CDN Spectrum at Hot Docs – Take 1
by Ralph Lucas – Publisher
(April 19, 2021 – Toronto, ON) There is a difference between documentary and non-documentary filmmaking. In non-documentaries the director has a vision of what the film will look like, while usually religiously following a meticulously planned and drawn storyboard and, these days, relying heavily on the visual effects wizards to help realize their vision. In documentaries what you end up seeing is almost always the highly personal point of view of a director who is working under the unique pressure of having to deliver a story that is real and very, very important to them. That singular POV is ably demonstrated in the three films we’ll look at today, all screening in the Canadian Spectrum program at the 2022 Hot Docs film festival.
In alphabetical order, first up is Batata. While war rages in Ukraine and the television is filled with World War II-like images of destruction, it is easy to forget in other parts of the world, other wars, other theatres of conflict continue and have been going on for years. Batata covers 10 years in the life of a Syrian woman named Maria and her family of potato farmers who find themselves stuck in Lebanon as stateless refugees. In the words of director Noura Kevorkian, who reminds us this year marks the 10th anniversary of the Syrian Refugee Crisis, “…one can’t help but fall for Maria. She’s a vibrant, tough and surprisingly unmarried Syrian woman-farmer. Maria puts love and care into everything she does…. I kept following Maria, naively waiting for the Syrian Civil War to come to a definitive close, so I could end my film with a happy new beginning for Maria returning home to Raqqa. Even after 12 years and hundreds of hours of footage, I wasn’t ready to accept that what had happened to Maria and her country wouldn’t end soon. In fact, if it weren’t for COVID, I’d still be there today, in the camp with Maria and her relatives recording their lives.” No short synopsis would do justice to this 126 minute Canada-Lebanon-Qatar coproduction.
Saturday, April 30, 10am, Varsity Cinemaa
Friday, May 6, 6:45pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Geographies of Solitude makes me jealous. Some years back I had hoped to travel to Sable Island, which sits in the North Atlantic Ocean some 175 km southeast of the closest point of mainland Nova Scotia. I wanted to photograph the Sable Island horses. Time, money, other commitments made it impossible for me. However, award-winning filmmaker Jacquelyn Mills from Cape Breton Island and now based in Montréal made it and the result is a 103-minute documentary that is getting a lot of attention. Shooting on 16mm film, not digital, Geographies of Solitude was supported by the Sundance Documentary Fund and Cannes: Docs in Progress program and had its world premiere at the Berlinale Forum where it won three awards. The doc centres on naturalist and environmentalist Zoe Lucas (no relation) who has worked and lived on Sable Island for more than 40 years. As a blurb on the film’s website states “…this feature-length experimental documentary is a playful and reverent collaboration with the natural world. Zoe leads us among wild horses, seals and bugs, through peaks, valleys, roots, sands, weathers, seasons and stars. The intangible is evoked with hidden sounds and vanishing light. Much like a field book, the film tracks its protagonist’s labour to collect, clean and document marine litter that persistently washes up on the island shores.”
Geographies of Solitude screens:
Saturday, April 30 at 7:15pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox
Wednesday, May 4 at 2:15pm at the Varsity Cinemas
Scrap is about exactly what the title describes. It is about the stuff we use and/or abuse, and throw away. The image that caught my attention was the one above. Not even the beautiful shapes of magical flying machines escape the scrap pile. The website for the film states, in part, “Things, like people, show a certain beauty in their old age. Like us, they carry the weight of their history and the markings and scars accumulated through their lifespan. With the loss of these objects, we are also losing parts of our history and the cultural memory which they embody.” Scrap isn’t just about things. It tells its story through the lives and experience of 6 people. Just one example is Dean Lewis, who grew up in a junkyard and decided to turn the car scrap business into a car museum and living art piece, where people can experience nature and photograph the old cars. Dean’s collection includes over 4400 historic cars spread out over 35 acres of land. Produced, written and directed by Stacey Tenenbaum, part of her take on the film states “I am fascinated by things that carry their history and am nostalgic for a time when life was slower, and things were built to last.” Aren’t we all.
Sunday, May 1, 2:00pm, at the Isabel Bader Theatre
Wednesday, May 4, 11:00am at the Varsity Cinemas.
There is more information about tickets and festival passes online.
Also see: Canadian films screening in the Hot Docs Special Presentations.
Ralph Lucas is the founder and publisher of Northernstars.ca. He began writing about film and reviewing movies while in radio in Montreal in the mid-1970s.