Hot Docs 2013: Expedition to the End of the World Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

Expedition to the End of the World

Directed by Daniel Dencik

expedition

The titular Expedition to the End of the World happens every summer, taking its expert Danish passengers to Greenland. The journey, as well as the filmmakers going with them this time around, have no set agenda. Surprisingly, it’s the chosen method for most filmmakers, even some who make fiction. Having this mindset, whether one is embarking on a scientific journey or on documentary, helps to make the final product less preachy, the latter being a woeful attribute in too many nature docs. When a scientist or a filmmaker doesn’t know what to expect, his (excepting two women who appear in front of the camera) discovery seems more authentic and he tends to produce impartial results.

But being around melting icebergs, the film’s few chosen subjects can’t help but have stances on climate change. Man has always emigrated and adapted. A female member repeats ‘survival of the fittest,’ aware of the cold adage that applies to the animal kingdom. An artist irreverently suggests to invade the defenseless Alps in case his homeland gets flooded.

His machismo is a prevalent attitude within the crew, joking around with expensive equipment, etc. I shouldn’t be surprised that these experts aren’t the stereotypical, meticulous, sombre observers, which they are sometimes. Their occasional dips into juvenile sense of humour adds to their character, their way of keeping themselves sane from too much work and not enough civilization. Of course the more serious members contemplate the meaning of life or the consequences of civilized pollution as they study new life forms or capture new landscapes.

Let me return to the reactions towards the melting ice caps, including two middle of the road ones. Some of them don’t care about climate change’s consequences and are more about nature’s processes. They leave it up to others to make changes, if change is the right thing to do. Others see Greenland as one big crime scene but don’t want to be overdramatic about why the skeletons or archaeological remnants lie as they were.

We hear the opposite reaction from the ship’s captain and main crew, as well as some of the scientists. They project emotions towards the landscapes, its jagged nakedness showing a world that is changing faster than its species. In short, some of the experts admit that climate change is coming to kill us. Even the funny artist is outraged when they see an oil ship that’s been entrenched within Greenland’s bodies of water, assuming that oil companies are speeding up the environment’s of the environment as we know it.

The cinematography and the sound handsomely reflects this ambivalence. Mostly, I can say that the filmmakers wouldn’t seem like they didn’t care so much about climate change if they didn’t shoot the landscapes so majestically. These are wonderful images that justify their projection onto the silver screen. The slow and static images liven up when the experts move around the environment, or when the camera captures life surviving the harsh environment. This winning camerawork hints to the director’s literary flair, choosing image over exposition.

These beautiful scenes have an opposing effect and message when sound comes along, another important element in a theatrical presentation. If we’re not hearing the ship’s deep bumps against the ice, we hear metal music being played, as if reminding us that violent change constantly happens and will keep happening after we perish.

 

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Hot Docs 2013: Fuck For Forest Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

Fuck For Forest

Directed by Michal Marczak

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Other than being in Hot Docs, Michal Marczak’s Fuck For Forest has another Canadian connection. A Canadian woman working in Dusseldorf who agrees to be recorded while performing sexual acts with one of FFF’s members (Recording sex is one of the things that FFF does). She cites her reason as “We’re fucked anyway,” which is a tolerable response to the world’s environmental state.

Programmer Eli Horwatt introduced the documentary as, among many things, a satire. That description helped soften the blow that the doc and its subjects give its audience. These are the kind of overgrown prodigal European children who dumpster dive their way into a new wardrobe. It’s hard not to facepalm yourself watching these hipsters do things like sing off-key about ‘Indians.’ I’d project and say that there’s something enviable about being so left-field but the obtuse aspects of their ethics make most people shake their heads.

On more serious notes, it’s equally difficult to watch a subculture depicted as ridiculously as this one. I feel uneasy while the group touch or cat call strangers, or kidnap a woman named Kajaal and let her be disowned by her family. The ethics of a doc becomes slippery when it’s depicting amorality. It’s also hard to watch while having the sense that the documentarians are coldly not helping their subjects because they’re loyal to the stereotypical rule that they shouldn’t break the fourth wall.

But I’ll try to keep an open mind. Besides, I don’t get that sense of distant mockery here. The subculture/NGO believes that sex keeps us one with nature. Mostly coming from middle class families, they choose a life of frugality, earning money not just through their porn but through busking as well. This revenue surprisingly has given them six digit earnings that go to an account that they only touch when they’re doing their restoration work in the third world.

Something that happens early in the movie made me turn my head when, after the deep voice of the narrator talked about a subject’s mommy issues #908 or another’s mind-blowing decision #623, he actually talked about their need for love. This is why half of humanity joins a group – joining to feel that sense of belonging.

That head turn became a click when the narrator actually explains some of the subjects’ beliefs about nature. And it’s not just the documentarians interjecting on behalf of their subjects, because when these guys talk about how stupid it is to pick flowers, or how the plants feel, there’s sincerity in their tone. When both the filmmaker and its subject take away irony out of the equation, as they do here, it often succeeds in pulling the audience in. These subjects don’t have a sensible manifesto but the movie admits that some of their beliefs ring true.

So we’re happy when both filmmaker and subject collaborate to depict the most tender sexual scenes I’ve ever seen. Rejoice when they’re embarking on a trip to keep untouched forested lands in Colombia. Empathize when the Natives distrust them and when the latter realize that they are way in over their heads. As a decent movie does, it lets its subjects show their flaws but it doesn’t kick them when they’re down.

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Hot Docs 2013: I Am Breathing Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

I Am Breathing

Featuring Neil Platt, Louise Platt and Oscar Platt

Directed by Morag McKinnon and Emma Davie

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Let me talk about I Am Breathing’s obsession with visuals, which seems like a grim thing to consider while discussing a movie about a man with Motor Neurone Disease. The movie uses many close-ups – computer screens, feet sinking to and rising from a summer beach, Neil Platt’s face as his nose is attached to a breathing device, a digital clock projected on his bedroom ceiling. For one, the camera’s distance to its subjects imitates our eyes’ tendency to focus on specific things. Besides, these heightened senses are what Neil experiences because of his paralysis.

But there’s still this closer scope even when directors Morag McKinnon and Emma Davie incorporate footage of Neil when he was a virile man (in a way, he still has this vigour even in his new state). There’s this shot of him in front of rapids and a waterfall. There are others with him walking the streets of London and Edinborough, unaware that he’s on camera. Showing these settings would have created a different dynamic, but there’s this power in the intimate depiction of the sights and sounds of Neil’s life. It creates this impressionable character of this handsome, happy, cheeky man that we both celebrate and mourn with the people who have actually been in his life.

Neil lives in a healthy culture that constantly videotapes. Neil and his wife Louise are on the cusp of the Facebook generation, both having graduated from architecture school during 2003. This instinct to record accelerates when he wife Louise and son Oscar has come into his life. Neil and Louise address the camera as Oscar, these videos intended for the child who also personifies the couple’s idea of the future. This instinct becomes more poignant during the realization that Neil’s paralysis eventually leads to his mortality. But even with abundant recorded memories that they have, there’s this gnawing feeling that he expresses, thinking about which images and objects he must leave for his child, what context should they belong?

This quest to leave a legacy for his child shows a resilience, a quality that most documentary subjects have. His goal, other than hoping that his child remembers him, is to raise awareness for his disease that take five people a day in the UK. Technology and his body fails him, yet he exceeds most people in his perseverance in retaining a voice with humour and honesty, one that can relate to his audience. We also get a glimpse of his caring wife, adorable son and a supporting family. The documentary world is lucky to have seen such a frank, great person and we feel this emptiness when he has to go.

 

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Hot Docs 2013: Future My Love Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

Future My Love

Featuring Maja Borg and Jacques Fresco

Directed by Maja Borg

A text can simply show the facts, which, at best make us feel like we’re soaring, exceeding our human, intellectual potential. Or it focuses on the consequences, making us feel weighed down and ambivalent. The latter is the riskier method and that’s the one that director Maja Borg uses in her new documentary, Future My Love.

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Future My Love portrays two journeys. One shows Borg hitchhiking through the Western world to discuss futurism with some of its theorists. The most prominent one lives in Venus, Florida – 95-year old Jacques Fresco, who once explained his ideas in a local version of The Larry King show. As a sociology major, my tendency is to compartmentalize what kind of sociological movement to which he belongs. At first, he seems like a post-Marxist, forecasting the breakdown of traditional capitalism (not problematic). Then he also exclaimed about the elimination of Negro problems and race problems (problematic) into a melting pot of problems that everyone in the collapsed economy will face. But there’s also Durkhemian elements to his theories, that after the collapse comes an amalgamated society in which waste-less technology will mimic the human body in providing for every need. There are also other scientists in this documentary who agree about the technology part, that technology will end manual labour, which makes people resort to culture (I resent the truth in this). Borg agrees with Fresco and the other theorists although of course having her own objections.

What Future My Love also does is portray and talk to ‘regular people’ in Venus, somehow making them seem more credible and sympathetic than the theorists. She’s showing that both groups, especially the former, have their own experiences and contributions to the current economic model.

The second plot line reinterprets that journey as that of a woman following the lover who introduced her to all those ideas. The movie, then, becomes a love letter, frustrated at her beloved’s zealotry while deconstructing the nature of love. It also shows industrial destruction and decay and shows the dysfunction within the quest for traditional marriage. It could be the less interesting thread but it is also emotionally titanic, simply because it doesn’t make us question and poke holes the way we do in a conventional, idea-filled doc.

Yes, Future My Love begins and sticks with Borg’s narration that’s reminiscent of Malickian ‘pretentiousness.’ But we have to be emphatic towards her intentions – which are successfully executed. Form and content give an emotional depth to futurism as a sociological theory, a perspective that the latter badly needs. Besides, as she says, these theories aren’t just there to explain how we should live, they intend to show how we should care for each other.

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Alex Winter uploads his thoughts on ‘Downloaded’ (Interview)

Downloaded_4.470x264 AlexAlex Winter uploads his thoughts on ‘Downloaded

With his new documentary “Downloaded” having it’s Hot Docs debut tonight, Alex Winter has finally graduated from being Bill from “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” into a seriously talented documentarian with a sharp eye for story and humor. The film is a rousing crowd pleaser and one of the most sought after tickets from this year’s fest. I got to sit down with Mr. Winter for a brief Q&A about the film.

Movie Junkie TO (MJ) -Thanks for taking some timeout to speak with me today Alex. I got to see the film the other day and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the film. I was working in a music store when the Napster thing exploded so I had a very personal relationship to what I was seeing. What was your introduction to the story and how did you get involved in telling this story?

Alex Winter (AW) – Thanks, I guess we all have a way to relate with the Napster story. I was really interested in the early day s of the net, back in the early 90’s I was fascinated by the idea of the internet being this potential repository for global community.  I got online in the early 90s, checking out the internet BBS (Bulletin Board systems for the younger crowd) groups and newsgroups, and was really fascinated in where that was going potentially. Of course it was all very cumbersome to use the internet in those ways back in the early days but we did it anyway because it allowed us to communicate with people all over the world.  Then sure enough Napster appeared in 1999 and blew everyone away because  during the clunky and slow dial up era here was this really robust, speedy and very versatile global community that had showed up. Frankly that was my entry into it, well that and being a big Napster user myself.

(MJ) – I think everyone was at one point in time especially considering how revolutionary it was. So this is the first feature length documentary you’ve directed, what was the big difference between directing doc and fiction for you?

(AW) – I originally wrote the movie as a narrative, I was originally going to do it as a dramatic feature, then realised that after toying with it for a while it worked better as a documentary. I wasn’t overly concerned with changing it, I know docs very well as I have done a lot of documentary oriented advertising in the commercial work I’ve done.  And I think Napster lends itself very much to that style of storytelling cause there are many fascinating details and so many cool ways to come at the story that were fact based. It also has a very clear cut beginning middle and end; we know what happened to Napster (laughs). So I didn’t feel I was going to get lost at sea with the story.

(MJ) – The access you had to the Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning is pretty all encompassing, history in many cases has been pretty brutal to the pair, even outright vilifying them at times, but you manage to portray them more humanely than most. How were you able to achieve such access with the pair?

(AW) –Well I have known them for ten years, I had originally met them a decade ago to tell their story, so certainly the benefit of time helped.  They knew me well enough to know I was interested in telling a story that was a well-rounded examination of events, something that wouldn’t be one sided for or against them, and I was going to try and look at all sides and get as clear a picture as possible. That was really my agenda, they knew that going in, and that I knew the story really well. I guess there is certain level of trust there, though it probably wasn’t until the SXSW premiere that they realized exactly what I was doing. It was a big relief to show them the movie there and get that question out of the way.

downloaded_large(MJ) – Considering the film is very much about music and the evolution of it, can you talk about the music for the film and did you have music that gave you any trouble getting clearance rights for?

(AW) – Well all the music is cleared; the movie is done and coming out soon. Most of the music is score, an original score by DJ spooky, that makes 99% of the music in the movie ours anyways, so it’s a lot easier to clear your own music.

(MJ) – (laughs) Yes I imagine that would make the whole process a bit easier. So now that the film is finished what are the plans for the film going forward?

(AW) –  We’re going to do a small theatrical run, though most of our energy is focused on the digital release. In the summer we’re going to start a rollout over several months with theatrical, I Tunes and other digital streaming. We have some really interesting plans for the digital side of things because that’s really where this film lives. I can’t go into too much detail about that because they aren’t announced yet but it’s really cool there a lot of interesting ways to release movies now using new technology.

(MJ) – Absolutely, and I’m sure with all their history and their new internet endeavours that Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning might be able to provide some fun marketing ideas of their own.

(AW) – (laughs) I’ m Sure they would. They have stayed comfortably out of this whole process.  It’s been fun for them to watch from a distance and not have to suffer through any more Napster related grief ever again.

(MJ) – So what’s up next for you? What do you have in the works on either the directing or even the acting side?

(AW) – Well I stopped acting professionally 20 years ago and put all my energy in to writing and directing, that’s where my focus goes. I act very rarely but I did jump into a movie that a really great Spanish director was doing with Elijah Wood and John Cusack recently (research shows that film is “Grand Piano”) that’s coming out later this year. But normally most of my work these days is in the writing/directing space.  I’m currently writing 2 different televisions shows for cable and I’m prepping my next film. I’m going make another documentary, not technology or music related though; it’s definitely related to a very topical and somewhat provocative American story. So I am focusing on getting that going right now

(MJ) – I’m assuming that’s all we’re going to get out of you about that right now?

(AW) – (Laughs) For now, yeah.

(MJ) – Thanks again for your time today Alex.

(AW) – No, thank you.  I’m really glad you enjoyed the movie and happy you got a chance to check it out.

Screening times for Downloaded

Sat, Apr 27 9:00 PM
Isabel Bader Theatre
Rush Tickets
Sun, Apr 28 3:30 PM
Scotiabank 3
Buy Tickets
Fri, May 3 9:30 PM
Fox Theatre
Buy Tickets

 

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