The Winehouse Mag

For twenty years Hot Docs (Canadian International Documentary Festival) has brought some of the most important documentaries to Toronto audiences. Here are TWM’s top doc gems. Reviews written by Chaka V. and Claudia Sicondolfo. 




Ballerina Directed by Maja Friis

International Spectrum  International Premiere

“Having two lovers is a difficult art,” wrote legendary Swedish ballerina, Elsa Marianne von Rosen, in her autobiography. “A body that wants both. A body that wants two loves.”

Director Maja Friis weaves a captivating and unusual tale of desire in Ballerina. It is a love story between von Rosen and her all-consuming pursuit of dance. The documentary exquisitely illustrates the pleasures, tensions, and sacrifices von Rosen was prepared to make in order to become “one” with dance, including ending her twenty-year marriage in order to return to it. (What is interesting about this decision is that she was in her mid-forties at the time.) Now in her late 80’s von Rosen remains as elegant and intense as ever.

By interspersing archival footage with passionate dance sequences, sensuality abounds throughout the documentary. Friis’s decision to eloquently illustrate and personify human and artistic love in the beautiful bodies of dancers Ana Sendas, Jonathan D. Sikell and Stefanos Bizas, requires no words. Stunning cinematography bathed in pink opals and silver, and a haunting score, lift  Ballerina to visual heights that will leave you breathless. C.V.


Salma_4 Media Image

Salma Directed by Kim Longinotto

Special Presentations Canadian Premiere

Some documentaries leave you asking yourself, “Could I survive that?” While others make you question, “Would I be that fearless?” Salma, screening in the Hot Docs program, Special Presentations, will leave you pondering both questions. Continue with expanded reviewC.V.

Read Chaka V.’s interview with Director Kim Longinotto here!

Mercy Mercy: A Portrait of True Adoption


Mercy Mercy: A Portrait of True Adoption Directed by Katrine Ries Kjaer World Showcase North American Premiere

Mercy Mercy: A Portrait of True Adoption might be one of the most difficult films you watch during Hot Docs 2013. Playing as part of The World Showcase program, director Katrine Ries Kjaer weaves together a 5-year long portrait between 2 young Ethiopian children, Masho and Roba, and their two sets of international parents. This is a rare and often troubling observation that shifts between the perspectives of the children’s biological parents, Sinkenesh and Hussen, and their adoptive parents, Henriette and Gert.

Since Mercy Mercy’s premiere at IDFA and its release in Denmark, the film has been ragging controversy. Kjaer’s vérité camera is provided unprecedented and often uncomfortable access to the two families’ as they struggle to adjust to their choices and confront the impossibly frustrating international system of the adoption industry. With such intimate access, you’ll find it hard not to pick sides between the two sets of parents. Kjaer’s narrative motivations become questionable in some of her editing choices – but then again, how can anyone not become intertwined with such a messy story after 5 years of “observation”?

Mercy Mercy will continue to be one of the most important and influential films about international adoption. You’ll leave with more questions for Kjaer then you can imagine, so try to catch it before the festival is up. C.S.

The Punk Singer


The Punk Singer Directed by Sini Anderson

Next  International Premiere

During the 1990’s, into the mid 2000’s, Kathleen Hanna was a relentless trailblazer in third-wave feminism and punk music. A short list of her accomplishments include lead singer of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, co-founder of the riot grrrl movement, and influential solo artist under the pseudonym, Julie Ruin.

In 2005, after over a decade of making important music and advancing the movement, Hanna ended her career. She told her legions of fans that she had nothing else to say and disappeared.

In the Punk Singer, Director Sini Anderson looks at Hanna’s daring and unapologetic career. Her fearless rage in the face of patriarchy and oppression, and the intense, and often vicious, media coverage she was forced to deal with.

The Punk Singer also chronicles Hanna’s private life. Her battle with undiagnosed Lyme disease, healing and finding her voice (literally and metaphorically), and her recognition that even a bad ass woman like herself has a right to be vulnerable.

If you were not already a fan of Kathleen Hanna prior to the film, you will be after it. C.V.

Read TWM interview with Director Sini Anderson here!

Everybody Street


Everybody Street Directed by Cheryl Dunn

Next World Premiere

Everyone is a photographer nowadays. But you realize that most aren’t  particularly good at it after watching director, Cheryl Dunn’s documentary, Everybody Street.

The photographer and film maker takes the viewer deep into the gritty art form of street photography by featuring an exciting, and broad, cross-section of renowned New York photographers.

These visionaries turn the dark and mundane into works of wonder, and the viewer gets a chance to see iconic photographers at work. From dark drug addled project buildings to New York’s odd and colorful streets, the fine line between revelation and exploitation comes into question at times. But at all times it is a fascinating look at how one tool has allowed for so many unique images and stories.

Throughout the entire thrilling and visual ride, Everybody makes you feel like you are smack dab in New York. And no matter where you go in the world, we all know that there is no place quite like New York. C.V.

Read TWM interview with Director Cheryl Dunn!

Tiny: A Story About Living Small


Tiny: A Story About Living Small Directed by Merete Mueller

Rule Breakers and Innovators International Premiere

Tiny: A Story About Living Small is a small film with a big dream. The film’s central character, co-director, co-producer and cinematographer is Christopher Smith, an approaching 30-year old who impulsively decides to buy a 5-acre plot of land in the Colorado mountains. As a child of military parents who moved around a lot, Christopher hasn’t really ever felt a sense of home, and he’d like to feel it on his new plot, but he’d like his self-made dwelling to be tiny – no more than 200 sq. ft. With no construction experience, Christopher sets about to build his tiny house from “scratch” with a minimalist budget and 3-month time frame.

Alternating between Christopher’s POV and wide-frame aesthetic, Tiny shows us how living small can tackle the unsustainable contemporary condition of The American Dream. You’ll meet a few “Tiny Houser’s” (like a family of 4, with a dog living in a 168 sq. ft. home!) and take a few tours inside their multi-functional, cheekily designed, debt-free Tiny Homes (desks pull out into beds and pull back into benches).

While Tiny is optimistic, it is careful not to be overly idealistic. Christopher struggles with his construction calculations, with the weather, and with his relationship. Whether or not you’ll be inspired to give up your 5-bedroom/3-bath house and build your own tiny home is not really the point of the film. Along the way you’ll (probably) wonder how some of the film’s characters’ actually share such small spaces, but you’ll also (hopefully) question your own ideals of consumption and how they contribute (or interfere) with creating your own comfortable and sustainable sense of home. C.S.

Click here to read Claudia’s expanded review!



Galumphing Directed by Kamila Jozefowicz

Made In Poland  North American Premiere

For a growing number of people around the world, including myself, the way that Danna Arabahiana dares to live her life is an enviable Utopian dream brought to life.

Bucking the materialistic “more is better” system, painter, artisan, and warrior, Arabahiana, has carved out a little piece of paradise in a remote part of Brazil. Living off the land, no cell phone, car, even refrigerator, the Argentine artist has lived alone on the secluded property for ten years and the locals are in awe of her fearlessness. “Humans are complicated,” she shares. “I like the green.”

Director Kamila Jozefowicz, beautifully captures Arabahiana’s day-to-day living and her decision to work with, not against, mother earth. Never taking more than she needs. Never exploiting the land. While lovely and enchanting, living as she does comes with hard work. “The body needs a little punch to work well,” asserts Arabahiana.

Watching Arabahiana roll handmade candles like cigars, create coconut body lotion and paint in near darkness, is like watching art in motion. Unfortunately, her way of life is now being threatened by the government and indigenous locals.

Galumphing announces that self-sufficiency is the new luxury, and it is something we must protect in order for it to thrive. C.V.

Interview with Director Kamila Jozefowicz coming this week!



Elena Directed by Petra Costa

International Spectrum  Canadian Premiere

“Today I walk through the city listening to your voice. I identify so much with your words that I lose myself in you.”

Elena is one of the most moving documentary films about sisters I have ever seen. In its essence it is a love story between sisters. In its brave and raw look at the impact sudden death has on loved ones, actor and film maker Petra Costa changes the viewer for the better.

Gorgeous and talented, twenty-year-old Elena headed off to New York City to pursue her acting career. She left behind her beloved baby sister, Petra, who was seven at the time, and parents in Brazil. By the end of that year, Elena was dead from suicide.

Incorporating tape recordings and journal entries Elena made during her time in New York, with intimately stunning family footage, Petra invites us into the family’s painful journey following her death. The foreboding quality of the film is visceral and there are moments that are devastating to watch. Prepare to be heartbroken.

However, at the end of Elena, you can only thank Petra for being courageous enough to pursue her dreams in the face of such tragedy. And you honour her for sharing her beautiful sister with us in such a moving tribute.

Love is eternal. C.V.

Remote Area Medical


Remote Area Medical Directed by Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman

Special Presentations International Premiere

Remote Area Medical (RAM) – a pop-up medical clinic started in 1984 – was originally targeted at remote communities in the Amazonian Jungle. Recently, as the film Remote Area Medical tells us, the clinics have appeared less frequently in remote communities in developing nations, and are popping up throughout (sometimes not so remote) communities of the USA.

Remote Are Medical takes us inside the 3-day RAM clinic in Bristol, Tennessee at the Bristol Motor Speedway where thousands of locals are lined up (some have been waiting in their cars for already 3 days) for free medical and health services they otherwise can’t afford. The clinic is run mostly by medical and civilian volunteers, and we occasionally see RAM’s founder, Stan Brock – a quirky and compelling character who doesn’t seem to sleep much – counting people in and riding his bicycle around the Speedway.

Remote Area Medical is well shot and well-paced. Despite directors Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman (who are also former RAM volunteers) taking on such a hotly debated topic as the American Medicare system, they successful deliver an intriguing and timely portrayal of the realities of health care in America without drawing on party lines. Instead, they give time to their characters, show us their medical needs, and celebrate the people who help them get it. It’s an emotional piece and you’ll take to many of the stories.

Reichert and Zaman’s motivations are clear: they’ve sought out to make an interventionist piece of cinema without overt politics in hope that as many people as possible will watch it and act on it. They seem to want exactly what the doctors, volunteers and visitors of RAM want: a way to get all Americans access to health care. C.S.

Finding the Funk


Finding the Funk Directed by Nelson George

Next International Premiere

“What is funk music?” asks narrator of Finding the Funk, Questlove (Ahmir Khalib Thompson) of the Roots. ”Musically it’s the bridge between Sixties soul and Eighties hip-hop. It is an essential and under appreciated musical movement…at its core funk is the expression of an idiosyncratic creative and visionary community of music makers.”

Filmmaker-historian Nelson George takes us directly into the funk via fantastic archival footage, historical context, and interviews with legendary funk greats that made the sound significant, James Brown, Sly Stone, Bootsy Collins, and George Clinton, to name a few.

James Brown, inspired by funky jazz, brought contemporary funk into form. Stone, Bootsy, Clinton and others would reinvent it. Later young MC’s began digging deep into these Seventies beats to create hip-hop classics, and the rest is history. What you discover is that funk is so extensive and organically wild that it remains undefinable.

If you look at Hollywood sci-fi films there are no black people in space. But George’s doc reveals how funk’s “Afro futuristic” sound (based on indigenous African rhythms), shot black music straight into the galaxies, and even today, it remains ahead of its time. C.V.



Chimeras Directed by Mika Mattila

Next World Premiere

Can contemporary Eastern artists create work free from Western influence? Or is Western thought and aesthetics so ingrained into modern day China that it is impossible to shake free of?

These are some of the questions renowned international artist Wang Guangyi, and rising photographer Liu Gang, are grappling with in the film, Chimeras, directed by Mika Mattila.

Guangyi is one of the “Founding fathers of Chinese contemporary art,” but his Western influenced body of work is something that now haunts him. His concern is how his past work will contribute to his own legacy and his culture’s understanding of itself.

Guangyi’s self-reflection is juxtaposed against Gang’s determination to define his career by championing Eastern traditions and ideas. His exhibits, “Paper Dreams” and “Better Life,” use crumpled Western images to critique the influence Western standards and ideas have had in Chinese culture. But to his dismay he realizes that in his struggle against Western domination he is reinforcing its strength by using its own logic and sensibilities. When one voice grows so loud, how does other voices navigate it, in order to be heard?

The impact of Industrialization and globalization on modern day China (and the world), are so intensely intertwined that fully disentangling themselves and their art from these deeply ingrained forces may be impossible, but both artists are doggedly trying.

Whether they lose or win this struggle, will greatly impact generations of artists that follow them, and their culture as a whole. C.V.



Continental Directed by Malcolm Ingram

Special Presentations Canadian Premiere

Legendary nightclub, Studio 54 is an endlessly documented and talked about haunt. Now another fabled hot spot, Continental, takes its rightful place beside it.

1968 was a revolutionary time in history. The Women’s Movement was kicking down doors and taking numbers. The civil rights movement was becoming militant. Anger in many indigenous communities were reaching historical boiling points. And homosexuality was still considered a crime. People from all walks of life were fed-up of hiding and denying who they were. Continental, directed by Malcolm Ingram, looks at the when moment gay culture came out of clandestine and dangerous bars, and announced itself to the world as fabulous and not going anywhere.

Opera singer Steve Ostrow seized the energy of the sexual revolution by building a grand and luxurious Bath and Health Club in the legendary Ansonia Hotel called, Continental.  The famous New York bath house quickly became the “it” spot for the most glamorous and provocative performers, artists and trendsetters of the Seventies.

The Continental was born during a historical time defined by tremendous struggle and conflict. But through that grime a new glamour arose that can never be duplicated. To see La Belle and Bette Midler perform in this heady haunt is something many of us would have longed to be a part of. For 90 minutes, Continental allows us to be, and that will have to do. C.V.

Hot Docs runs from April 25th to May 5. 

Check out Hot Docs’s full schedule click here.

Press Images used with permission


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