Hot Docs 2004

Hot Docs is a documentary film festival here in Toronto now in its 11th year. This year, I finally decided to see some films. It’s a huge contrast to the massive, glitzy, and celebrity-obsessed Toronto International Film Festival that I’ve been attending for the past ten years. Lineups are more manageable, for one. And nobody’s looking for stars all over town. In other words, it’s great.

I saw four films this weekend:

  • Slasher (US, Director: John Landis) — This film follows Michael “Slasher” Bennett, a sort of used-car supersalesman who’s brought in to struggling dealerships to “slash” prices in special weekend sales. He boasts of selling 200 cars once in four days. He brings in his DJ pal, as well as a “mercenary” salesman just to turn up the heat on the dealership’s guys. He hires pretty girls to “register” customers to win prizes, including an $88 car. His legendary skills only go so far in economically depressed Memphis, where his crusade only manages to sell 35 cars on Memorial Day weekend. This was enjoyable, but bogged down when the sale started to turn sour. (7/10)
  • The Take (Canada/Argentina, Director: Avi Lewis) — Directed and written by Canada’s royal couple of the left, Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein (author of the bestselling No Logo), The Take is a fascinating look at what happens when the unemployed decide to take matters into their own hands. After Argentina’s spectacular economic collapse in 2001, many factories simply locked their doors and fired their workers. Rather than see the bankrupt businesses sell off all the equipment for pennies on the dollar, the workers have begun reclaiming the factories, first occupying them and then restarting production, without the bosses. Lewis and Klein made the film after their anti-globalization message met with the question: “What would you replace globalized capitalism with?” Though the film doesn’t attempt to portray the “occupied factory” movement as the answer for every situation, it raises interesting questions in an emotionally engaging way. (10/10)
  • The Ritchie Boys (Germany/Canada, Director: Christian Bauer) — This film tells the story of a group of Jewish refugees who enlisted in the US Army during WWII and were recruited for a special intelligence unit and sent back to Nazi Germany, where they worked mostly as interrogators of POWs. Their story makes for a fascinating and moving film. Surprisingly, it’s also full of humour and fond memories. (10/10)
  • Super Size Me (US, Director: Morgan Spurlock) — I’d wanted to see this since I’d heard about it at SXSW, where it was screened in March. Director Morgan Spurlock, inspired by a court case involving two obese teens who attempted to sue McDonald’s for their health problems, decides to live for a month on nothing but McDonald’s food. He intersperses footage of his daily “meals” with interviews with health care professionals, lobbyists for the food industry, educators, even a former Surgeon General. The film has been criticized by some as a bit of a stunt. Of course, eating fast food for thirty days isn’t going to be good for you. (Boy, see the film and you’ll see how much of an understatement that is!). But Spurlock uses his stunt as a way to raise some good questions about personal as well as corporate responsibility. This film makes a good companion piece to Eric Schlosser’s excellent book Fast Food Nation. A harrowing, and yet entertaining, experience. And it’s opening theatrically on May 7. Check out the film’s web site, too. (10/10)

So, a great start. I’ve got six more films to see in the next week, plus a few more to choose. I’ll try to say something about each one.

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