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#HotDocs15: Fifth Batch of Reviews

April 29, 2015

By John Corrado

Hot Docs 2015 PosterWe are now past the halfway point of this year’s Hot Docs, which means that I’ve been incredibly busy over the last few days.  This also means that it’s time for my fifth and latest round of capsule reviews.

This includes five that are premiering tonight, and the much buzzed about Sugar Coated, which has three more shows coming up.  I was lucky enough to screen these ones in advance, bringing my current review count up to thirty.

My previous batch of reviews can be found right here, with another set already scheduled for tomorrow, and more coming throughout the final days of the festival.  More information on tickets and showtimes can be found through the links in the film titles.  Enjoy!

Sugar Coated: Director Michèle Hozer sets out to prove what many researchers already believe to be true in Sugar Coated, exploring how large quantities of sugar can be toxic, and are one of the fastest rising causes of obesity and fatty liver disease.  Through interviews with various doctors and researchers, the film offers compelling evidence of how the food industry is sneaking extra sugar into their products to hook customers, and how the manufacturers have hired slick PR firms to coverup the proven harmful effects of their products, much like the tobacco industry.  This is one of those important issue documentaries where the issues are important, but the information starts to repeat itself after a certain point, which can make the film feel a little redundant.  But the information here is still valuable, and Sugar Coated is smoothly assembled into a reasonably engaging and easily digestible package, that will hopefully get more people thinking about what they put into their bodies.

Gayby Baby: Director Maya Newell follows four Australian families with same-sex parents in Gayby Baby.  Matt is struggling with his own faith, and trying to understand his mother’s devotion to a church that doesn’t accept her orientation.  Graham is struggling in school after moving to a new country, stemming from the fact that he was badly neglected by his birth parents, before being adopted by two doting dads.  Gus is obsessed with wrestling, much to the concern of his mother, who doesn’t agree with the overly masculine views of the sport.  Ebony dreams of becoming a singer and getting accepted at a private arts school, but is held back by poverty and finds her mothers preoccupied with her severely epileptic little brother.  Because this is a multi-narrative documentary, some of these stories are more engaging than others.  Matt and Graham make for fascinating subjects, and their compelling family lives could have easily been the sole focus of their own film.  The time spent with Gus is charming, but feels somewhat slight in comparison, and the footage captured inside Ebony’s home errs on the side of exploitation.  But Gayby Baby is still an intimate and often engaging human drama, that proves there’s really no difference between kids with same-sex parents, and those raised with a mother and a father.

Drawing the Tiger: Filmed over seven years, Drawing the Tiger follows a family in Nepal, who are struggling with extreme poverty and resting their collective hopes and dreams upon the slender shoulders of their daughter Shanta, who has received a scholarship to study in Katmandu.  Although the film moves at a slow pace, Drawing the Tiger offers an emotionally affective portrait of how poverty and the lack of opportunities for girls are affecting multitudes of lives around the world.  Directors Amy Benson and Scott Squire have captured enough moving moments here for these important messages to hit home, like the gutting impact of a tragedy partway through the takes the narrative in a different direction, and the telling of a story that gives deeper meaning to the cryptic title.

3 Still Standing: Back in the 1980s, San Francisco was the place to be for standup comedy, with local clubs launching the careers of performers like the late comic genius Robin Williams, who turned his craft into a wildly successful career.  The main subjects of 3 Still Standing are political satirist Will Durst, the hardworking Johnny Steele, and the misanthropic Larry “Bubbles” Brown, who were all successful in their own right, but are still trying to make it big.  Directors Robert Campos and Donna LoCicero allow 3 Still Standing to play like a celebration of standup comedy, and the film is completely entertaining throughout the brisk 90 minutes.  But there is also a surprising poignancy in their struggles to recapture the glory days of standup, before sitcoms and jokes about bodily functions turned humour into a commodity.  It’s also bittersweet to hear insights from Robin Williams, to whom the film is dedicated.

Live From New York!: Through interviews with creator Lorne Michaels, as well as appearances from both former and current cast members, Live From New York! explores the storied beginnings and cultural importance of Saturday Night Live, over the past forty years.  Although briefly touching on the arguably sexist attitudes of their early years, and the lack of more diversity in the cast, this is meant as an overview of the show first and foremost, and it’s quite successful as that.  Director Bao Nguyen has put together a well assembled and easily entertaining film, that offers a polished look at the rich history of SNL, with the chance to hear behind the scenes insights from some of the funniest people around.

Shoulder the Lion: Graham Sharpe is a musician in Ireland who had to give up performing after a constant ringing started in his ears, but he still expresses himself musically through writing songs and organizing bands for an outdoor festival.  Katie Dallam, the real life inspiration behind Million Dollar Baby, had half of her brain destroyed in a boxing match, and now finds purpose as a painter and sculptor.  Alice Wingwall has completely lost her vision, and now interprets the world through the meticulously composed photographs that she takes.  These three separate stories are seamlessly woven together in Shoulder the Lion, a beautifully filmed arthouse documentary that affectively explores our relationship to the arts.  Directors Erinnisse and Patriyk Rebisz have crafted a multi sensory experience that allows us to see, hear and feel everything these artists are going through, filled with haunting images and an equally impressive sonic landscape.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 30, 2015 1:32 am

    Thanks for including us in your write up!!!


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