One of the striking things about the menu of films selected for Hot Docs is the number of films already tackling the subject. Double award-winner Street Fight is about a mayoral election campaign. Min Sook Lee’s Hogtown: The Politics of Policing, winner of Best Canadian Feature Documentary, follows Toronto City Hall meetings for six months; while winner of Best Canadian Short, Nadja Drost’s first film Between Midnight and the Rooster’s Crow is all about corporate social responsibility, revealing the nefarious deeds of a Canadian oil company and climaxing in a shareholders’ meeting.
Rob Vanalkemade’s short Preacher with an Unknown God shows a storming of the Republican Party National Convention by a campaign of anti-shopping, gospel singers. Ellen Perry’s The Fall of Fujimori is a political biopic of the disgraced ex-president of Peru (featuring a delightful sequence about the time Fujimori’s own wife ran against him in a presidential election – he confesses it got a bit tense when the two candidates shared dinners together in the Presidential Palace). Democracy and its discontents are clearly a rich seam to mine.
Which brings me neatly to the The Devil’s Miner, the story of Bolivian children working the exhausted seams of Cero Rico’s silver mines (directed by Keif Davidson and Richard Ladkani, a German/US coproduction). It was one of my favourite films at Hot Docs-and I’m not alone in this -“The Devil’s Miner” won the International Federation of Film Critics’ Best First Documentary Award, an Honourable Mention in the Best International Documentary category and was among the top five in the audience vote. Davidson and Ladkani pull off the fiendishly difficult task of making a beautiful piece of cinema-from an aesthetic and craft point of view-without ever minimising the human element. See it, if you get the chance. The story of the boy miners is a sad one, but it’s not a gloomy film.
I have a few bones to pick with the Hot Docs programmers-some selections puzzled me. Outstandingly odd was the NHK special HD showcase screening of Media Jihad, a plodding, deeply dubious and sensationalised report on Al Qaeda’s DVD output. It also seemed strange to choose Heysel ’85, Requiem for a Cup Final as the closing night’s film, reminding us of the 39 dead in the terraces 20 years ago-just the thing to put us all in the mood for the closing night party scheduled immediately afterwards. However, I appreciate that picking festival films from some 1,400 entries is an unenviable task, so who am I to quibble?
Two outstanding Latin American films were the Colombian La Sierra and the Mexican-Canadian Wetback. Shot over the period of a year by first-time filmmakers Margarita Martinez and Scott Dalton, sneaking time from their day-jobs as reporters for the Press Association, La Sierra is a raw, tough movie about young paramilitaries in a barrio of Medellin. To give you a taste, the film begins with a graphic scene-setting sequence of a mutilated dead body in a ditch. Violence is never far away: the paramilitary commander who gave the team access to this story was shot dead soon afterwards (which turned out to be ghoulishly handy from a production point of view, as the dead man never asked for a editorial control or rough-cut viewing).
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