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Hot Docs Reviews: The Devil We Know, The White World According to Daliborek, The Cleaners, The Bill Murray Stories, Recovery Boys

May 3, 2018

By John Corrado

The 25th edition of the Hot Docs Film Festival is on until May 6th in Toronto.  More information on tickets and showtimes can be found through the links in the film titles.  Enjoy!

The Devil We Know – ★★★ (out of 4) When DuPont brought Teflon onto the market in the 1940s, it was seen as a revolutionary product, used as a non-stick coating for pans and cooking trays.  But what the company didn’t tell people was that the main ingredient in Teflon is a toxic, biopersistent fluorochemical called C8, that is impossible to ever really dispose of and far from safe, being linked to any number of negative health effects.  These problems originated in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and came to light after two pregnant women who were both working for DuPont at the time had babies born with very similar birth defects.

Now many of the town’s residents have ended up with cancer and other serious ailments, mainly due to the companies DuPont and 3M pumping wastewater from producing the chemical into the rivers and streams around the area, making both people and livestock sick.  This realization led to a massive environmental scandal that resulted in a huge class-action lawsuit, the story of which has been well documented by filmmakers Stephanie Sorchtig and Jeremy Seifert in The Devil We Know, an informative exposé that does a good job of getting our blood boiling.  With no real way to break down C8 even if you do remove it from the drinking water, and trace amounts of the chemical now being found in the blood of the vast majority of Americans, it’s easy to walk away from the film feeling somewhat hopeless.  But as much as this is a bleak and often infuriating film, it’s also an eye-opening and incredibly important one.

Sunday, April 30th – 6:15 PM at Hart House Theatre
Tuesday, May 1st – 12:30 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 3
Friday, May 4th – 12:15 PM at Hart House Theatre

The White World According to Daliborek – ★★★ (out of 4) Daliborek is a Czechoslovakian man in his mid-30s who shares an apartment with his single mother, and identifies himself strongly as a neo-Nazi skinhead.  He works at a factory job, but spends most of his free time playing video games and making twisted YouTube videos, with Nazi flags adorning the walls of his bedroom behind him.  When his mother brings over a new boyfriend that she met online, a man whose own extremist views rival those of her son, Daliborek’s dangerous ideologies start to become even more emboldened by this new father figure of sorts.  They talk openly about hating Jews and Gypsies, and try to one-up with each other with their violent fantasies of killing immigrants, openly sharing their admiration for Adolf Hitler.

Directed by Vít Klusák, The White World According to Daliborek is a disturbing and very unsettling look at how easy it can be for someone to get radicalized, especially when their views go unchallenged and are even encouraged.  While there is an argument to be made that the film merely serves to shine a spotlight on someone who doesn’t really deserve the attention, and would otherwise be relatively anonymous, it also serves as an unflinching and sadly very timely portrait of a young man who feels disenfranchised and like he doesn’t have a place in the world, and is turning to extremist ideologies as a way to fill this void and have an outlet for his anger.  The film culminates with them taking a family trip to Auschwitz, where Daliborek gets a rude awakening for his avid Holocaust denial during an uncomfortable and cringe-inducing encounter with a concentration camp survivor.  This is a highly provocative film to be sure, and there were some walkouts, but it’s also a fascinating portrait of an angry and confused young man who has fallen under the sway of extremism, and is at a crucial turning point where he has to decide whether or not to renounce these views.

Sunday, April 29th – 8:45 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 3
Tuesday, May 1st – 2:45 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 4

The Cleaners – ★★★ (out of 4) While social media sites like Facebook and Twitter sell themselves as being open for anyone to post anything, they in reality have strict guidelines that are heavily enforced by anonymous content moderators.  The majority of this work is outsourced to other countries like the Philippines, where the workers are given long hours, paid poor wages, and are generally unprepared for what they will encounter when policing the internet, often having only seconds to decide what stays or goes.  When it comes to removing illegal content like child porn and graphic self-harm videos, they are obviously doing the right thing in removing it.  But when faced with disturbing images from war zones that could serve a journalistic purpose, or more subversive political and satirical content that should be protected by the first amendment, their jobs become much murkier.

It’s thankless work, made worse by the fact that they have to reach quotas of removing 25,000 images a day, and aren’t given adequate psychological help, with the amount of extremely disturbing content that they are forced to view leading to severe mental issues.  Although their full identities have to remain hidden, filmmakers Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck are able to tell some of their stories in The Cleaners, a thought provoking documentary that feels incredibly timely for multiple reasons.  The film offers an engaging and surprisingly balanced look at these secret, outsourced moderators who decide what content is appropriate for social media, and it raises fascinating questions about online censorship and who should decide what we see.

Monday, April 30th – 6:30 PM at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema (Scotiabank Big Ideas)
Wednesday, May 2nd – 2:45 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 3
Friday, May 4th – 9:00 PM at Revue Cinema

The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned From a Mythical Man – ★★★½ (out of 4) From ending up in someone’s engagement photos, to serving drinks at a bar, and even doing the dishes at a random house party, there are a lot of urban legends that exist about encounters that random people have had with Bill Murray.  Colloquially known as “Bill Murray stories,” documentary filmmaker Tommy Avallone became obsessed with these unlikely and larger than life celebrity encounters, and decided to track down some of the people involved so that they could corroborate their tales.

The result is The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned From a Mythical Man, a highly enjoyable look at the many random encounters that people have had with the beloved actor.  Through interviews with The Tao of Bill Murray author Gavin Edwards, the film also explores the spontaneous nature behind many of these interactions, and how they correspond with the zen philosophies about going with the flow and embracing life as it comes at you that are present in so many of his films.  I’m a Bill Murray fan, so obviously I really liked this one.  The film ultimately serves an inspiring reminder for us to just live in the moment, and stay through the end credits for one final Bill Murray story that is absolutely wonderful.

Monday, April 30th – 9:30 PM at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
Wednesday, May 2nd – 10:30 AM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Saturday, May 5th – 3:30 PM at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
Sunday, May 6th – 10:00 AM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Recovery Boys – ★★★ (out of 4) With the opioid crisis becoming a national emergency, many drug addicts are struggling to get the help they need, with the majority of rehab programs only lasting a few weeks and not really following up with the people afterwards, making it too easy for them to relapse as soon as they get out.  But one recovery program in West Virginia takes a different and unique approach to helping them overcome addiction, with the recovering addicts sent to live on a working farm.  Here they are able to talk to counsellors and spend their days tending to the animals and working in the fields planting and harvesting crops, allowing them to find an immediate sense of purpose and escape those who enable their addictions.  Director Elaine McMillion Sheldon, along with her cinematographer husband Kerrin Sheldon, intimately follow four of the young men in the program in Recovery Boys, showing them as they face the challenges, small triumphs, and tragic setbacks that come with trying to get clean.  This is a compassionate and humane look at young men trying to overcome substance abuse that really allows us to empathize with the subjects, putting a distinctly human face on the opioid crisis.

Tuesday, May 1st – 6:15 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Thursday, May 3rd – 10:30 AM at Isabel Bader Theatre
Friday, May 4th – 9:30 PM at Isabel Bader Theatre

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