NFB at Hot Docs
by Ralph Lucas – Publisher
(April 26, 2023 – Toronto, ON) As promised yesterday, today we’ll take a closer look at Undertaker for Life!, one of two NFB productions screening during the 30th anniversary of the Hot Docs Canadian and International Documentary Film Festival.
Director Georges Hannan’s career in film runs about 40 years and was mostly spent dealing with sound. He has directed 5 films, all of them documentaries, since 2018 and his latest, Undertaker for Life!, which runs just under an hour, is a moderate take on how the living deal with the dead. I say moderate because it is neither some comedic romp toward a small plot of land we will call home for eternity, nor some gravity-laden tome about shuffling off this mortal coil, as Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, Act III, Scene I. That’s the one that begins “To be, or not to be: that is the question.”
Undertaker for Life! doesn’t ask that question. It is solely focused on the “not to be” event after we have departed. There is nothing frightening here, there are no grisly mortuary scenes, no stills from horrific accidents or mass shootings. The film is almost lazy but far from plodding and it is generally a light-hearted look at a few of the people in the funeral business. There are some genuinely funny bits. When the topic turns to embalming, the visual element is a hearse that rises off the ground to some heavenly piece of classic music…only to have its life-giving oil drained. In another scene, I learned a life lesson. It is mentioned that the hyphen that exists on tombstones between the date of birth and the date of death is where our lives lived resides. It is a reminder that life is short and there’s no getting away from the fact we are all on time-limited schedules. The film screens with two Canadian shorts, Nicole, which runs 23 minutes, Last Respects, running 7 minutes and About Memory and Loss, running 8 minutes.
Undertaker for Life! screens:
April 28 – 8:30PM – Scotiabank Theatre
May 1 – 2:30PM – Tiff Bell Lightbox
The other NFB film at Hot Docs is the short, Hebron Relocation by director Holly Andersen. It only runs 15-minutes but it tells the story of a lifetime of pain suffered by Indigenous Inuit residents of northern Labrador. It dates back to the Joey Smallwood era of politics and the decision to uproot an entire community and hastily move these targets hundreds of kilometres to a new location where, predictably, proper housing wasn’t ready and the land offered no way to continue their tradition of living by hunting. The film is triggered by Anderson’s knowledge that the house she lives in was one of the houses eventually built for the people who had been moved. Hebron Relocation does not screen in the Canadian Spectrum but is part of the World Showcase and will play with two other non-NFB shorts after the World Premiere of the Brazil feature documentary Samuel and the Light.
Hebron Relocation screens:
May 3 – 5:30PM – Scotiabank Theatre
May 7 – 8:30PM – Tiff Bell Lightbox
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.