I will be clear. This was simply the best film I saw during my week at Hot Docs and one of the best movies I have seen in some time. Yes I am obsessed with climate change but music is something else that grabs my attention and this film along with Song of Lahore (reviewed elsewhere on this blog site) is simply wonderful. Interestingly the film is funded entirely from Canada and has a Canadian director but it set in the deep south of the U.S. in Mississippi and Louisiana. It is a tribute to the original blues musicians of the deep south most of whom are now in their 70’s and 80’s and some of whom passed away shortly after the film was completed. The viewer however is treated to a close-up and engaging interaction with these musicians. You feel as a viewer are right there with them as they are interviewed, talk among themselves and are followed to performances. The music and the interviews are brilliantly intertwined to complement one another and not interfere with the feeling of the blues that is generated by their openness. It is hard to describe the story as such. One almost becomes friends with the singers and that is something that is a tribute to the film makers and to the musicians. The coolest part for me was at the end. The director and one of the stars of the film – Bobby Rush were standing right next to my seat and I got to thank them both very much for making the film and I shook hands with Bobby which was a real thrill. Look the only way to give you a feel for what you are going to see is to send you to the website where there are all sorts of short cuts from the film and extra scenes. Go to: http://iamthebluesmovie.com/ and enjoy.
Okay – I am a bit focussed on climate change and this year’s festival gave me many opportunities to indulge my obsession. Josh Fox, the director of this film also directed one of the more recent and important climate change films Gasland. So I figured this one had to be good. It starts from him noticing that a tree he planted in his home community as a child is dying and he wants to understand why. The question sends him on a trip around the world to see how the places and things that people treasure are being lost as a direct result of climate change and its effects on their homes and countries. The stories are heart wrenching but the responses of the people affected are encouraging. It turns out that the things climate can’t change are our ability to react and fight against those that would continue the assault on our world. He documents many of these struggles from individual acts to community resistance. The film does help those of us who are really depressed about what is happening to see the possibility of change and perhaps a way toward saving what we have left. Uplifting.
How many of you have seen the classic 1960 film The Time Machine based on the H. G. Wells novel? Well the star of this documentary has and could not get it out of his mind. Not all documentaries are serious, depressing stories of politics gone wrong, disaster or social inequity. Some are fun and this one counts in that latter category. Rob Niosi is an animator but also an amateur craftsman who decides he wants to recreate the time machine from the movie in his basement. He has all the tools he thinks and figures it will take him 2-3 months. Some several years later he is still working on what can only be called work of art. The film follows his efforts to build the various components and the new skills he needs to learn in working with wood, metal, and fabric as his dream comes together. In parallel we follow Ron Mallet a theoretical physicist who lost his father to a heart attack when he was very young. He has, since the age of 8, wanted to build a time machine to travel back and warn his father and hopefully save his life. This dream leads him to become a physicist and to study time and space. He is actually one who believes time travel in some sense is possible and is working on the relation between black holes and their connection to time travel. The two time enthusiasts know each other through the film and come together when Rob Niosi is ready to unveil his machine. The event is a party at Niosi’s home and all the guests are required to dress in Victorian costume. It is wonderful event and the two principles of the movie are charming and interesting. You learn a lot about craftsmanship and physics in a relaxing and entertaining way. Highly recommended if you get a chance to see it.
This film is very highly rated on Rotten Tomatoes and IMdB but I was less impressed. Sure it is great to see a film that looks at one of the 20th Century’s most successful directors but it is one of the most sycophantic and self indulgent films I have seen in some time. Yes, I liked some of De Palma’s films: The Untouchables and Mission Impossible but that is about where it ends and really these are in some cases great trash but there is really nothing here that deserves the adulation this man gets. The film focuses on him – long interviews in which he praises himself unequivolently. I found it a bit tiresome in the end. He talks about his work and how it developed over time and how he learned so much from the masters like Hitchcock and Truffaut but how luckily he was able to improve on them all. He noted at one point how directors begin to fade in time and points to how after Psycho, Hitchcock really lost it and did not make another worthwhile film. He, De Palma, of course has not suffered the same fate. So while some of you may be bit fans of the guy and will enjoy seeing him congratulate himself on his amazing career, I would suggest the rest of you wait until a more appropriately critical study is made so you will learn something useful rather than suffer through self praise.
Another good example of how we are challenged by climate change. In this case the film is about South Asian and Middle Eastern refugees who are fleeing to Australia to escape famine, drought and war. Unlike Canada and Europe however the Australians throw up legal and inhumane obstacles to these people. The film documents the clear efforts of a series of Australian governments to deny entry to these refugees and to try and deny that they are anything but refugees. They force them to move to horrendous concentration camps which they call detention centres on isolated islands north and east of Australia. The living conditions are intolerable and the detainees suffer from physical and mental illness brought on by and intensified by the living conditions. In true democratic spirit it is illegal to film in these camps and anyone working there who blows the whistle is subject to criminal prosecution and imprisonment. The director and film crew that put this together filmed suruptiously and interviewed social workers and others anonymously. It was a brave film to make and the participants even braver. The film is made by Australians who were present for a Q and A afterwards. They are deeply ashamed of their country and their fellow countrymen who are complicit in the actions of their government. One of the saving graces of the story was an interview with the former prime minister Malcolm Fraser from 1975-83. He was the last prime minister to look on immigration as a positive thing and who strongly condemned the policies of his successors. Unfortunately he died shortly after the film was completed but appeared to be one of the only sane voices left in the country.
A very powerful film that is not uplifting or particularly hopeful but which does may you feel better about Canada.
In 1981, during the height of The Troubles in Northern Ireland a young IRA recruit, Bobby Sands, was arrested for the second time and placed in the notorious Maze Prison on an arms possession charge. While there he and the other prisoners argued that they were not criminals but rather political prisoners and should be treated differently. In previous years the British government had allowed these prisoners special status in terms of the conditions of their imprisonment but Margaret Thatcher had revoked these and put harsh conditions in place. To protest this treatment and draw attention to the IRA’s demands, Sands decided to sacrifice himself and went on a hunger strike. Ten other prisoners joined him and for 66 days he held the attention of the world as he slowly declined and ultimately died from starvation. Several more of the other hunger strikers also died until the British relented under public pressure and lifted the harsh conditions for the prisoners. His actions brought attention to the conflict generally in Northern Ireland and to the manner in which the British chose to suppress it. The film uses actors, newsreel footage and interviews with survivors and others who were present at the time as fellow members of the IRA, British police and others. It is an objective enough picture but clearly paints a positive one of Sands himself.
I confess I am of many minds about this film. While many want to point to Sands’ courage and initiative in giving up his life for his cause, it is his cause that one has to question. The Catholic population in Northern Ireland were isolated and in a minority but they were hardly in need of the kind of terrorist campaign the IRA waged. 3500 innocent people were killed by the IRA during their so-called war. They themselves suffered little as they cowardly shot unarmed women and children and planted bombs that they triggered from a safe distance. During Sands’ hunger strike some innovative IRA types thought it would be great to have him run in a by-election for a Northern Ireland seat in the British House of Commons. He won of course but on the day of the election some brave IRA gunmen knocked on the door of a house in Belfast and shot an unarmed mother dead for the crime of helping collect census forms. That I should praise Sands’ for his courage defending these terrorists is beyond me. On the other side however, his death brought attention to the fact that the British and Irish both had done nothing to resolve the conflict. Over the next nearly 2 decades slow action was taken to bring peace to the situation which meant reconciliation among the IRA and the equally abhorrent Ulster Defence League. The real courage was with the relatives and friends of the victims of the conflict who were able to forgive or forget what had taken place. Still as you can see the film makes you think and also to be fair does not shy away from labelling the crimes of the IRA. Worth a watch in this reviewer’s opinion.