Hot Docs 2018 Toronto



Hot Docs arrives once again to Toronto with a slew of documentaries covering a wide range of subjects from countries all over the world.

The options are tremendous.  What should one see?  One way is to pick a subject one is the most interested in, and see the doc on that subject - be it global warming or human rights or racism.  Another tactic is to choose a doc on a subject one knows the least about, perhaps on drug addiction in Afghanistan.   Or even one with the weirdest subject as in THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS where triplets discover each other and then also that they were a part of a human behavioural study.  Some docs on subjects demand to be seen as in THE GUARDIANS where seniors are kidnapped  for money in government sponsored homes.

The festival of Documentaries runs from April 26th to May the 6th.

For the complete program, schedule of films and ticket pricing check the docs website at:

Capsule Reviews of Selected Docs follow:


Directed by Matthew Shoychet

This eye-opening doc, despite its well worn subject of Jews slaughtered in Nazi concentration camps is based on the 2015 trial of 94-year-old Oskar Groning, the Accountant of Auschwitz.  He went on trial in his home town in Luneburg, Germany for the murder of 300,000 people, way back in 1944. The case made headlines around the world, as a frail old man took the stand to finally face justice for crimes committed long ago.  Director Shoychet shows two sides of the argument, that a precedent must be set for the murders of the past.  On the other hand, it could be argued that Groning, like many other Germans that followed served no purpose.  The photo of Groning as a young man in uniform makes the guilty man look so innocent, and his current photo at the age of 94, which bears no resemblance at all to the old photo stresses the relevance of prosecuting the man.  The doc is quite different here, as many Germans are interviewed and have their say on camera.  The Germans get to debate both sides.  Survivors and Nazi hunters alike are therefore torn over whether he should be prosecuted at all.  The film also contains archive footage with relevant commentary on the Nuremberg Trials.  But the highlight of the film are the testimonies of the survivors, prosecutors and other interviewees whose words bring shivers regarding what have transited in the past.  Oskar Groning just passed away March of this year.

Trailer: (unavailable)





ANOTE’S ARK (Canada 2018) ***
Directed by Matthieu Rytz


A clever title for a documentary on the Pacific island of Kikibati.  The nation of Kiribati (population: 100,000) is one of the most remote places on the planet, seemingly far-removed from the pressures of modern life.  Yet it is one of the first countries that must confront the main existential dilemma of our time: imminent annihilation from sea-level rise due to global warming from climate change.   

The film opens with a shot of the island surrounded by crystal clear blue waters.  The island is described as the corners of the earth as it streets north and south and east and west of the international date line.  The fishing scene also shows how rich the waters are. 

Anote is the then President who needs to build an ark for the nation to survive the flooding, similar to Noah building an ark to save the animals from the world flood.  The film documents the desperation of the people as the tides rise and flooding occurs.  Lots of footage here including scenes of devastation resulting from the floods.  While Kiribati’s President Anote Tong races to find a way to protect his nation’s people (he attends the Paris Climate change Conference with other world leaders including ex-U.S. President Obama) and maintain their dignity, many Kiribati are already seeking safe harbour overseas.  The film follows one such couple who sees New Zealand as their new home.  

Both director Matthieu Rytz, and subject President Anote Tong will be present during the Hot Docs screening.


CHEF FLYNN (USA 2018) ***

Directed by Cameron Yates


Documentary CHEF FLYNN picks 10-year old Flynn as is subject when Flynn first transforms his living room into a supper club using his classmates as line cooks. With sudden fame, Flynn outgrows his bedroom kitchen, and sets out to challenge the hierarchy of the culinary world.  Like most docs on a subject that runs out of material, it gets distracted with other issues such as, in this case, the mother’s filming obsession, Fynn’s relationship with his family (father and sister) and his new restaurant’s opening night.  But when the camera is on the young chef prodigy, it gets the most interesting.  To director Yates’ credit, he ties the other issues to Flynn’s culinary duties.  Flynn’s culinary creations look marvellous on screen though this fine dining experience may only be suited for the rich and wealthy.  Still, it is a rewarding experience to see a talented youth (seen through the ages of 10-15) experience both the highs of his talent and pains of growing up too quickly.


GURRUMUL (Australia 2018) **
Directed by Paul Williams

GURRUMUL is a name most people have never heard of.  So the image of him as seen on the cover of “Rolling Stone” magazine must stand for something.   Celebrated by audiences at home and abroad, Indigenous artist Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu was one of the most important and acclaimed voices to ever come out of Australia.  Blind from birth, he found purpose and meaning through songs and music inspired by his community and country on Elcho Island in far North East Arnhem Land.  Living a traditional Yolngu life, his breakthrough album ‘Gurrumul’ brought him to a crossroads as audiences and artists around the world began to embrace his music.   William’s film follows his life as told by his mother, father, uncle and assortment of relatives.  He has two white folk aid him in publicity and his work.  GURRUMUL is unlike most biographies where there is downturn and then redemption.  But Gurrumul is no angel either, as his manager gets extremely frustrated when he does not show up for his American tour.  But the film that stresses Gurrumul’s voice and songs comes across as a rather lacklustre affair despite director William’s effort of educating the audience on Gurrumul’s tribal responsibilities. The only time the film comes alive is the duet performance of “Every Breathe you Take,” by Gurrumul and Sting.


LAILA AT THE BRIDGE (Afghanistan/Canada 2018) ***

Directed by Sylvia Mirzaei and Gulistan Mirzaei

The bridge in Kabul, Afghanistan is a filthy and disgusting place.  Smelling of human faeces and vomit, this is the makeshift dwelling of hundreds of homeless Afghanistan drug addicts.  As the difficult to watch (for reason of its material and harsh depiction of human hardships) film informs at the start, 90% of the world’s opium is grown in the country with more than 11% of the population addicted.  Laila is the Mother Teresa who brings the addicts home, feed, clothe and more important, try to get them clean and to stay clean.  This is her story.  Laila is shown as a dedicated mother of sorts but not without faults.  She can be too forward, loud, and bossy, especially when trying to get government aid for her exploits.  The film shows two crucial scenes at the bridge, one with her distributing  limited food and the other searching through the rubbish for a convert.  The film ends on a note of hope with her possibly having a way to get funds for her project.  The film is also made more alive by examining a few addicts in detail, one of whom is Laila’s brother who is presently clean and helping her, after 25 years of addiction.  A very eye-opening documentary set in a  country with a culture North Americans know very little about.



Directed by Nesrin Samdereli, Yasemin Samdereli


Likely the most charming documentary at Hot Docs 2018.   Together for a lifetime?  Who can manage this?  And who still wants this? What seems to be an oddity for us nowadays was the norm for the generation of our grandparents.  The doc follows four separate lifelong couples from different countries as they experience and talk about traditional wedding night.  The couples are elderly couples from Japan, Germany and India including a gay couple from Pennsylvania in the United States.  The film is shot, with subtitles in Japanese, Hindi, German and English.   This is a simple documentary not requiring much research or what it lacks in terms of content and history is compensated by the amusing observations on human behaviour.  Of all the couples on display, the Indian couple is the most endearing.  The segment where the husband and wife describe their first ‘touching’ encounter in the cinema is unforgettable and in itself is worth the price of admission.


OVER THE LIMIT (Poland/Germany/Finland 2017) **

Directed by Marta Prus

OVER THE LIMIT begins with a beautifully choreographed display go gymnastics by Olympic gymnast Rita Mamun, doing wonders with a hoop.  To the audience’s surprise, she is then violently chided by her trainer, a Ms. Irina despite praise from her coach, Ms. Amina.  The film concentrates its focus on these three individuals.  Ms. Irina is depicted as the wicked manipulative witch who hurls abusive insults and personal attacks on both Rita and the coach.  The main goal is the winning of the Olympic goal which becomes the climax of the doc.  Is this successful Russian system for training athletes transgresses boundaries really worth it?  Results may show but the path and destruction of human lives might not. This is what Prus intends to show and succeeds.  Elite rhythmic gymnast Rita Mamun has reached a crucial moment in her career.  This is a difficult to watch nail-biting behind-the-scenes drama about the intense physical and mental labor put into a sport that thrives on its beautiful aesthetics.  But there are too many repeated segments of Ms. Irina abusing Rita.  The audience gets the point early in the film.



Directed by Michael Del Monte

TRANSFORMER, the true transgender story of a muscled power lifter undergoing a sex change operation offers an unique perspective on the transgendered community and how each transition is unique to the person transitioning.  Janae (aka Matt) Kroc was as masculine as one can be prior to her transition, a world record powerlifter renowned for her masculinity. When she transitioned, she struggled with remaining true to her passions as a powerlifter while wanting to become more feminine.  The film illustrates a lesson that transitioning does not mean leaving one person behind to become another - so audiences should be prepared to be taking for quite the ride.

The film also shows the sadness at people in the world who still stupid and are unacceptable of gays or people who are different in general.  A moving while disturbing segment has protesters during an LGTT march.  These people carry just awful and nasty holding signs like LGBT (Let God Burn Them) and HOMO Sex is Sin.  Well, Kroc has admitted earlier in the film that he is still attracted to females and not men.  After the segment when the camera then focuses on Kroc back in male clothes, one certainly gains a new respect for this man - one who is able to stand up for what he believes and to challenge all the unaccepting idiots in the world, who are the ones who should burn in hell.  Director has lifted this film that could have been a freak show turn into something more insightful.


Directed by Tim Wardle


The doc, THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS opens in the year 1980 when 19-year-olds Robert Shafran and Edward Galland found each other at the same community college and realized they were twins separated at birth.  To each other’s surprise, they discover a third.  Triplets at birth finding each other is news.  The surprise triplets became fast friends and overnight media sensations.  Can the happiness last forever?  Every story eventually has a dark side.  The dark side involves the discovery at the adoption agency that the triplets (as are other twins) were part of an experiment conducted on human behaviour.  The film’s best part is the insight given by a few of the interviewees.  One, a lady who worked at the adoption research centre gives her opinion that it was not considered inappropriate in those days to do experiments of this kind.  Psychology was new and in, and it was a cool subject then, not like today.

A documentary is often as good as its subject.  A far as Wardle’s documentary goes, what other film could have topped this with a more intriguing subject.  THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS will eventually be praised as a film despite its glaring flaws.   One wishes that more conclusion would have been presented regarding the experiments


Film Review: Le Sens de la Fete (C'est La Vie)

C’EST LA VIE (LE SENS DE LA FETE) (France 2017) ***

Directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano 

Directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano can best be remembered for their bubbly comedy LES UNTOUCHABLES, which ended up one of the mot successful of French comedies. 

The target this time is an extravagant wedding at a chateau where all the servers have (and forced to wear) valet costumes including white wigs.  The story is told from the point of view of the the wedding caterer manager, Max (Jean Pierre Bacri) a battle-weary veteran of the wedding-planning racket.  He is clearly a working class Frenchman who works in an upper-class environment.  This is evident in the film’s opening sequence where he is clearly perturbed at a couple cutting corners to save cost for their wedding in downtown Paris.  He freaks out at them before the film settles on his current gig.

Max has been running his catering company for 30 years, and beginning to grow tired. While planning a large wedding for clients Pierre and Helena, a series of mishaps upends a very tight schedule, and every instant of happiness and emotion could veer into disaster and chaos. From the preparations to daybreak, the audience gets a behind-the-scenes look at a wedding party through the eyes of the people working the event.

Max initially arrives to find everything in disarray.  He is short of staff and his employees are fighting.  This gig turns out to be a hell of a fête, involving stuffy period costumes for the caterers, a vain, hyper-sensitive singer who thinks he's a Gallic James Brown (Gilles Lellouche), and the morose, micromanaging groom, Pierre (Benjamin Lavernhe) determined to make Max's night as miserable as possible.  The script includes an assortment of working class workers totally out of place in a wedding of higher society.

When it rains, it pours, as James (aka DJ Fab) utters at one point in the film.  The electricity goes out, the guests get food poisoning and the groom appears with a list of personal demands, least of which is his very, very long prepared speech.  “Sober, chic and elegant is how I want my music,” says the groom to the loud and crass James.

Actor Bacri (THE TASTE OF OTHERS), according to the press notes, helped the directors in the script, having experience in that field.

Besides wedding ceremony problems, personal problems arise.  Max’s personal life  comes into chaos as Joisette (Canadian director Xavier Dolan regular Suzanne Clément), seems to have written him off, coolly going about her professional duties while openly flirting with a much younger server.  The bride recognizes a waiter as a past fling.  The wedding photographer’s son and father relationship is put to the test.  This is an ensemble work, which works as there are lots of humour with a touch of social comment.

For LE SENS DE LA FETE, the comedic set-ups are funny enough, most of them working and keeping the audience happy with laugh-out loud humour.  This is French comedy as the French can do best.  And it is a matter of time Hollywood will attempt a disastrous remake.

C’EST LA VIE! which was selected at the Closing Night Gala for the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival was named in ten categories, including Best Film, at the 43rd César Ceremony, the French’s equivalent to the Oscars.  This is my second viewing of the comedy and the laughs still bring tears to my eyes.  Very funny and very entertaining.


Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2018



The 15th annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival, co-presented by TIFF and Human Rights Watch, features a diverse lineup celebrating the power individuals can hold in complex social and political situations.

A total of 7 films will be screened.  Capsule reviews of 3 films are provided below.

The festival is an opportunity for both organizations to come together to recognize the essential role that compelling storytelling plays in helping shine a light on important issues, from citizen journalism in West Africa to the difference spoken-word can make in the Arab world. Of the seven exceptional features that make up this year’s edition, five were directed by women.

Most screenings will be accompanied by exciting discussions with filmmakers, Human Rights Watch researchers, or subject-matter experts to spark conversations around the challenging issues featured in the films.

For more festive information, please check the fsetival website at:

The festival runs from April 18th - 25th.  Tickets are NOW on sale.



(to be posted)


THE OTHER SIDE OF EVERYTHING (Serbia/France/Qatar, 2017) ***

Directed by Mila Turajlic

The film begins with a locked door inside a Belgrade apartment that has kept one family separated from their past for over 70 years. As director Mila Turajlic begins an intimate conversation with her mother, the political fault line running through their home reveals a house and a country haunted by history.  The chronicle of a family in Serbia turns into a searing portrait of an activist in times of great turmoil, questioning the responsibility of each generation to fight for their future.  The main character on display is the mother, who has received an award in University for being the professor most involved in protests.  Lots of old newsreel footage and archive home videos authenticate the proceedings.  The film unfolds like a history lesson (there is little spicing up of the details) and those who are aware or involved with the old Serbia and Yugoslavia might be in for a trip down nostalgic (though not always pleasant) lane.






WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY (Norway/Germany Sweden 2017) ***1/2

Directed by Iram Haq


When Nisha (Maria Mozhdah) is caught with a boy in her bedroom, though nothing really happened between them, her concerned parents kidnap her and send her to Pakistan.  The film traces Nisha’s kidnap to her abode in Pakistan where she lives with her cruel aunt and uncle.  Things get even worse, after a failed escape attempt and her being caught by the police smooching with her cousin.  They call Nisha’s dad (Adil Hussain) to take her back to Oslo.  The father is madder than ever and at one point forces her to commit suicide, which she doesn’t.  Director Haq has the audience clearly on Nisha’s side.  Firstly, she is largely innocent, only guilty of wanting to have some fun any normal teenager seeks.  When she suffers, she is also shown to earnestly want to turn over a new leaf.  The film benefits from superior performances from both Mozhdah as Nisha and Hussain as Nisha’s dad.  It also helps that Haq has developed real characters, not just one dimensional cardboard ones.  The film is not devoid of humour (like the egg lady on the bus in Pakistan).  Haq also shows the different culture and lifestyle in Pakistan compared to Norway.  WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY is an engaging film that makes its point, while sending a message at the same time.


Film Review: Madame

MADAME (France 2017) **1/2
Directed by Amanda Sthers

A film shot in English with a Paris setting boasting acting international talents like Toni Collette and Harvey Keitel featuring a comic performance by Pedro Almodovar regular Rossy de Palma (WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN) shows much promise in the beginning as writer/director Amanda Sthers prepares the setting of her black comedy/bedroom farce.

The film begins when a scenic backdrop of Paris where a seasoned married couple, Anne (Collette) and Bob Fredericks (Keitel) ride their bikes while bickering constantly.   They are adding a little spice (likely more pepper than salt) to a waning marriage.   Anne and Bob, a wealthy and well-connected American couple, move into a manor house in romantic Paris.  While preparing a particularly luxurious dinner for sophisticated international friends, the hostess discovers there are thirteen guests, owing to the sudden unexpected appearance of her step-son.    Shades of Bunuel’s DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOUSIE.  Panic-stricken, Anne insists her loyal maid Maria (De Palma) disguise herself as a mysterious Spanish noble woman to even out the numbers.  But a little too much wine, and some playful chat, lead Maria to accidentally endear herself to a dandy British art broker (David Morgan). Their budding romance will have Anne chasing her maid around Paris and finally plotting to destroy this most unexpected and joyous love affair.

The film bursts into life whenever Rossy de Palma is in the spotlight.  Reason too, is that Sthers knows her potential and taps it appropriately.  The result is the film’s funniest part is the dinner scene when she, the maid, pretending to be Spanish royalty tells two off-coloured jokes about the 3 different phases of the female and male.  Nervous yet confident, De Palma, the best thing in this comedy portrays a maid on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  Kietel and Collette appear less interesting, again due to their underwritten roles.

MADAME lives up to its French title.  The wardrobe, production sets (the interiors of the mansion) and the exterior shots are all beautiful to look at.  The film, however, is shot largely in English, with the characters only occasionally breaking out into French and Spanish,

The film has many stories on display.  The foremost is the Madame chasing the maid trying to break up an affair, another her relationship with her husband and yet another the relationship the couple has with their stiff-upped lipped novelist son, Steven (Tom Hughes).  The problem with so many stories is that the film gets distracting and the audience never knows what the main issue is at hand or what the goal of the plot is.  One benefit however, is that there are more humorous set-ups to mine.

Sthers keeps her film light, avoiding more critical issues like the conflict between the upper and lower class.  It is clear Anne cannot achieve the romance Maria gets within a second, but the film has her try to destroy rather than analyze it.  As expected, MADAME ends up more a crowd pleaser than a more ambitious satire of manners.


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