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#HotDocs15: Fourth Batch of Reviews

April 27, 2015

By John Corrado

Hot Docs 2015 PosterNow that the first weekend of Hot Docs is behind us, it’s interesting to see which films have gotten the best buzz from audiences.  This also means that I’ve got a growing list of ones I regret missing, but I’m happy with most of what I’ve seen so far, and there is still some great stuff coming up.

Below are my thoughts on six more, including the incredible Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner The Wolfpack.  I’m also recommending the environmentally themed films Hadwin’s Judgement and Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World, which premiere tonight and tomorrow, respectively.

My previous batch of reviews can be found right here, with more scheduled throughout the rest of the festival.  More information on tickets and showtimes can be found through the links in the film titles.  Enjoy!

The Wolfpack: Everything the Angulo brothers know about the outside world comes from the movies they watch.  Homeschooled by their mother, and raised under the fanatical rules of their father, the six teenagers have rarely left their subsidized New York City apartment, spending their days watching movies and copying out the dialogue, meticulously recreating scenes from their favourites like Reservoir Dogs and The Dark Knight.  Director Crystal Moselle has struck documentary gold with these subjects, and The Wolfpack offers a fascinating and sometimes disturbing glimpse into their often bizarre lives.  There are many layers to unfold here, and when the siblings do start to slowly branch out on their own, in many ways the story becomes even more intriguing, begging for a follow up down the road.  Entertaining, emotionally involving and even weirdly inspiring, this is an incredible and entirely unique portrait of delayed awakening, and the power of cinema to literally open our eyes to the world.

No Place to Hide: The Rehtaeh Parsons Story: After being gang raped while passed out at a party, shy teenager Rehtaeh Parsons was left feeling helpless, with the local Nova Scotia police sweeping her case under the rug, and little help to be found in the mental health system.  When a picture of the incident started circling around her high school and the internet, leading to relentless bullying and victim blaming, the exposure became too much for her to handle, and she tragically took her own life.  Although the 47 minute running time doesn’t really delve beyond the widely reported facts of this shocking story, and the film itself never quite overcomes its made for TV trappings, No Place to Hide: The Rehtaeh Parsons Story still packs quite a punch.  This is a heartbreaking and infuriating look at an innocent victim who slipped through the cracks of a failed legal system, and how international attention and support from the hacktivist group Anonymous, finally forced the government to bring some overdue justice to her case.  Her still grieving father Glen Canning makes for the most compelling subject, and the film should be required viewing in every high school.

(T)ERROR: Saeed “Shariff” Torres is a self described “Muslim brother” who works as an informant for the FBI, going undercover in various Islamic communities and tracking potential terrorist activity.  His latest job takes him to Pittsburgh, where he’s been assigned to befriend and investigate a young Muslim convert, but this leads to tested morals from both sides.  Directors David Felix Sutcliffe and Lyric R. Cabral were invited along to film, unbeknownst to the FBI, and (T)ERROR offers the rare chance to watch an informant at work.  This leads to an exciting cat and mouse game in the last act, igniting a timely and important conversation about the thin line between investigation and entrapment.

Peace Officer: William “Dub” Lawrence is a former sheriff who implemented and helped train the first SWAT team in Utah.  But when his son-in-law is killed by this same police unit in a shocking standoff over thirty years later, he starts to fight against and investigate the very system that he helped create.  The film runs long at 109 minutes, and not all of the cases being discussed really fit together narratively.  But Peace Officer is still an interesting and fairly worthwhile exposé of the increasing militarization of the police force, and how in many cases they are being given far too much power, featuring some exciting investigative sequences.

Hadwin’s Judgement: A logger turned environmental activist, Grant Hadwin made waves in 1997 when he chopped down The Golden Spruce, a remarkable three hundred year old tree in British Columbia that was a significant part of Native culture.  But this radical attempt to send a warning message to the developers backfired, betraying the movement that he stood for.  Adapted from an award-winning book, director Sasha Snow brings his story to life through a mix of interviews and powerful reenactments that paint him purely in shades of grey.  The film does feel a little long, even at 88 minutes, and at times we are left wanting a more thorough psychological study of Grant Hadwin.  But as an engaging introduction to this fascinating man and his complex morals, Hadwin’s Judgment is quite affective, turning his story into a thought provoking and beautifully filmed legend.  The haunting images of majestic forests being tragically destroyed speak for themselves.

Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World: An archipelago located on the Northern Coast of British Columbia, Haida Gwaii is one of the most stunning natural places that our country has to offer.  Director Charles Wilkinson has assembled a beautifully filmed portrait of the people who live there and the rich traditions of their culture in Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World, an engaging look at the environmental activists and eccentric locals who are fighting to protect the place they call home.  We are shown the heartbreaking ways that their land is being destroyed through logging and commercial fishing, and the damage that would be caused by the government’s proposed oil pipeline.  But the film also ends on an inspiring and moving note of hope, with a rousing cover of the song “Carry On” that proves the Haida people have no plans to give up their land without a fight.

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