Author: Adam Sidsworth

Hot Docs 2016 Review: Koneline: our land beautiful

Koneline: our land beautiful, directed by Genie Award-winning director Nettie Wild, opens with the construction of hydro lines to remote northwestern British Columbia, aided by the world’s largest helicopter. This part of the province is isolated and underdeveloped, and as we see from the amazing CinemaScope photography, home to a stunning wilderness of trees, rivers and mountains. It’s also the home to the Tahltan Nation, the local indigenous group, who in early scenes protest the increased development in the region, for the hydro lines merely precede planned copper and gold mines. Although the documentary shows some scenes of Native road blocks interposed with the environmental impact of the mines, the documentary isn’t about the impact of development on the Tahltan Nation or their resistance to the encroachment. It is, however, a love poem to the amazing vista, geography and people of northern BC. And, most of all, it’s a reflection of the changing times. The movie isn’t concerned about a strong narrative arc. Nor is it concerned with setting up a dichotomy of Native people versus the rest of Canada. It’s pointed out early that many of the people working on the hydro lines and in the mines are Native, and some of the people opposed to the development aren’t Native. It is, however, a CinemaScope exploration of the land. Because the movie is exquisitely shot and epic in...

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Review: Francofonia

Russian director Alexander Sokurov apparently has a fascination with art galleries and national identity. In 2002, his Russian Ark, a 96-minute movie shot in one continuous take, spanned 300 years of the history of Saint Petersburg’s Winter Palace, a one-time home to the Russian czars currently functioning as part of the Hermitage Museum. An epic historical opus that depicted Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and the German siege of Lenningrad during the Second World War, it explored both Russian identity and the meaning of art. In his latest movie, Francofonia, Sokurov has returned to similar themes. Focusing on the Louvre, the famed Paris art museum, Sokurov essays mainly–but not exclusively–its strained relationship with the German army during the Second World War. It’s now common knowledge that when Hitler’s armies occupied various European cities, leading Nazi officials would loot and steal works of art for their own personal collections. Francofonia focuses on the precarious relationship of Jacque Jaujard, who was the director of the Louvre during the occupation, and Franz von Wolff-Metternich, a German art historian hired by the German army to create an inventory of Parisian art. Together, the two men successfully hid many of the Louvre’s riches from the Nazis, keeping the museum’s collection largely in tact. That’s the core of Francofonia‘s central narrative. However, this movie is by no means straight forward. Its structure is as...

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Review: Older Than Ireland

By all accounts, Older Than Ireland should be compelling. A talking-heads documentary focusing on the experiences of Irish centenarians, the title refers to the fact that all of the movie’s interview subjects are older than the modern state of Ireland. One interviewee, 113-year-old Kathleen Snavely, was nearly 21 when Ireland achieved its independence; and 108-year-old Luke Dolan was in his late teens. Given the documentary’s title, one could be forgiven for assuming that the elderly subjects talk about their memories of Ireland’s dark and troubled twentieth-century history: Sinn Fein and the IRA, the Irish War of Independence, The Troubles. But that’s not the aim of the movie. Instead, it’s a lighthearted account of these centenarians’ recollections of first loves, marriages and divorces, and childhood memories. Unfortunately, by interviewing so many people—29 in total—we don’t get to know any of them very well. As a result the movie is too expansive and commodious in scope. As the elderly subjects are interviewed, light and happy-sounding music plays. The message is clear: the movie has no intention of diving deeply into the subjects’ personal histories and recollections. And that’s a shame, because these people are cognitively coherent in their extreme old age. And many of them look physically great, easily passing for 20 years younger. Ireland has developed from a poor, almost-Third World country to a modern, developed Western democracy, and some...

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Review: 45 Years

The movie 45 Years is unusual among movies because it focuses on a demographic seldom explored in the movies: the older married couple. Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) have been married for 45 years. Kate’s a retired teacher who begins each morning by walking their German shepherd; Geoff, also retired, spends his days at their home in the English countryside. Kate’s the more social of the two, going out with friends and planning parties; Geoff, who is borderline antisocial, is perfectly happy at home reading books while avoiding a reunion with his old-time friends. The couple never had kids, and their home—where most of the action takes place—is neatly decorated in dark warm hues, reminiscent of a cottage. But they lack any pictures of themselves, causing Kate to probe Geoff why he—or she—had never taken any. The movie begins on the Monday before Kate and Geoff’s 45th wedding anniversary party, which is on Saturday. That Monday, Geoff receives a package from Swiss authorities informing him that they have found the (possibly nearly perfectly preserved) corpse of Geoff’s former girlfriend, who had died tragically 50 years earlier in the Alps, during a vacation with Geoff. The reserved Geoff—from a generation when men didn’t typically speak about their emotions—surprisingly tells Kate of his life with this girlfriend. At first Kate listens with compassion, but soon her curiosity and insecurity...

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Review: 17th Annual Animation Show of Shows

Cineplex is currently playing an animated short before many of its screenings. It depicts a young girl and her magical friend: a snowman with whom she plays, watches movies, and makes shadow puppets. When the weather warms, she puts the snowman in a freezer and, as the girl ages, she forgets about the snowman. Years later, as an adult, she experiences a bad day at work and suddenly remembers. She goes home, takes the snowman out of the freezer and relives the childhood innocence. It’s sweet, but it also harps back to a time when animated shorts played an important role at the movies. Every studio would play animated shorts before its movies: Warner Brothers had Looney Tunes, Disney had Mickey Mouse and Universal had Woody Woodpecker. It’s unfortunate that contemporary audiences rarely experience animated shorts on the big screen. But if animated shorts are your thing, you’re in luck. The 17th Annual Animation Show of Shows will be screening in Toronto. Co-presented by the Toronto Animated Image Society, it amasses 11 animated shorts from many countries around the world, including Russia, Iran, Switzerland and France. Some of the animated shorts are creative, moving and stellar to watch. Unfortunately, by screening these quirky shorts in quick succession (some of the animated films are a couple of minutes long while others are up to 15-minutes long), it becomes a challenge...

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Human Rights Film Festival 2015 Review: Trials of Spring

Trials of Spring is a fascinating documentary playing at this year’s JAYU Human Rights Festival in Toronto. Focusing on Egypt’s Arab Spring, it goes beyond the media reports to explore both the revolution’s ultimate failure and Egyptian women’s precarious relationship with power and religion. Trials of Spring is formatted in talking heads, juxtaposing Western media reports and participants’ videos with interviews of Arab Spring revolutionaries—all women. But the documentary ultimately focuses on Hend Nafea, a young small-town woman who travels to Cairo to participate in the revolution. Hend speaks of the horrors she’s experienced: Beyond the police beatings and arrests at protests, men swarm and sexually assault her. Her experiences aren’t uncommon, as we see in the documentary. Graphic video clips show women under attack by hooligans. It’s hard to watch and listen to, especially hearing the women’s screams. Although the revolution successfully ousts Egypt’s 30-year dictatorship, the government is taken over by the Islamic Brotherhood, a religious fanaticism dominated by male clerics. The women in the documentary worry about its implications, and Hend—who has been arrested on trumped-up charges—faces life in prison. It’s fascinating to watch Hend on her journey: She evolves from an inexperienced young woman to a hardcore activist helping other victims. She escapes from the family and community that tried to silence her. And she seemingly sheds her religion, going from Islamic garb to Western...

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Reel Asian 2015 Review: Seoul Searching

Seoul Searching should be intelligent and thought provoking, as it tackles cultural identity and immigrants’ kids’ experiences. Unfortunately, in execution and tone, it is a sloppy and lazy John Hughes spoof that treads into Porky’s and Animal House. Set in 1986, the film opens with a documentary style montage telling us that the South Korean government hosted a cultural exchange program, inviting expatriates’ kids to Korea to learn about their heritage. The movie then jumps into the story, and that’s where things falter. The story has three story arcs: Sid (Justin Chon, of Twilight), from California, dresses like Sid Vicious and pines for Grace (Vancouver’s Jessika Van), who dresses like Madonna; Sergio (Esteban Ahn), from Mexico, who’s desperate to have sex and well-groomed Klaus from Germany (Teo Yoo), who helps Kris (Rosalina Leigh), adopted by a white-American couple, find her biological Korean mother. The movie’s perfectly set up to be an homage to John Hughes teen movie—think Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club—with which it shares a hard-ass educator (Pyo Cha in a good performance). But Seoul Searching lacks the sophistication of John Hughes because of the dull, one-dimensional writing. The first 20 minutes of the movie are the weakest. The kids arrive at the airport where Korean teachers and officials await them. And insultingly, as each girl walks through the gates, the camera needlessly focuses on her...

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