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Hot Docs 2013: Five Capsule Reviews, including “Trucker and the Fox”

April 27, 2013

By John C.

Hot Docs 2013 PosterYou know the drill.  The 20th edition of Hot Docs is currently going strong in Toronto, and will be until May 5th.  Yesterday I shared my thoughts on Last Woman Standing, The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne, Chimeras, We Cause Scenes and Fight Like Soldiers Die Like Children.

Below are my short reviews of five more films playing right now at the festival, including two that first played yesterday and three that are premiering later today.  They are all worth seeing for their own reasons.  My next two sets of capsule reviews will be coming tomorrow and Monday, with even more set to be published later in the week.  So watch out for those, and you can get more information on the festival and purchase tickets right here.  Enjoy!

15 Reasons to Live:  Although the director and narrator says at the beginning of 15 Reasons to Live says that he doesn’t believe everything happens for a reason, it would be hard to walk away from the film feeling the same way.  Made up of fifteen segments titled after the chapters in Ray Robertson’s book of the same name, filmmaker Alan Zweig captures personal interviews with various Canadians, some more well known than others.  Although a few of the sequences could have been a little more fleshed out, this is a film that continues to resonate.  Highlights include two incredibly touching animated scenes, and everyone has something interesting to say about how happiness is a choice that most people have to make, and chance encounters can end up having significant impacts on our lives.  This is an interesting little collection of stories about how different people feel their lives are validated, that ends on a moving and inspirational note.

Saturday, April 27th – 6:30 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Monday, April 29th – 1:30 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre

Sunday, May 5th – 1:30 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 3

Good Ol’ Freda:  Back in 1962, 17-year -old Freda Kelly was hired by Brian Epstein to be the secretary for the official fan club of a small Liverpool band called The Beatles.  Directed by Ryan White, Good Ol’ Freda finally gives this remarkably humble woman an opportunity to tell her own story, from her start as a quiet fan living the dream, to the special relationships she had with the Fab Four and the bittersweet breakup of the band.  The very entertaining film does a nice job of recreating the feeling of Beatlemania, showing the people behind the iconic personas.  With an excellent soundtrack and a barrage of great stories, Good Ol’ Freda is an invaluable document of a lesser known chapter from The Beatles history, that is highly recommended to all fans of the band.

Saturday, April 27th – 9:00 PM @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Sunday, April 28th – 1:00 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Saturday, May 4th – 8:45 PM @ The Regent

The Defector: Escape from North Korea:  The tension and fear that is felt throughout The Defector is all real, as director Ann Shin follows a group of immigrants trying to escape from North Korea and make the long and often dangerous trek to South Korea.  The corrupt government of North Korea makes it nearly impossible for anyone to leave, which is where Dragon enters the picture.  He is a smuggler who makes his living sneaking defectors across the border into China, where they have to make their way to Thailand, before going undercover to South Korea.  The film uses intimate camerawork to follow Sook-Ja and Yong-Hee on their journey, offering an incredibly timely look at political unrest, and the struggles that many face for the freedom of a better life.  The deportation that they face at every turn adds a nicely handled sense of tension to the film, and The Defector: Escape from North Korea is a relevant look at a social justice issue.

Saturday, April 27th – 9:00 PM @ Scotiabank Theatre

Monday, April 29th – 3:30 PM @ Scotiabank Theatre

Saturday, May 4th – 6:30 PM @The Regent

Trucker and the Fox:  At the beginning of Trucker and the Fox, Mahmood Kiyani Falavarjani is in an Iranian mental hospital after a depressive bipolar episode, mourning the death of his pet fox who was the star of his homemade short films.  Determined to get back on his feet after getting out, he struggles to find another fox, to star in his upcoming donkey romance.  The fox that he tries to domesticate is adorable and clearly has a special relationship with him, but we also get the sense that he loves the creature just a little too much, as he bathes the animal and treats her like his own child.  This is a quirky and immensely appealing hidden gem, that entertains while posing a fascinating question about how far is too far when it comes to caring for a wild animal.  I’ve never seen anything quite like Trucker and the Fox, and this is a small film that is absolutely worth seeking out at the festival.

Friday, April 26th – 1:00 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Sunday, April 28th – 4:00 PM @ Scotiabank Theatre

Bending Steel:  Chris “Wonder” Schoeck compares the feeling that he gets bending steel to what most people gain from personal relationships, and the performance skills and confidence he gains from his strongman act are on full display in Bending Steel.  A shy outsider in New York who makes a living as a personal trainer, he follows his dreams from his basement studio to plans of a performance at Coney Island.  Directed by Dave Carroll, the camera follows him as he strives to push himself to the point where he he can bend a two inch piece of steel, pushing past his awkward social skills in the process.  This is a captivating and surprisingly inspirational film about a man who bends steel to build his confidence, and the final few scenes are actually quite affecting.

Friday, April 26th – 3:30 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Sunday, April 28th – 6:30 PM @ Scotiabank Theatre

Saturday, May 4th – 6:00 PM @ The ROM Theatre

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