documentary.

S&M: Short and Male was the last film I saw at Hotdocs 2008.

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Football Undercover

   30 April 2008, terribly early in the morning

After Betrayal I went for a drink with the rest of my movie watching compatriots. We walked over to the Green Room, which was close to Bloor Cinema, where the next screening was taking place. Movie #2 of the day was Football Undercover, a German/Iranian film about the difficulties in setting up an exhibition match between the Iranian women’s football team and a football team from Germany. It is trickier than you would imagine. The more interesting portions of the film are those shot in Tehran, showing you the lives of the football players living there. The actual match is fun to watch as well, as the women fans get a bit too rowdy for the morality police. I thought it was an entertaining enough film, though a little bit light overall.

Football Undercover was the 8th film I watched at Hotdocs 2008.

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Betrayal (Nerakhoon)

   29 April 2008, terribly early in the morning

The best film I saw at Hotdocs this year was, by far, Betrayal (Nerakhoon), by Ellen Kuras & Thavisouk Phrasavath. The film is narrated by Thavisouk, and the focus of the movie is primarily on him and his mother. The entire film is beautifully shot. Kuras is a cinematographer by trade, so this is probably to be expected. This film is her directorial debut. There is so much going on in this film, it was incredible.

During the U.S. military’s covert operations in Laos in the early 1970s, Thavisouk Phrasavath’s father was recruited to help the CIA. But when the Americans withdrew and the communist regime gained power, Phrasavath’s father and thousands of others were declared enemies of the state and imprisoned. At the age of 12, Phrasavath made a harrowing escape from Laos to Thailand and eventually to New York City, where the hardships of an immigrant’s life forced him, his eight siblings and his resilient mother to face an entirely different kind of war.

On one level the film is really about just how big an impact the bombs the US dropped on Laos have had on the Laotian people. The first portion of the film will most certainly fill you with some ‘Fuck America’ rage. The footage of the bombs being dropped over Laos is both amazing and beautiful, and horrible and disgusting, all at the same time.

And then the story moves forward and you find yourself watching a movie about the immigrant experience. I knew the film was going to be awesome when we are shown a scene of a younger Thavisouk showing off his long hair and tattoos. Text on the screen informs us we’re watching footage from Brooklyn, 1985. Kuras looks to have been following this family’s life for over 20 years! I can only imagine how much film they had to wade through to make the movie they ended up with. The narrative they’ve managed to put together works so well. The movie covers a lot of ground, but never feels disjoint. Thavisouk seems to find his bearings in the US, but his brothers and sisters end up rebelling quite hard. At my high school you saw this exact same thing play out with the Tamil kids who escaped the civil war in Sri Lanka. I think this is a very common experience. The fact that Kuras has all this footage of the family’s first years in the US is what really makes this portion of the film work so well.

I don’t think I’ve been at a film where you can hear so many people crying. It’s a bit unsettling when you can hear grown-ass men sniffling behind you. Betrayal was a brilliant film.

Betrayal was the 7th film I watched at Hotdocs 2008.

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5 Shorts at Hotdocs 2008

   28 April 2008, terribly early in the morning

My Hotdocs posse and I watched a series of short films on Friday. The screening began with Lovely Andrea, and was followed by Je Suis Une Bombe, Cock Fight Song, Time Flies, and Perfect / Growing Older (Dis)gracefully. Lovely Andrea was about a woman searching for a photograph she posed for in 1987 for a bondage magazine in Tokyo. I enjoyed the film, it’s a strange peak into the porno world. Je Suis Une Bombe was probably the coolest film of the lot. A woman in a Panda suit dances like a stripper, then takes of her head and says a poem. (I suppose its something you need to watch.) Perfect / Growing Older (Dis)gracefully looks at widow living in Liverpool who gets a makeover in order to look more trendy. It was very enjoyable. All the films were a bit more quirky then your typical Hotdoc film I suppose. None were an exhaustive look at any subject.

Hotdocs is over. I still need to write about Betrayal (easily the best film I’ve seen at the festival), Football Undercover, and Short and Male.

Lovely Andrea, Je Suis Une Bombe, Cock Fight Song, Time Flies and Perfect / Growing Older (Dis)gracefully were the 6th set of films I saw at Hotdocs 2008.

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Where Do We Belong

   24 April 2008, terribly early in the morning

Following The Red Card I saw Where Do We Belong, a film about the life of Afghan refugees and their Iranian brides. The movie consists primarily of interviews with Afghan men and their Persian brides, sitting in their homes with their families. The first half of the film takes place in Iran, and examines how the Afghans are treated by the Iranians. None of the Afghans are considered proper Iranian citizens, even if they were born their. Their children are also without rights. (If an Afghan women marries a Persian man, then their children are proper Iranian citizens.) Basically, life in Iran if you are an Afghan kind of sucks. (I have a hunch that life in Iran sucks in general, but I haven’t lived there myself.) The later half of the film looks at the lives of Afghans who have been deported back to Afghanistan. I’m not sure what this part of the film was supposed to convey. There are dog fights, polygamy, child marriage, and lots of ignorance and abject poverty. So, life in Afghanistan seemingly sucks more than life in Iran. The second half of the film seemed like a showcase of the ways in which Afghanis are so provincial — if Iranians held a low opinion of Afghanis before, I don’t think the film does anything to change that. Where Do We Belong was shot quite well. The director has a good eye. Like many Iranian films I’ve seen, its pace is very slow. Where Do We Belong was an interesting movie.

Where Do I Belong was the 5th film I watched at Hotdocs 2008.

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The Red Card

   24 April 2008, terribly early in the morning

I watched two Iranian films last night, the first of which was The Red Card. A strange film about the murder/sex scandal involving Iranian soccer star Nasser Khani, whose wife was murdered, presumably by his mistress, the outspoken “Shahla” Jahed. This looks to be the OJ Simpson trial of Iran. It’s a very bizarre film, mixing court room footage, interviews with Khani, and video Shahla took of her and Khani in private. The film is worth watching if only to hear Shahla’s testimony. There is lots of wailing, which is something Persians like to do. Red Card was a cool film.

The Red Card was the 4 film I watched at Hotdocs 2008.

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My Mother's Garden

   22 April 2008, terribly early in the morning

I watched My Mother’s Garden last night. The film, by director
Cynthia Lester, is all about her mother’s compulsive need to hoard things. Their family home is literally buried under piles and piles of garbage. Her mother sleeps outdoors. Cynthia describes loosing her room to junk when she was a girl, and eventually leaving home at 13. Her brothers were also effected by her moms illness, one joining a gang, the other turning to booze. Now adults, the family reunites to try and save their family home, which the city has threatened to take away from the mother. Lester has managed to capture both the humane and charming side of her mother, and the neurotic and irrational side. Her mother is an an endearing character, and I suspect part of the reason the film works so well is that her mother — despite all the crazy — is so very charming. You see all the ups and downs as the family tries to deal with a very stressful situation. It is at times quite intense. The film was excellent; you should watch it.

My Mother’s Garden was the 3rd film I saw at Hotdocs 2008. It was shown with the short Ground Floor Right There is a brief Q&A with Lester on the Hotdocs web site.

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Searching 4 Sandeep

   21 April 2008, terribly early in the morning

La Carona was followed by Searching 4 Sandeep, an Australian film written, directed, and starring Poppy Stockell. The film follows Poppy as she begins a long distance relationship with a closeted British Punjabi girl Sandeep. The movie starts with Poppy waiting for Sandeep for their first meeting in Bangkok. It then jumps back 4 months to give you the story that lead up this meeting, and then moves on from there. As the movie began, I thought to myself, “what a lame choice to follow up La Carona.” It starts off quite light-hearted and cheesy. The movie is certainly funny throughout, but as the relationship becomes more and more serious things become a lot more interesting and heavy. The film touches on a lot of subjects, but perhaps most interesting is the relationship between Sandeep and her family as she comes out to them. Sandeep was given a camera early into the film, and some of the stuff she filmed is quite intense. Searching 4 Sandeep turned out to be a very good film.

Searching 4 Sandeep was the 2nd film I saw at Hotdocs 2008. This film screened with La Carona.

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La Carona (The Crown)

   21 April 2008, terribly early in the morning

Saturday afternoon I watched a double bill at Hotdocs The first of the two films featured was La Carona (The Crown), which was about a beauty pageant taking place in a medium/high security prison in Bogotá, Colombia. The directors followed four of the girls who are competing in the competition, showing you how they are preparing for the event, and giving you some of their back stories. It’s a strange film: it is at times very happy and upbeat, but there is always this very bleak undercurrent that runs through the whole film. All the women have clearly had very hard lives. I enjoyed the film very much. It’s certainly worth checking out.

La Carona was the 1st film I saw at Hotdocs 2008. The film screened with Searching 4 Sandeep.

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