#HotDocs16: Final Batch of Reviews
By John Corrado
Hot Docs has come to a close, but before we officially wrap things up until next year, below are my thoughts on the final few films that I had the chance to see. I have also included links to my previous sets of reviews at the bottom of this post, so that you can look back over everything else that I saw.
As usual, I saw a lot of good stuff at the festival, and one of the best films was Angry Inuk, which was just announced as the winner of this year’s Audience Award. It’s an important and provocative work that deserves the recognition and $25,000 prize, and I’m thrilled that audiences took to it in such a big way.
Thank You Del: The Story of the Del Close Marathon: Although not really a household name in his own right, Del Close is one of the founding fathers of long form improv comedy, having mentored and taught some of our best comedians. Since his death in 1999, the Del Close Marathon has been held in his memory. Taking place in New York, the three day event provides a showcase for improv comics from around the world to perform for audiences, hosted by legendary comedy troupe the Upright Citizens Brigade, which was founded by his students.
Director Todd Bieber goes behind the scenes of the event, loosely following a young comedy group from a small town in Missouri, that has learned everything they know about improv from the internet and is both excited and nervous to perform in front of their first real audience. There is a lot of great material in the film, and it’s delightful to hear from comic greats like Amy Poehler, who was heavily influenced by Del Close’s techniques and co-founded the Upright Citizens Brigade, bringing a much needed female voice to comedy. Briskly paced at an always entertaining 84 minutes, Thank You Del: The Story of the Del Close Marathon is rousing, inspiring and ends on an unexpectedly touching note.
The Apology: During World War II, the Japanese government forced thousands of young women from around Asia into sexual slavery. Referred to as comfort women, and now more affectionately called the grandmothers, many of the aging victims have spent years protesting and demanding the government to issue a formal apology for their abuse, but receiving pushback from right-wing groups. Director Tiffany Hsiung followed the stories of these women for about seven years, and focuses on three of them in The Apology. The film introduces us to Grandma Cao from China and Grandma Adela from the Philippines, as well as the feisty Grandma Gil, who remains an outspoken advocate and has spent over twenty years demonstrating in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, Korea every single week. These elderly subjects are all compelling to watch, and the film reaches heartbreaking revelations about what they had to endure, with some of them having never even told their families about being sexually abused because they are afraid of the shame it will bring. The strength and resilience they carry with them in their search for an apology is inspiring, and The Apology is a quietly powerful portrait of how they continue to seek closure from the government after years of shocking mistreatment.
Hotel Dallas: Back in the 1980s, Dallas was the only real television show that the communist government allowed to be viewed in Romania. Because of this, it had a big impact on the people, even inspiring a man to become a sleazy sunflower oil tycoon and build an exact replica of the Southfork Ranch on his property. This story sounds interesting enough on its own terms, but director Livia Ungar instead uses it as the jumping off point to make a mostly fake documentary about her upbringing, driven by her childhood crush on Patrick Duffy, who adds some rambling narration to the film. Mixing black and white reenactments using child actors, bizarre musical numbers and philosophical tangents, Hotel Dallas is little more than a self-serving and pretentious experimental art project, that doesn’t really have much merit as a documentary. A sequence where Livia is shrunk down small and carried around in a cardboard box is just headscratchingly strange.
Trapped: Although abortion is technically legal across the United States, the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers or TRAP laws put forth in states like Alabama, Texas and Mississippi are severely limiting access to the procedure, with the anti-choice movement trying to systemically overturn Roe v. Wade. The state legislatures have passed laws creating arbitrary rules that force the women’s health clinics to make needless updates to their facilities and bring in expensive equipment that is rarely used, meaning that many of them are being shutdown based on minor technicalities. This means that the doctors and nurses have to pay out of their own pockets to remain in service. The ways that these laws infringe upon a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion, and how they are directly affecting people’s lives, are compellingly explored in Trapped. We see how the most challenged clinics are in poor and predominantly black communities, where women really don’t have the money or resources to travel hundreds of miles to another clinic to get an abortion, yet can’t afford to care for a child or are victims of rape. Director Dawn Porter has crafted a powerful look at the brave people doing this work, and the women who rely on their services, that goes beyond the political or religious divide to put a human face on what’s really at stake when the right to choose is threatened.