Monday, April 26, 2010

Animal Heart

Showing at the San Francisco International Film Festival: Animal Heart, directed by Séverine Cornamusaz

Synopsis from the SFIFF website:

Paul and Rosine live deep and isolated in the craggy, breathtaking Swiss Alps where they have a small dairy farm. The day-to-day work attendant on this rustic if somewhat modernized two-person operation is punishing and relentless. Life is made no easier by the fact that Paul is an emotionally stunted brute. While treating his cows as tenderly as family pets, he bullies Rosine mercilessly, both physically and verbally. She finds a few moments of pleasure when left alone to milk the cows or shimmy to the radio while making goat cheese—reveries more often than not interrupted by Paul’s crude appetites. Hints of backstory suggest what these two used to see in each other, and though Rosine remains fearful of Paul, their bond is obviously deep, melancholy and forbearing. Paul’s softer side finally surfaces when he takes the pain in Rosine’s belly as a sign she’s pregnant with what he presumes is his son. He immediately hires a Spanish laborer to take over for her on the farm. The man’s scruffy charm and insouciance slowly alter the couple’s lives in unforeseen ways, dragging Rosine into an act of defiance and Paul into confrontation with his own malevolent heart. Séverine Cornamusaz’s potent first feature is a courageously clear-eyed and forgiving look at a dysfunctional Old World marriage running headlong into the 21st century. —Tod Booth

Cracks

Showing at the San Francisco International Film Festival: Cracks, directed by Jordan Scott

Synopsis from the SFIFF website:

The cracks aren’t hard to find within the imposing stone walls of St. Mathilda’s boarding school for girls. At first they appear in the familiar form of elitist cliques, petty jealousies and bitchy bids for popularity. Girls will be girls, after all, and even in 1930s England, mean girls prevail. At St. Mathilda’s, diving team captain Di Radfield (Juno Temple) presides over her small band of snobs and also holds special favor with their stylish and provocative coach and teacher, Miss G. Draped in flowing silk, cigarettes smoldering, Eva Green (Casino Royale) brings some of her sultry Bond-girl style to an otherwise repressed, gray world of drab uniforms, stern-faced matrons and Sunday hymns. Di and her teammates are entranced by Miss G’s glamour and tales of international adventure, faithfully following her every word (“The most important thing in life is desire,” she avers breathlessly) and every move (a naked nighttime dip into frigid English waters, anyone?). The arrival of a new girl, the beautiful daughter of Spanish royalty, gradually splits the fine cracks into dangerous fissures. Fiamma’s pubescent sensuality and exoticism are both a threat and a lure for the girls and an increasingly unsettled Miss G. Adapted from Sheila Kohler’s 1999 novel, Cracks gradually reveals the darker inclinations of a secluded, self-monitored society in which obsession, rivalry and sexual awakening collide. In her feature debut, director Jordan Scott draws superb performances from her all-female cast, making her mark as the next generation of the Scott (as in Ridley and Tony) filmmaking family. —Joanne Parsont

Empire of Silver

Showing at the San Francisco International FIlm Festival: Empire of Silver, directed by Christina Yao

Synopsis from the SFIFF website:

With this lush epic Palo Alto–based filmmaker Christina Yao tells a story both timely and timeless: a tale of love, succession and compromised ideals that chronicles the lives of a powerful family of Shanxi bankers during the waning years of the Qing Dynasty. Downright Shakespearean in theme, the film details a little-known piece of Chinese history while offering parallels to the current financial crisis with its shadowy world of unscrupulous market fixing and backroom deals. In the northeastern Chinese province of 19th-century Shanxi, a group of bankers amassed extensive wealth and power that allowed them considerable independence from the state. The fictional Kang family is one such clan, whose fortunes take a sudden turn for the worse when several of the family’s heirs meet tragic fates and civil unrest threatens the nation’s stability. Third Master (played by Hong Kong heartthrob Aaron Kwok), a hedonist and the Kang patriarch’s least favorite son, is now called upon to carry on their lineage. Torn between familial obligation and his own desire for love and happiness, he sets out to reform his father’s unethical business practices while shepherding the family through the country’s growing unrest. Full of swooping crane shots, monumental sets and massive landscapes, Yao’s debut recalls the opulent historical sagas of Chinese Fifth Generation filmmakers like Zhang Yimou as it combines a passionate tale of unrequited love and a fascinating glimpse of a rarely related episode in Chinese history. —Jesse Dubus

Linha de Passe

Showing at the San Francisco International Film Festival: Linha de Passe, directed by Daniela Thomas and Walter Salles

Synopsis from the SFIFF website:

In a city of more than 20 million people, São Paulo presents many challenges and too few opportunities. For a mother and her four fatherless sons, it’s a confusing metropolis of many temptations and few clear guidelines. Directors Walter Salles (recipient of this year’s Founder’s Directing Award) and Daniela Thomas masterfully show, however, that the city does offer choices besides gangs and drugs. Dario pins his hopes on soccer. Dênis is a motorcycle courier, forced to consider crime in order to support his child. Dinho, working in a gas station, finds hope and meaning attending an evangelical church. Finally, Reginaldo, the youngest, is obsessed with finding his father, knowing only that he’s one of the city’s countless bus drivers. Cleuza, the mother of this difficult brood, is a loving parent but at somewhat of a loss when it comes to giving her boys the support and skills they need. The foundation for this rich familial drama is Salles and Thomas’s probing style, which gets under the surface of São Paulo to show life as it is lived, adding to the film’s astonishing verisimilitude with a cast of largely nonprofessional actors. Sandra Corveloni brings an affecting world-weariness to the part of Cleuza, and deservedly won the Best Actress Prize at Cannes. And those who remember Vinícius de Oliveira, the charming little boy Josué from Salles’s Central Station, will thrill to see him a decade later as the hopeful athlete Dario. Memorable and moving, Linha de Passe is a triumph of neorealist storytelling. —Rod Armstrong

Mugabe and the White African

Showing at the San Francisco International Film Festival: Mugabe and the White African, directed by Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson

Synopsis from the SFIFF website:

Michael Campbell, the white African of the title, charges President Robert Mugabe with a racist land reform policy and takes him to court. Once the largest mango producer in Zimbabwe, Campbell—one of a dwindling number of white farmers—takes this bold, unprecedented step in an attempt to keep his farm from distribution to government ministers and cronies. Says codirector Lucy Bailey, “It’s an intimate story of a family, but through their case you get the bigger picture of what is going on inside Zimbabwe.” The seasoned documentary team makes the most of that focus, putting the lives and convictions of the engaging Campbell and his English son-in-law, Ben Freeth, at the unabashed center of the film—Freeth and Campbell even filmed critical scenes themselves with a tiny A1 camera. It’s Freeth who poses the central question: If a white man can be American or Australian, why not African? Andrew Thompson’s cinematography, shot with a large-format camera he smuggled into the country, conveys the lush vastness and visual beauty of Campbell’s Mount Carmel farm and its black workers’ daily labor. Mugabe, a menacing shadow, is present only in news clips and voiceovers, while the musical score conveys a palpable sense of dread. Despite successive government stall tactics and a brutal attack on the family, the outcome of the case is uncertain until the end. Who will win? And what would that mean? —Kathleen Denny

Friday, April 23, 2010

Paper Man

Opening this weekend: Paper Man, written and directed by Michele and Kieran Mulroney

Synopsis from AllMovie:

Jeff Daniels, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, and Lisa Kudrow headline co-writer/directors Michele and Kieran Mulroney's affectionate comedy drama detailing the unlikely friendship between a failed writer (Daniels) and the Long Island high school girl (Stone) who teaches him what it really means to take responsibility in life. Meanwhile, the author's long-suffering wife casts a disapproving gaze, and an imaginary superhero weighs in with his own take on the unusual bond.

Behind the Burly Q

Opening at the Quad Cinema this weekend: Behind the Burly Q, directed by Leslie Zemeckis

Synopsis from the movie's website:

Behind the Burly Q is the behind-the-scenes stories of these men and women as told by the performers
themselves. For the first time ever, the performers from the golden age of burlesque relate their heartbreaking, triumphant stories of life on the road performing in the burly circuit. Many were  ashamed of their past and had never talked about their experiences. Just as many had never been asked.

Director Leslie Zemeckis and producer Sheri Hellard traveled extensively across the country from the
Bayous of post-Katrina Mississippi, to New Jersey, Florida and all points between. The duo tracked down and recorded dozens of interviews with little-known performers to the last of the living legends of burlesque. They spoke with relatives of many deceased stars. The men and women in this documentary opened their scrapbooks as well as their hearts, relating memories they had all but forgotten.

Amongst those interviewed were former musicians, strippers, novelty acts, club owners, funny men and women, authors and historians assembled together for the first time ever to tell you just what really happened in a burlesque show. Sadly, many of the performers have since passed away, making this their last, and often times only interview. We dedicate this film to their memory.

Behind the Burly Q is the definitive history of burlesque during its heyday. Funny, shocking, unbelievable and heartbreaking, their stories will touch your hearts. Hear the performers in their own words. See the performers in action. We invite you to peek behind the curtain at the burly show.

The Peddler

Showing at the San Francisco International Film Festival: The Peddler, directed by Adriana Yurcovich, Lucas Marcheggiano and Eduardo de la Serna

Synopsis from the SFIFF website:

Daniel Burmeister putts into the village in a beat-up red four-door, looking for the mayor. More prolific than Steven Soderbergh, more resourceful than Orson Welles, the avuncular seventysomething is both a filmmaker for hire and the definitive auteur. In exchange for food and lodging, Burmeister offers to make a movie in less than a month, using local residents as his cast. No contracts, no red tape, no grant proposals in triplicate—just a pitch and a handshake and he’s ready to roll. Choosing one of the half-dozen trusty genre scripts he’s been using for years, Burmeister sets about scouting locations, recruiting “actors” and spreading the word about his project. An act of community as much as a creative venture, the filmmaking process elicits varying degrees of curiosity and commitment. Some of the amateur thespians display remarkable natural ability, while the children are enticed by the lure of reflected glamour (and any escape from the boredom of backwater life). But Burmeister doesn’t trade in false hopes and empty promises; likewise, this endearing, generous portrait is uninterested in the tired clichés of deluded small-town dreams and fleeting fame. We are treated to the start-from-scratch optimism and on-the-fly problem solving that define filmmakers the world over, with Burmeister’s pushed-to-the-limit DIY credo generating delicious moments of inspired absurdity. There truly is nothing like the magic of movies, and as the lights dim in the makeshift theater for the premiere of Let's Kill the Uncles, our anticipation is as keen as if it were opening night at Cannes. —Michael Fox

Pianomania

Showing at the San Francisco International Film Festival: Pianomania, directed by Lilian Franck and Robert Cibis

Synopsis from the SFIFF website:

Concert pianists can be a fussy bunch, but they’re nothing compared to the temperamental demands of a Steinway grand piano. Pianomania gets up close and personal with a group of world famous virtuosos—Lang Lang, Alfred Brendel, Rudolf Buchbinder, Till Fellner and Pierre-Laurent Aimard—but the real stars of this penetrating documentary are Stefan Knüpfer, the earnest piano tuner doubling as physician and voice coach, and the beautiful instruments themselves. The film observes Knüpfer over the course of a year as he assembles, tightens and fine-tunes a series of magnificent grand pianos, bringing a rare spirit of ingenuity, knowledge and extraordinary competence to his work. Knüpfer’s yearlong collaboration with Pierre-Laurent Aimard is at the center of the film as the pianist prepares to record his interpretation of Bach’s contrapuntal masterpiece, The Art of the Fugue. Together the two sit at the chosen instrument as Knüpfer handles his tools with a surgeon’s precision and adjusts the 230 strings of the piano to refine its voice and tonal color. Pianomania also takes viewers into the Hamburg headquarters of Steinway & Sons, where we glimpse pianos being made and overhear fascinating conversations between Knüpfer and company representatives, many of whom descend from generations of piano makers. With an attentive, languorous pace, the film allows Knüpfer and associates the space to think, ponder and hold forth on camera, providing an inside look into a rarefied world of time-honored culture, exquisite artistry and, of course, astonishingly executed classical music. —Michael Read

Seducing Charlie Barker

Showing at the San Francisco International Film Festival: Seducing Charlie Barker, directed by Amy Glazer

Synopsis from the SFIFF website:

Charlie Barker has been having a real tough time of things lately. Sure, everybody seems to agree that he is an immensely talented performer of a higher pedigree than most, yet that doesn’t seem to be helping him land any roles. In fact, his days of regular work have slowly withered since moving back to New York to pursue a purer artistic sensibility in his chosen craft. Meanwhile, his mediocre acquaintances have achieved unprecedented success despite the abysmal lack of values and aptitude that Charlie possesses, a horrifying fact of show business that has only made him more bitter as he ages. Luckily, his no-nonsense and somewhat demanding wife Stella has allowed him to enjoy luxurious comfort by toiling vigilantly in a career as a producer for a high-rated talk show. The couple even has planned to adopt a Chinese baby and start a family. Then one evening, at an industry party to which he’s been unceremoniously dragged, Charlie meets Clea, a vapid young twentysomething whose prime achievement appears to be the ability to fill out a tight dress. Her insipid delirium instantly frustrates him, but little does Charlie Barker know that this ambitious blonde temptress has set him in her sights. Amy Glazer’s second feature wryly dissects the vacuous nature of the New York entertainment scene with salacious zeal and dark wit, mercilessly skewering the ruthless politics, spirit-crushing resentment and utter loss of dignity that goes hand in hand with art. —Landon Zakheim

Susa

Showing at the San Francisco International Film Festival: Susa, directed by Rusudan Pirveli

Synopsis from the SFIFF website:

Susa is a 12-year-old boy. Like any other boy, he likes to collect stickers with images of cars and puts pieces of colorful stained glass to creative use. But with his father away, Susa is forced to navigate the adult world. To help make ends meet, he delivers vodka from the illegal distillery where his mother works. Making his way into town from the outskirts of Tbilisi, he contends with both local thugs and the police as he traverses markets stalls and cheap cafes, supplying a regular clientele of shop owners, prostitutes and drunks. Only the imminent return of his father promises some kind of hope of a return to a life that Susa can barely remember. In this deceptively simple first feature, director Rusudan Pirveli shows a fine eye for atmosphere and detail, the run-down buildings and muddy roads silently setting the tone for Susa’s hardscrabble life and each character cast with evocative precision. Avtandil Tetradze gives a remarkably natural performance in his first role, small glimmers of vulnerability and yearning barely tamped down beneath the toughening surface of a child forced to grow up too soon. In its understated neorealist approach, this examination of the necessity and treachery of hope in a drab existence avoids pathos for a more genuine and wrenching catharsis.

Way of Nature

Showing at the San Francisco International Film Festival: Way of Nature, directed by Nina Hedenius

Synopsis from the SFIFF website:

Sit back and let the daily grind and digital blur of our modern predicament wash away before this mostly wordless meditation on the seasonal ebb and flow of life on a remote Swedish farm. Sights and sounds build to create an elegantly subtle drama of daily chores seamlessly interspersed with beautifully understated shots of falling snow, snoozing dogs and goats, blooming spring flowers, roaming livestock, dense forests, lush pastures and birthing cows and horses. Immersed in, and treated to, images that nourish, relax and, at times, astonish, one begins to appreciate the subtleties and trials of a life outside of our own. Time-honed tasks are observed as rituals that seem to pull us back to a primal past, as hand-bound and hard-won repetitions become the dialogue of the film and the diverse animals its main mesmerizing characters. At certain points, the film’s languid pace slows a beat more to dwell exquisitely on animal bodies. Revealing magnificent patterns and textures upon their hides, fur and feathers, they become visuals that might make a fiber artist dream or an abstract expressionist weep. Even the construction of fences takes on an ancient quality that seems to speak to us of Nordic roots when we view the distinct beauty of the final creation. Here, on but one farm, far from the hype of “green” marketing, it is—and always has been—a generational necessity to nourish biodiversity and sustainability. Here the “way of nature” is simply the way of life. —Sean Diggins

Friday, April 16, 2010

Handsome Harry

Opening this weekend at the IFC Center: Handsome Harry, directed by Bette Gordon

Synopsis from the film's website:

 They call him “Handsome” Harry Sweeney (Jamey Sheridan). At 52, the Vietnam veteran has kept his rugged good looks. Everyone likes Harry, an electrician by trade who loves to sing—but for some reason he never lets anyone get too close.

One day, Harry gets a call from a former Navy buddy, Tom Kelly (Steve Buscemi), whom he hasn’t seen in some thirty years. On his deathbed and terrified of going to Hell, Kelly convinces Harry to seek forgiveness on his behalf from a comrade they betrayed long ago, David Kagan (Campbell Scott).

At first, Harry wants nothing to do with Kelly, Kagan or the remnants of his murky past.  But guilt and memories have a mysterious grasp on Harry, and he finally relents, driving down the East Coast to call on his old comrades.  One by one he confronts the rugged Rheems, (John Savage) the intellectual Porter, (Aidan Quinn) and the soft-spoken Gephardt, (Titus Welliver) about the long ago crime. Though they’ve all grown older, it is clear they are haunted by their past.

Handsome Harry is a psychological mystery about lost love, forgiveness, and the stifling effect the “code of silence” has over men and their relationships. Each encounter both clarifies and further clouds the truth that haunts Harry.  But can Harry confront that truth?  Can he ever attain forgiveness and regain a love he believes he has already destroyed?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Other Films at Hot Docs

Other women-directed films at the Hot Docs Film Festival include:

The Parking Lot Movie, directed by Meghan Eckman

The Oath, directed by Laura Poitras

My Perestroika, directed by Robin Hessman

Joan Rivers - A Piece of Work, directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg

Budrus, directed by Julia Bacha

A Small Act, directed by Jennifer Arnold

12th and Delaware, directed by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

These Girls

Showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival: These Girls, directed by Tahani Rached

Synopsis from the Hot Docs website:

A girl rides a galloping horse through the middle of heavy traffic—a striking metaphor for the chaotic lives of homeless teenage girls in Cairo. Meet Tata, Reda, Maryam, Dunya, and Abeer (whose father wants to kill her because she is pregnant). Surrounded by a circus of activity, the girls fight, laugh, brag, sniff glue and pop pills to help them deal with assaults and danger. They confront the cops, argue with guys hanging out on the streets, nurse their babies, and sleep in derelict cars and alleyways to escape being beaten, kidnapped, or raped. Fiercely protective of each other, they confide in “big sister” Hind, a middle-class religious woman who visits them to provide non-judgmental love and advice. Rached’s respect for the girls’ courage and sassiness shines throughout the film. Alternately rowdy and tender, joyous and terrifying, the dangerous carnival of these girls’ lives resonates palpably in this masterful and compassionate film. - Lynne Fernie

Interview with Tahani Rached:


Interview With Tahani Rached - These Girls via Noolmusic.com

What’s in a Name

Showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival: What's in a Name, directed by Eva Küpper

Synopsis from the Hot Docs website:

What’s in a Name is a riveting portrait of 52-year-old Jon Cory, a charismatic New York City body-art performer whose raw and provocative acts—and their meticulous preparations—challenge society’s limited views on gender. Jon, a carpenter by day, lives out of his small workshop. He uses a cramped closet to store his numerous costumes and wigs, to prepare for his performances, and to sleep. Jon’s artistic dedication to challenging current gender norms is portrayed by the laborious process of transformation he undergoes for one 2-1/2 minute show. From taping his testicles to his bum to combing out his wig, the film smartly zeroes in on intimate moments of body manipulation, giving us unique insight into Jon’s world. When Jon decides to get breast implants for one of his performances, he struggles again with his identity and his place in society. - Shannon Abel

The film's Facebook page is here.

The Rainbow Warriors of Waiheke Island

Showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival: The Rainbow Warriors of Waiheke Island, directed by Suzanne Raes

Synopsis from the Hot Docs website:

Waiheke Island, New Zealand, might as well be a Greenpeace retirement village, ever since members of the pioneering crew of the famous Rainbow Warrior ship settled there. Advancing age causes the “burnt-out greenies” to wonder what their activism has achieved for the world as they look back on their adventures aboard Greenpeace’s first vessel. From her maiden voyage to her burial at sea, the Rainbow Warrior was more than just a ship; she was the symbol for an entire movement. In the memories of those who served as her crew, she was also a living thing, a protectress, and a colleague in the fight for environmental justice. Archival footage and interviews reveal telling differences between protests of the past and contemporary campaigning. Have celebrity endorsements supplanted direct action? Have chipper telemarketers replaced risk-taking demonstrators? Is Greenpeace still a movement—or a multinational? - Angie Driscoll

The film's website is here.

The Day I Will Never Forget

Showing at Hot Docs Film Festival: The Day I Will Never Forget, directed by Kim Longinotto

Synopsis from the Hot Docs website:

A nine-year-old stands in a pristine white dress and recites a special poem she has written for her mother. The poem is not about her first day of school or the birth of her sister. It’s about the frightening and painful day she was lured by her mother, pinned to the ground, and forcibly circumcised. In this award-winning film, Longinotto travels to Kenya to explore the practice of female genital mutilation and the pioneering women who are bravely campaigning communities to reverse the tradition. Longinotto explores the issue from different points of view: a healthcare worker who gently persuades her patients to rethink the practice, a group of girls who obtain legal action to prevent their parents from circumcising them, and an elderly woman who’s been using inappropriate instruments to ply her trade as a circumciser. Ultimately, the film is hopeful as we see young women fighting for change, education, and understanding. - Shannon Abel

A Film Unfinished

Showing at Hot Docs Film Festival: A Film Unfinished, directed by Yael Hersonski

Synopsis from the Hot Docs website:

Yael Hersonski’s haunting visual indictment masterfully deconstructs the now-infamous unfinished Nazi propaganda film about Jewish life in the Warsaw Ghetto. Discovered years after the war, without a soundtrack, the film has become a resource for historians and documentary filmmakers studying the Holocaust. Ironically, the film is entirely a Nazi fabrication of ghetto life: well-dressed Jews smile as they walk indifferently past the dead bodies of compatriots on the street. So wherein lies the truth? Hersonski screens each of the four reels for survivors who were in the ghetto at the time, scrutinizing each skewed or horrific scene as they recall actual events. These remembrances are layered with powerful testimonials from the original SS cameraman and a guilt-ridden Jewish commander who reveal the manipulations behind each deception. While the Nazis were innovators of propaganda, A Film Unfinished cuts through the film’s contortions and never loses sight of what is true. - Karina Rotenstein

The trailer is here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The House of Suh

Showing at the Hot Docs FIlm Festival: The House of Suh, directed by Iris K. Shim

Synopsis from the Hot Docs website:

Robert Dubaine is ambushed in the garage of his Chicago home. His fiancée and her brother are arrested for his first-degree murder. She flees to Hawaii while the brother admits to the crime. Catherine and Andrew Suh are sentenced to 100 years in prison. The media sensationalizes their story, with a made-for-TV movie and an appearance on America’s Most Wanted. The House of Suh paints Andrew as a boy who valued loyalty to his family, which would turn out to be his greatest downfall. He’s the good son, favoured by his father, protective of his mother. When he’s adopted by his sister, he becomes a star athlete and school president. He’s in his first year of college on a full scholarship when he commits the cold-blooded murder. Catherine is the key to the mystery of Andrew’s undoing. - Dannielle Dyson.

The film's website is here.

The Absence of Mr. or Mrs. B

Showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival: The Absence of Mr. or Mrs. B, directed by Fima Emami and Reza Daryanoush

Synopsis from the Hot Docs website:

Under social pressure, an infertile Iranian couple undergoes multiple in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments that drain both their finances and their marital bond. Both Mr. and Mrs. B take turns threatening divorce and then reconciling in a truly confusing dance of passion and punishment. The opinions of extended family, the mores of the outside world, and bad news from the hospital apply pressure to a relationship already on life-support. Is a baby really the answer to their prayers or a harbinger marking the end of their marriage? This family drama deals with Iran’s policy requiring married couples to have children and the social consequences for those who are less than successful. In a country where IVF treatments are customary and where the second-leading cause of divorce is infertility, Mr. and Mrs. B are not alone. A vivid look at an unstable marriage made worse by cheating, violence, and emotional blackmail. - Angie Driscoll.

Stolen Land

Showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival: Stolen Land, directed by Margarita Martínez Escallón and Miguel Salazar Aparicio

Synopsis from the Hot Docs website:

Caught between rebel guerrillas and the Colombian army, the indigenous Nasa people fight to reclaim the ancestral land that was stolen from them while also fending off new threats of violence encroaching on their community. In a country where the people have known little but war, charismatic Nasa leader Lucho Acosta knows that violence will only breed more of the same. He must fight for the rights of his people in a peaceful manner. Margarita Martinez’s sensitive and empathetic documentary follows Acosta as he takes the Nasa’s fight from the streets of their villages to the halls of government, giving us an intimate look inside this peaceful and caring traditional community. Facing nearly insurmountable odds, Acosta and his beliefs are tested to their core. The last time an agreement was reached, nearly 20 years ago, the result was a massacre. The stakes are high and the future of the Nasa hangs in the balance.

The film's website is here.

Sona, the Other Myself

Showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival: Sona, the Other Myself, directed by Yang Yonghi

Synopsis from the Hot Docs website:

Yang Yonghi’s Dear Pyongyang deeply moved audiences at Hot Docs three years ago, but eventually led to the filmmaker being banned from North Korea for reasons that remain unclear. Yang returns to the Festival with Sona, The Other Myself, another tender, bittersweet story from her father’s ideological homeland. Here Yang compiles a touching portrait of her niece, Sona, from footage shot over a 15-year period prior to Yang being denied entrance to visit her North Korean brothers. Through Sona, the film offers a glimpse into the lives of the generation that migrated from Japan to North Korea and their offspring who were born and raised in North Korea. Sona’s upbringing is quite typical of a North Korean child’s, but the special situation of her immigrant family—so closely connected to and supported by her Japanese relatives—makes its presence known in subtle ways. A simple story, honestly and intuitively told. Sean Farnel.

Sisters In Law

Showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival: Sisters in Law, directed by Kim Longinotto and Florence Ayisi

Synopsis from the Hot Docs website:

Winner of the Prix Art et Essai at Cannes, and screened to acclaim at more than 120 festivals worldwide, Sisters In Law is one of Longinotto’s best known works. Sisters features the awe-inspiring work of two visionary women determined to change their community in Kumba, Cameroon. State Prosecutor Vera Ngassa and Court President Beatrice Ntuba help women fight difficult cases of abuse, battling against the fact that there have been no convictions in spousal abuse cases for 17 years in Kumba. Six-year-old Manka is covered in scars and has run away from an abusive aunt; Amina seeks a divorce to put an end to brutal beatings by her husband; pre-teen Sonita has daringly accused her neighbour of rape. With fierce compassion, the two feisty and progressive-minded women dispense wisdom, wisecracks, and justice in fair measure, handing down stiff sentences to those convicted. - Shannon Abel.

Pride of Place

Showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival: Pride of Place, directed by Kim Longinotto and Dorothea Gadzidis

Synopsis from the Hot Docs website:

Pride Of Place is Longinotto’s first film, made with Dorthea Gazidis while studying camera and directing at England’s National Film School. For Longinotto, it was a revenge film. As a teenager, she was forced to attend a girl’s boarding school in an isolated castle in Buckinghamshire. At 17 she ran away, only to return years later to make Pride Of Place, an indictment of her alma mater. The film is dark and expressive. Longinotto gives us a look at the school from the students’ point of view—as a miniature fascist state with absurd rules, cruel punishments, and little room for individual expression. One year after the release of the film, the boarding school was closed down. With Pride Of Place, Longinotto explores a theme she returns to repeatedly in subsequent films: the individual’s revolt against oppressive authorities and stifling traditions. - Shannon Abel

Monica & David

Showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival: Monica & David, directed by Alexandra Codina

Synopsis from the Hot Docs website:

Monica and David are a Down syndrome couple. They’re madly in love and can’t wait to get hitched. While such marriages are statistically rare, rarer still are the extraordinary families behind them, supporting the couple’s dream. Both Monica and David’s mothers struggle against incredible odds to insulate their children from an intolerant world, with great success. But the pair’s child-like spirits now have adult desires, including an independent married life together. They are aware of their need for assistance, but know they are capable beyond traditional—and maternal—expectations. As the emotional and practical realities of marriage unfold, both they and their protective families must negotiate new terms and unexpected change. First-time filmmaker Alexandra Codina charts an extraordinary year of life and the power of love. - Myrocia Watamaniuk

Monday, April 12, 2010

Made in India

Showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival: Made in India, written and directed by Rebecca Haimowitz and Vaishali Sinha

Synopsis from the film's website:

In San Antonio, TX, Lisa and Brian Switzer sell their house and risk their savings on a Medical Tourism company that has promised them an affordable solution after 7 years of infertility. Across the world in Mumbai, India, Aasia Khan puts on a burka – not for religious reasons – but to hide her identity from neighbors as she enters a fertility clinic to be implanted with this American couple’s embryos.

These are the scenes that unfold as we watch East meet West in suburbs and shanty-towns, in test tubes and Petri dishes, in surrogates and infertile couples.

“Reproductive Tourism” has become a booming trade, valued at more than $450 million in India, and it’s growing rapidly. Infertile couples in the U.S. pay up to $100,000 for a domestic surrogacy, but they can pay for the same in India for roughly $25,000 (this includes clinic charges, lawyer’s bills, travel and lodging, and the surrogate’s fee). But this growth is occurring within a complete legal vacuum: currently, there are no actual laws on surrogacy in India – only suggested guidelines. And yet the practice continues to expand without regulation or protection.

Made in India is the first feature documentary to show the personal stories of the real people involved — following their journeys throughout the entire surrogacy process. 
Aasia is a 27-year-old mother of 3 who lives in a one-room house in a slum in Mumbai. She laughs with disbelief when she first heard of surrogacy. “A child without a man?! How can that be? There has to be some kind of a… ‘relationship,’ right?!” Aasia’s decision to become a surrogate – to do so without her husband’s consent even – debunks any simplistic characterization of her as an exploited victim.

Lisa & Brian see themselves as fighters: “In the US, if you’re struggling to have a child, you have to be a lawyer or a doctor to afford this. It’s not fair.” They believe hiring an Indian surrogate is their only chance to have a child of their own, and they are sure that they will help Aasia just as she helps them. But when facing accusations of exploitation, Lisa and Brian must defend their choices. “Walk a mile in my shoes before you judge me,” Lisa commands, staring into the camera.

As Aasia and the Switzers’ stories grow increasingly tied together, the bigger picture behind the globalization of the Reproductive Industry begins to unfold, revealing questions of citizenship, human rights, global corporate practices, choice, reproductive rights, commodification of the body, legal accountability and notions of motherhood.

Throughout the film, scenes of America and India are juxtaposed, charting out the obstacles faced by the US couple, and giving an intimate understanding of the surrogate’s life story and motivations. Made in India explores the impact of the decisions of one person on the other. This film reveals the legal and ethical implications behind their choices, and presents the conflict between the personal and the political dilemmas of international surrogacy.

Ito - Diary of an Urban Priest

Showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival: Ito – Diary of an Urban Priest, directed by Pirjo Honkasalo

Synopsis from the Hot Docs website:

From the director of the award-winning The 3 Rooms of Melancholia, this visually stunning piece follows the intimate journey of Yoshinobu Fujioka, a young, guitar-playing former boxer turned Buddhist priest on his fervent search for meaning among the disenchanted and troubled denizens of Tokyo. The film subtly evokes Fujioka’s quest through a series of hypnotic conversations he has with various confessors, bar patrons, and religious colleagues: a convicted killer at a women’s penitentiary, his former boxing coach, and a man who lost his faith after the death of his mother, to name a few. Fujioka is earnest and open during these encounters; his longing for personal connection is tangible. Dark and expressive, Ito is as mesmerizing as it is emotionally compelling. - Shannon Abel

In the Name of the Family

Showing at Hot Docs: In the Name of the Family, written and directed by Shelley Saywell

Synopsis from the film's website:

In the Name of the Family, the latest documentary from Toronto-based Shelley Saywell, continues her list of hard-hitting films that deal with human rights issues. Winner of an Emmy Award for Crimes of Honour and a UNESCO Gandhi Medal for Kim’s Story: The Road from Vietnam, her latest documentary is similarly incisive and unsettling. The death of 16 year old Aqsa Parvez, strangled by her father in Toronto, compelled Saywell to return to the terrain she covered in Crimes of Honour: the murder of young women by their own families. She began filming at Aqsa’s vigil, planning to focus on her story. Three weeks later, teenage sisters Amina and Sarah Said were shot to death by their father in Dallas, Texas. Five months later, 19-year-old Fauzia Mohammed of Rochester NY was stabbed 11 times by her brother. She miraculously survived.

In the Name of the Family tells their stories: examining the escalating tensions that led to their death and how the community reacted to it. In eerie parallel, we meet other girls who continue to live in anxiety and fear. From South Asian and Middle Eastern immigrant families, these girls are caught between two cultures where parent-teenage clashes can lead to a specific form of domestic abuse.

Known as honour killing, this form of violence is not sanctioned by any religion, but has been culturally entrenched in some parts of South Asia, and the Middle East. In post-911 North America, this topic has become polarizing – either silenced or sensationalized. The tragedy is, there are very few safety nets here for girls in danger.

In the Name of the Family viewers meet the girls, their families and friends, and enter a normally closed world where young women wanting to bridge two worlds are victimized by the men who claim to love them the most.

Grace, Milly, Lucy…Child Soldiers

Showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival: Grace, Milly, Lucy…Child Soldiers, written and directed by Raymonde Provencher

Synopsis from the Hot Docs website:

It’s very easy to create a killing machine. Just imagine. You’re seven years old and taken away from your family…your parents are killed in front of you or you’re forced to kill somebody. Through all that you’re beaten…then you’re given a gun and you’re told, ‘This gun is your life.’” – Grace Akallo


Grace, Milly, and Lucy are three of thousands of young girls violently abducted from their villages in Uganda and forced to become soldiers as well as wives to rebel commanders. With babies strapped to their backs and guns in their hands, they are forced to maim, burn, and kill. Many girls have escaped, but they and their children are shunned and the road to self-forgiveness and community acceptance is painful. In this powerful call for justice and peace, these girl soldiers are becoming activists who raise their voices and organize to prevent other children from experiencing the same hell. - Lynne Fernie

Gaea Girls

Showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival: Gaea Girls, directed by Kim Longinotto

Synopsis from the Hot Docs website:

Gaea Girls, Longinotto’s last film shot in Japan, takes us deep inside the gruelling and often humiliating training regime of female Japanese professional wrestlers. The lives of the trainees are Spartan; they train in a corrugated warehouse and sleep in a tiny shack. And the training is intense, with workouts that could easily rival Rocky’s "Eye of the Tiger" montage. The film focuses largely on young trainee Takeuchi as she prepares to become an official Gaea wrestler. Takeuchi is subjected to beatings and ritual humiliation by the team’s top wrestler and charismatic mentor, Nagayo. Gaea Girls is an intensely emotional and complicated experience, a testament to Longinotto’s formidable filmmaking skills. In the end, you can’t help but wonder which path would be better for Takeuchi—to succeed and enter the brutal, unforgiving world of wrestling, or to fail and be spared? - Shannon Abel

A clip:

Friday, April 9, 2010

Everyone Else

Opening this weekend at the IFC Center: Everyone Else, written and directed by Maren Ade

Synopsis from AllMovie:

In this edgy comedy-drama from director Maren Ade, Chris (Lars Eidinger) and Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr) are a couple whose relationship has more than its share of ups and downs; she works as a publicist for a rock group whose career is going nowhere in particular, while he's an architect who hasn't been able to persuade anyone to build one of his designs just yet. While Gitti's career isn't much, it's enough to give her head-of-the-household status, to Chris's chagrin. Chris and Gitti are spending some time at his well-to-do family's summer home in Sardinia, and they seem to be getting along relatively well until they meet another couple vacationing nearby, Hans (Hans-Jochen Wagner) and Sana (Nicole Marischka). Hans is an architect like Chris, but unlike Chris his career is in high gear, while Sana is a well-respected artist. Hans isn't afraid to display his alpha-male status in their relationship, and Chris' attempts to emulate him add to the tension between him and Gitti, while she isn't sure what to make of a couple who seem so outwardly happy. Alle Anderen (aka Everyone Else) was an official selection at the 2009 Berlin International Film Festival.

The film's (totally German) website is here.

After.Life

Opening this weekend: After.Life, directed by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo

Synopsis from the movie's website:

After a horrific car accident, Anna (Christina Ricci) wakes up to find the local funeral director Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson) preparing her body for her funeral. Confused, terrified and feeling still very much alive, Anna doesn't believe she's dead, despite the funeral director's assurances that she is merely in transition to the afterlife. Eliot convinces her he has the ability to communicate with the dead and is the only one who can help her. Trapped inside the funeral home, with nobody to turn to except Eliot, Anna is forced to face her deepest fears and accept her own death. But Anna's grief-stricken boyfriend Paul (Justin Long) still can't shake the nagging suspicion that Eliot isn't what he appears to be. As the funeral nears, Paul gets closer to unlocking the disturbing truth, but it could be too late; Anna may have already begun to cross over to the other side.

With an unrelenting edge of menace, After.Life is a stylish psychological thriller that provocatively questions the line between life and death.



In Theaters: It Came from Kuchar

Showing at New York's Anthology Film Archives: It Came from Kuchar, directed by Jennifer M. Kroot

See What I'm Saying

Opening at New York's East Village Cinema this weekend: See What I'm Saying, directed by Hilari Scarl

Synopsis from the film's website:

This inspirational and heartfelt documentary follows four well-known entertainers in the deaf community: a comic, a drummer, an actor and a singer as they attempt to cross over to mainstream audiences. These uniquely talented deaf entertainers overcome great challenges on their way to personal triumphs and professional success.

Bob, a drummer in the world’s only deaf rock band, Beethoven’s Nightmare, produces the largest show in the band’s 30 year history; CJ, a hugely famous and internationally renowned comic in the Deaf world, but virtually unknown to hearing audiences, fights to cross over to the mainstream by producing the first international sign language theatre festival in Los Angeles; Robert, a brilliant actor who teaches at Juilliard, struggles to survive when he becomes homeless while living with HIV; and TL, a hard of hearing singer finds herself caught between the hearing and deaf communities when she attracts her first major producer to record her first CD “Not Deaf Enough.”

Chronicled with rare intimacy and candor, See What I'm Saying is the first open-captioned commercial film in American history. At the same time, it opens the door to deaf culture, allowing the sign language in the film to be accessible to all audiences.

With humor and emotion, director Hilari Scarl captures with insight and honesty the many obstacles these performers face daily.

Daddy’s Girls

Showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival: Daddy's Girls, directed by Lily Sheffy

Synopsis from the film's website:

Yaron splits his life between Germany and Israel, as he maneuvers precariously between three homes, three women and two children. When his daughter finds out how he lives, she decides to embark on a journey and decipher, for the first time in her life, who her father really is. During the past three years the director – his daughter – has been documenting her father’s never-ending pursuit of love, happiness and self-realization.

Tracing the dramas life brings – a wedding, childbirth, infatuations and partings – she finds a man chased by the fear that his time is running out, juggling his passion and faithfulness, while seemingly oblivious to the heartache he leaves in his wake. This sometimes shocking, sometimes humorous, but always intimate insight presents the impossible reality of his life, exploring the limits of relationships, hopes, love and trust.

Dish: Women, Waitressing & the Art of Service

Showing at Hot Docs: Dish: Women, Waitressing & the Art of Service, directed by Maya Gallus

Synopsis from the Hot Docs website:

Dish delves into Toronto’s diners, Montreal’s “sexy restos,” Paris’ haute eateries, and Tokyo’s fantasy “maid bars” in an insider’s look at gender, power, and the art of service. Former waitress and Gemini award-winning director Maya Gallus dines out and dishes the dirt with waitresses, restaurant owners, and maître d’s about the demands of the job. What’s revealed are the fantasies, desires, and prejudices projected onto women servers—including those of substitute wife, girlfriend, and personal servant. She discovers that as prices on the menu rise and serving acquires the respect and salary of a vocation, the number of women servers declines; the most sophisticated eateries employ only men to serve their well-heeled patrons. From the hustle of a busy truck stop to the discreet hush of a Parisian house of fine dining, Dish serves up a delicious and illuminating look at the lives of women in the restaurant biz. - Lynne Fernie

Anne Perry - Interiors

Showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival: Anne Perry - Interiors, directed by Dana Linkiewicz

Synopsis from the film's website:

With more than 50 books written and sales exceeding 25 million copies worldwide, Anne Perry is one of the premier crime fiction authors of our time.

In 1994, the film Heavenly Creatures revealed a secret about Anne Perry: The celebrated author was involved in a murder at the age of 15.

Anne Perry - Interiors accompanies the writer and offers a uniquely intimate insight into the world of one of the most intriguing figures of the mystery writing genre.

The documentary tells a story about the burden of guilt–not just as part of the past but as part of present-day life.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Netflix It: Broken English

Available from Netflix: Broken English, directed by Zoe Cassavetes

I thought Broken English was quite good, though Parker Posey's character was a little too pathetic in the beginning. Says my friend Nancy (minor spoiler alert): "As little indie romances go it had just about everything I needed: cute French guy, East Village scenes, NYC loft party, Paris Metro scene, depression, elation, a funny best friend, annoying parents, travel, etc." Yes, depression is something she looks out for in romantic comedies. I guess it comes up more often than you might think.

(Sort of misleading) synopsis from AllMovie:

A single thirtysomething whose friends all seem to be romantically involved, happily married, or with child meets an eccentric Frenchman who shows her just what an amazing place the world can truly be in director Zoe Cassavetes' entry into the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. As if it wasn't depressing enough to be 35 and still single, Nora (Parker Posey) is constantly reminded by her loving but tactless mother (Gena Rowlands) just how unlucky she has been in love. Though Nora longs to enter into a blissful union like the one of her best friend, Audrey (Drea de Matteo), she finds that the dating pool just isn't what it used to be. Things soon begin to look up, however, when Nora makes the acquaintance of handsome Frenchman Julien (Melvil Poupaud). While the two share an instant chemistry that is undeniable, Nora is saddened to learn that Julien will soon be departing for his native soil. When Julien does depart, Nora laments the fact that she wasn't able to express her feelings more effectively. If only Nora could organize her scattered thoughts long enough to remember her love object's last name, she might not have to go searching out every "Julien" in Paris to locate the man of her dreams.


  

The Devil Operation

Showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival: The Devil Operation, directed by Stephanie Boyd

Synopsis from the Hot Docs website:

A gripping David and Goliath tale of corporate espionage unfolds in this exposé of torture, intimidation, and murder of Peruvian eco-activists and indigenous farmers. Shocking video footage, horrifying photos, and meticulous reports compiled by private security firms working for U.S. and British-owned gold mines are co-opted by the filmmakers to reveal the truth in this real-life political thriller. The charismatic Father Marco Arana, named a Hero of the Environment in 2009 by TIME Magazine, has been so effective in advocating against the US-owned Yanacocha mine that he’s code-named “the Devil” and targeted in a campaign of harassment and terror. When one colleague is threatened with rape and another is killed, the activists fight back, capture a spy, and uncover a military-scale operation of surveillance and violence that shocks even them. When billions of dollars are at stake, just how far are corporations willing to go to protect their bottom line? - Gisèle Gordon

Wistful Wilderness

Showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival: Wistful Wilderness, directed by Digna Sinke

Synopsis from the Hot Docs website:


The island of Tiengemeten is getting a makeover. Originally tamed to serve as agricultural land, it's now being left to the elements to revert back to wilderness. Filmmaker Digna Sinke documents 15 years of transformation. Using poetic diary entries and lens, frame, and height measurements, she records the loss of a landscape and the love of her life. Revisiting a series of fixed camera positions from 1996 onwards, she preserves long straight roads framed by poplar canopies as vanishing points on the horizon. On some visits it looks as if nothing has changed; the scenery appears static. But then in a blink, everything is unrecognizable - trees felled, barns razed. A chronicle of dramatic change presented as incremental shifts, Wistful Wilderness is a collection of final moments and firsts: the last potato harvest and families moving out, goldenrod, willow herb, and warblers moving in. - Angie Driscoll.

The film's website is here.

Rough Aunties

Showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival: Rough Aunties, directed by Kim Longinotto

Synopsis from the Hot Docs website:

Fearless, feisty, and resolute, the "Rough Aunties" are a remarkable group of women unwavering in their stand to protect and care for the abused, neglected, and forgotten children of Durban, South Africa. This latest documentary by internationally acclaimed director Kim Longinotto follows the outspoken, multiracial cadre of Thuli, Mildred, Sdudla, Eureka, and Jackie who work for Bobbi Bear, a child welfare organization, as they wage a daily battle against systemic apathy, corruption, and greed to help the most vulnerable and disenfranchised of their communities. Despite the harsh realities of violence, poverty, and racism in the women's work and in the heartaches of their personal lives, the portraits that emerge on screen are filled with grace, wisdom, friendship, and a deeply stirring conviction. Once again Longinotto offers an intimate portrait of change from Africa, this time from post-apartheid South Africa, a nation being transformed by hope and energy into a new democracy.

Blank City

Showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival: Blank City, directed by Celine Danhier

Synopsis from the film's Facebook page:

Uncovering New York’s underexposed filmmaking movements circa 1977 to 1987, this provocative documentary begins when New York City was ripe with cheap rent, cheap drugs, a summer hit by “Son of Sam,” and a 25-hour blackout. Captivated by the newly emerging downtown music scene, and inspired by Amos Poe’s 1977 punk documentary Blank Generation, two distinct groups of novice filmmakers emerged, hell-bent on capturing the volatile world around them.

The first group, a rebellious group of artists, musicians and writers, came together to create films soon to be labeled “No Wave Cinema.” Stark and confrontational, the films mirrored the rising “No Wave” music scene as well as referencing French New Wave, Film Noir and the films of John Waters and Andy Warhol. Filmmakers such as Jim Jarmusch, Eric Mitchell, Beth B, Charlie Ahearn, and Lizzie Borden showcased the city’s grittiness, bearing witness to the early East Village art and music scenes and the birth of hip hop. Short, long, color or black-and-white, the films portrayed themes of alienation and were all made on the fly with virtually no budget. Although several filmmakers broke out with more accessible independent films, the No Wave Cinema movement burned out quickly.

The second group exploded onto the downtown scene in 1984. "Cinema of Transgression" filmmakers Nick Zedd, Richard Kern, Tommy Turner, and Casandra Stark incorporated harsher realities of sex, violence and drugs. Theaters banned the films and the Wall Street Journal denounced them. When these films screened outside New York, prints were often confiscated or protested against. But just as quickly the downtown filmmaking community further disintegrated as jealousy and circumstance tore the group apart.

Though short-lived, the indelible and lasting impression these strange and exciting film movements created continues to play a part in inspiring a new generation of independent filmmakers.

The film's website is here.

Eat the Kimono

Showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival: Eat the Kimono, directed by Kim Longinotto and Claire Hunt

Synopsis from the Hot Docs website:

Eat The Kimono, made with Claire Hunt for their company Twentieth Century Vixen, is one of many Longinotto films exploring Japanese fringe culture. Kimono follows Hanayagi Genshu, a controversial Japanese feminist, activist, avant-garde performer and dancer, as she tours various cities in Japan. As a dance student, Genshu achieved notoriety when she stabbed her teacher, the owner of a famous dance school, and spent eight months in jail for the attack. After her release, Genshu spent her life defying her conservative culture’s contempt for independence and unconventionality through her riveting performances and lectures. She denounced Emperor Hirohito as a war criminal and dismissed death threats made against her by right-wing groups. “You mustn’t be eaten by the kimono,” says Genshu, making reference to the traditional Japanese dress designed to restrict a woman’s movement. “You must eat the kimono, and gobble it up.” - Shannon Abel

Monday, April 5, 2010

Neighbors

Showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival: Neighbors, directed by Tahani Rached

Synopsis from the Hot Docs website:

Egypt’s history of kings, colonialism, and revolution still whisper through the abandoned mansions and opulent villas of Garden City, a once-exclusive neighbourhood that housed the ruling elites in Cairo. Gathering together a cast of charismatic characters—shopkeepers, servants living in roof-top rooms, the US ambassador, sophisticated Egyptians, and now-aging children of English diplomats—with gorgeous cinematography and rare excerpts from early Egyptian cinema, master documentarian Tahani Rached creates a fascinating human and architectural river that flows through a century of political upheaval. This once elegant area is increasingly encroached upon by ubiquitous highrise apartments and the prison-like architecture of the US and Canadian embassies. (An American “beautification project” translates into shrubs set in pots in front of cement security pylons.) Like all good art, Neighbors deftly avoids easy nostalgia and presents a complex past that is both an eloquent allegory and a serious critique of the present. - Lynne Fernie

The film's website is here.

Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go

Showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival: Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go, directed by Kim Longinotto

Synopsis from the Hot Docs website:

Longinotto brings us another incredible film about struggling children living in extraordinary circumstances, but this time back on her home turf. Mulberry Bush in Oxford is a boarding school catering to children who have been expelled from regular schools for extreme behaviour. The three-year program gives them the chance to turn their lives around and re-enter the regular school system. Longinotto spends a year at the school following the progress of four charming but troubled boys. All have severe problems with anger and violence; they punch, kick, spit, and curse at the remarkably patient teachers who are trained never to raise their voices. The film compassionately captures the battle these children go through to give voice to the hurt they carry inside. A sensitive and heart-rending study of the results of family dysfunction, Hold Me Tight also bears witness to the effects—good and bad—that adults have on growing children. - Shannon Abel

Horses

Showing at the Hot Docs Film Festival: Horses, written and directed by Liz Mermin

Synopsis from the film's website:

A beautifully detailed documentary following a year in the lives of three champion racehorses at an Irish stable. Director Liz Mermin captures everything that an equine athlete must go through to compete, keeping the film as close to the horses themselves as possible. Trainers and owners get their say but overall the film is about what it’s like to be a racehorse, something it achieves without recourse to sentiment or anthropomorphism. The horses are the stars and the jockeys and trainers play the supporting role!

Ireland’s horse-racing culture has produced some of the finest athletes in the world. The protagonists prove less reticent than one might imagine, and as we watch them train, rest, play, and race, distinct characters emerge.  The equine characters are framed by a charismatic collection of human supporting actors – from their good-looking, foul-mouthed trainer to an elderly groom who obviously prefers horses to people – but ultimately they command our attention on their own. Without ever straying into Disney territory, and eschewing sentimentality, Horses raises basic questions about what constitutes character and who can have it.

Written and directed by acclaimed American documentary film maker Liz Mermin (Shot in Bombay, The Beauty Academy of Kabul, Team Qatar), this unusual and beautiful observational film draws us into the inner lives of three equine athletes over the course of a difficult racing year.