The Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival returns in 2018 with it’s 25th anniversary edition and we are back again reviewing some of this year’s offerings. The festival, the largest of its kind in North America, will no doubt once again be a showcase of some the best docs the world has to offer right now.

Hot Docs Film Festival logo

Below is a collection of short reviews for the films we have seen for this year. Check back regularly as this list will continually be updated as more are added. Visit hotdocs.ca for tickets and more information.

ANOTE’S ARK
CHEF FLYNN
THE CLEANERS
UNITED WE FAN

 

ANOTE’S ARK

Rating: 4/5
Program: Special Presentations | 77 Minutes | 2018 | Canada | English Kiribati (Partial Subtitles) | Canadian Premiere | Wed, May 2 10:15AM TIFF Lightbox 2 Fri, May 4 1:00PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Situated right on the equator in the Pacific Ocean, the people of the tiny island nation of Kiribati hoped that they would be spared from most of the world’s troubles. However, as the effects of rapid global warming and climate change continue increase in severity around the planet, this isolated country finds themselves on the front lines of rising sea levels. With one of their villages already lost to flooding, President Anote Tong sets out on a journey to find a solution for the citizens of his country that will save them once their homeland is submerged under water, which will only be a matter of time. At almost every turn he finds resistance from governments of other countries who aren’t taking the situation seriously. One of the strongest elements of “Anote’s Ark” is the beautiful cinematography, matched by an equally haunting score. These elements combine to emphasize and highlight the severity of the situation these people face, and the utter desperation and loss of hope that underlays their daily lives. The film finds a way to the heart of these people and their culture, humanizing them in a way that gives weight to their plight, a crucial element to this fight when most people’s response is to dismiss it since it doesn’t directly affect them or they don’t worry about it because it’s happening “over there.” This film is a striking preview of the path humanity is on.

CHEF FLYNN

Rating: 3.5/5
Program: Special Presentations | 83 Minutes | 2018 | USA | Canadian Premiere | Sat, April 28 6:45PM Isabel Bader Theatre Sun, April 29 10:45AM TIFF Bell Lightbox 1 Sat, May 5 1:15PM Isabel Bader Theatre

 

There’s no doubt that the current generation of teenagers are challenging the status quo and changing the world we live in. One such young man is chef Flynn McGarry, a teenager quickly proving himself to be an innovative force in fine dining. He began with serving dinner guests in his home at the age of 10 using his friends as his staff, to taking advantage of every opportunity that he could and ending up working under some of the top chefs in the world just a few short years later. His story, his innovation, and his attention to detail has garnered him a lot of media attention with high-profile pieces in major New York City publications. Not all of the media attention has been good though. There are many food critics, chefs, and others in the industry feel he is far too young to have been given the title of chef and to have been given the opportunities he has. The culinary world is traditional and patriarchal so many feel he hasn’t yet earned the success he has had. Chef Flynn though proves time and time again that he is worthy of this success and continues to challenge the institution and traditions that many are not yet ready to let go of. “Chef Flynn” is an intimate look into the rise of this intriguing and inventive young man, supported with home video footage taken by his mother. We clearly see the hours of work and dedication Flynn has put into his work to get to where he has and the challenges that come with unexpected fame. The film is an excellent reminder that there are no age limits on people who change the world.

THE CLEANERS

Rating: 4/5
Program: Special Presentations | 88 Minutes | 2018 | Germany Brazil | English Tagalog (Partial Subtitles) | Canadian Premiere | Mon, Apr 30 6:30PM Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema (Big Ideas Series) Wed, May 2 2:45PM Scotiabank Theatre 3 Fri, May 4 9:00PM Revue Cinema

 

Thousands of photos and hours of video footage are uploaded to social media platforms every minute of the day. Beneath all of this activity are thousands of people around the world who are employed as moderators whose job it is to review these images and remove questionable and offensive content. Many of the large tech companies higher low-wage workers in Asian countries who end up signing non-disclosure agreements and work long hours in an office with performance targets. For many, this job pays far better than any other they could get. In a matter of seconds they have to decide whether a photo or video are safe for general public viewing or if they are a violation of the company’s terms. One might not expect it, but with this role comes a great level of responsibility and burden. These moderators are often reviewing photos, videos, and activities relating to child exploitation, terrorism, cyber bullying, and death. It takes a heavy toll on these people and distorts their perceptions of what is normal, often leading to mental health problems. The film also discusses the ongoing conversation surrounding the roles and responsibilities these social media platforms have in promoting, accelerating, or activating hateful behaviours and misinformation. At times, this is a difficult film to watch with the examples used of some of the content these moderators must view on a regular basis. The images are violent and disturbing so it’s not for the faint of heart. There is a dark and ominous tone to this film that underlines the pressures of what the moderators face. It leaves the viewer with a great deal of respect for the people who perform this thankless job and the pieces of themselves they must sacrifice to do it.

UNITED WE FAN

Rating: 2.5/5
Program: Canadian Spectrum | 97 Minutes | 2018 | Canada | English | World Premiere | Sat, Apr 28 5:30PM Scotiabank Theatre 4 Mon, Apr 30 3:00PM Hart House Theatre Thu, May 3 12:15PM Hart House Theatre

We are currently living in the days of the television revival, with the likes of Will & Grace, Roseanne, Gilmore Girls, and Full House having come back with new episodes. These resurrections are almost all due to fans campaigning for their favorite characters to come back and the original teams being on board. This current trend has it’s roots as far back as the 1960s with the original “Star Trek television series and the film “United We Fan” examines this history. In the early days of the show, there was a letter-writing campaign started by two fans when the network was on the verge of cancelling it. Their efforts paid off and the show was saved. This paved the way for other campaigns through the decades for fan-favorite shows such as “Cagney & Lacey”, “St. Elsewhere”, “Designing Women”, “Roswell”, “The 4400”, “Veronica Mars”, “Chuck”, and “Person of Interest”. The film examines how the campaigns from the public to save these shows grew more and more sophisticated, particularly with the advent of the internet and social media. There are interviews with some of the actors from these shows that were saved and it delves into some of the psychological reasons behind why some people feel so strongly about a show or a particular character that they don’t want to let it go. We also learn about the history of the Viewers for Quality Television organization and the influence it had over the studios. They had the power to mobilize their membership to write letters and support certain shows they deemed to be quality television. At times the film is a bit short on content so the story isn’t always compelling. Some of the editing choices as well were perhaps a bit questionable as to how the filmmakers constructed the timeline of the story. However, if you are a part of the fandom world, this film is an interesting look at this corner of television pop culture.