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Hot Docs Reviews: The Reckoning, Andy Irons: Kissed By God, Inventing Tomorrow, Roll Red Roll, MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A., Wind of Swabia

May 7, 2018

By John Corrado

The 25th edition of the Hot Docs Film Festival came to a close yesterday, with Transformer taking home both the Rogers Audience Award for Best Canadian Documentary, and the general Audience Award as well.  Below are my final reviews from the festival.  Enjoy!

The Reckoning: Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secret – ★★★ (out of 4) A followup of sorts to his previous documentary Unauthorized: The Harvey Weinstein Project, Barry Avrich’s The Reckoning: Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secret uses the revelations of sexual assault that took down Weinstein last fall as the jumping off point for an exposé on sexual abuse in Hollywood.  Featuring interviews with a wide range of voices, the film sparks a much larger discussion about the structures in place that have allowed people to abuse their power for far too long, and the many others that have enabled this “casting couch” culture either directly or merely by staying silent.  The film takes us through the fallout from the Weinstein scandal, including the allegations that surfaced against other prominent figures like James Toback and Louis C.K., and the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements that have sparked an international conversation over the past several months.

The film is also interesting in that it includes more controversial voices like columnist Margaret Wente, lawyer Marie Henein, and the street artist Sabo who put up the “she knew” posters calling out Meryl Streep, which really helps balance out the larger conversation.  The film also directly brings up claims that #MeToo has gone too far in some cases and become somewhat puritanical in its approach, and whether you agree with that sentiment or not, the film is all the stronger for addressing it.  The result is an informative and up to the minute overview of the #MeToo movement thus far, that ignites important conversations we all need to be having right now.  The only issue that the film doesn’t really address is pedophilia in Hollywood, so I would recommend also watching Amy Berg’s explosive documentary An Open Secret, which is available for free on Vimeo, for an equally important look at that aspect of the ongoing sexual abuse epidemic.

Saturday, April 28th – 1:00 PM at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
Saturday, May 5th – 6:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Andy Irons: Kissed By God – ★★★ (out of 4) A touching tribute to champion surfer Andy Irons, who was born and raised in Hawaii and got his start competing alongside his brother Bruce, Andy Irons: Kissed By God focuses on his struggles with drug addiction and bipolar disorder, and how he ultimately buckled under the weight of both fame and his own personal demons.  Directed by Steve and Todd Jones, and told through a mix of personal footage and interviews with his family and friends, this is a fast-paced and well edited film, that serves as both an engaging biography of an athlete who rose to the top of his game, and an emotionally devastating look at the internal challenges he was struggling to overcome as his surfing career skyrocketed.

Sunday, April 29th – 6:30 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Monday, April 30th – 10:00 AM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Saturday, May 5th – 3:15 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Inventing Tomorrow – ★★½ (out of 4) A diverse group of high school students from around the world come together for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles, hoping to both win the lucrative competition and also get recognition for the projects that they have developed to fix environmental problems in their local communities.  Director Laura Nix follows four teams of students from Hawaii, Indonesia, India and Mexico, as they fine-tune their experiments and assemble their projects, showing both the struggles and triumphs that they face at the science fair.  Although Inventing Tomorrow is a fine enough film overall, it also runs a bit long at 105 minutes, and I didn’t find it nearly as engaging as I had hoped.  Still, the drive and passion that these students have to make a difference in their communities is admirable.

Sunday, April 29th – 9:15 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Monday, April 30th – 12:45 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Saturday, May 5th – 8:30 PM at Fox Theatre
Sunday, May 6th – 12:30 PM at Isabel Bader Theatre

Roll Red Roll – ★★★ (out of 4) When a teen girl was raped while passed out drunk at a high school party in Steubenville, Ohio in 2012, the town seemed to be more interested in protecting the reputation of the star players from their celebrated Big Red football team who did it than they were in supporting the victim.  Then true crime blogger Alexandria Goddard uncovered social media posts from the night of the party in which the guys involved talked openly about raping a girl, including highly incriminating photo and video evidence, and fearlessly posted everything that she found on her website.  This blew the case wide open and exploded it into the national conversation, leading to protests in the town and a demand for those responsible to be brought to justice.  Director Nancy Schwartzman does a good job of recounting this story in Roll Red Roll, impressively utilizing a mix of interviews, archival footage, and even footage from the initial police interrogations.  The result is a film that is by turns shocking, infuriating, and disturbingly relevant right now.  It will make you angry, but it’s an important film.

Monday, April 30th – 6:45 PM at Hart House Theatre
Wednesday, May 2nd – 1:00 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 4
Sunday, May 6th – 3:15 PM at Hart House Theatre

MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A. – ★★★ (out of 4) Directed by her longtime friend Steve Loveridge, and featuring a wealth of her own personal videos alongside concert footage, MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A. is an engaging and often exciting look at the life and career of the socially conscious hip hop star M.I.A., and the controversies that she has courted.  Born in Sri Lanka as Mathangi Arulpragasam, and moving to England as a refugee with her family after her father joined the Tamil Tigers, she actually started as a filmmaker before adopting the stage name M.I.A. and becoming a breakout sensation with her first album in 2005.  Her successes continued in 2008 with the big hit “Paper Planes” and her Oscar-nominated song for Slumdog Millionaire, but she has also sparked controversy over the years, from speaking out against the Sri Lankan government to raising her middle finger during Madonna’s Super Bowl Halftime Show in 2012.  The film does a good job of showing the many facets that she has as a performer, and how fearless she is when it comes to being seen and speaking out.

Wednesday, May 2nd – 6:30 PM at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema (Scotiabank Big Ideas)
Thursday, May 3rd – 4:00 PM at Cineplex Cinemas Scarborough
Saturday, May 5th – 9:00 PM at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
Sunday, May 6th – 9:30 PM at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

Wind of Swabia – ★★½ (out of 4) Brindisi is a town in southern Italy that is right in between a petrochemical company and a coal power plant.  Director Corrado Punzie paints a picture of the people who live there in Wind of Swabia.  The film takes a purely observational approach to telling its story, and while this can be an effective choice, I also found myself wishing for more context, and the many long takes of not much happening can grow somewhat tiring.  It’s clear through these images that the film is trying to show the juxtaposition between the pollution being put out by these industrial plants, the local residents who are just going about their lives largely unaware of the effect that their close proximity to these factories is having on their health, as well as those who are taking them on in court, but the results are somewhat mixed.  It’s fine as an experimental documentary, and it’s often beautifully shot, but it also didn’t hold my attention as well as I had hoped.

Thursday, May 3rd – 6:45 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 3
Friday, May 4th – 12:30 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 7
Sunday, May 6th – 10:00 AM at Scotiabank Theatre 3

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