Reviews of screenings from the 2010 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, Toronto, Canada.
Darwin’s Nightmare (Dir: Hubert Sauper)
Originally Relased in 2004, this entry in the Ripping Reality retrospective series tracks the unanticipated outcomes in the social ecosystem of a change in the natural ecosystem. In the 60's, Nile Perch were introduced into Tanzania's Lake Victoria, soon crowding out the indigenous species. Now, a thriving commercial fishery ships copious amounts of food to Europe — in the middle of a famine. And so we see how globalism's every gesture has both intended and unintended effects. There are jobs for fishermen — but many on-the-job fatalities. There are beautiful fillets for Europeans to eat — and disgusting fish carcasses for Africans. There's a thriving plastics industry to supply the fish plants with packing materials — which are also give a cheap high when burned by street kids, orphaned children of dead fishermen. And on and on. Plus, all those giant cargo planes flying away filled with fish? They just might be bringing in a deadly cargo of armaments to supply Africa's wars.
With non-invasive observation of many different intersecting lives affected by the Perch trade, Sauper slowly rachets up the complexity of the whole situation. The film is generally elegantly constructed to point out facts without being didactic. It did drag a bit from around the two-thirds mark and could have been tightened a bit, though. Plus, this one wasn't ideal as a big screen experience. There was a lot of video footage shot at night that looked awfully grainy blown up to for theatrical presentation. This one would be fine on TV or a computer screen.
Babies (Dir: Thomas Balmès)
Following the first year or so of life for four babies in very different environments — San Francisco, Tokyo, Malawi and Mongolia. With no narration and some elegant choreography this film surprised by rising far above mere froth. Balmès kept the cameras at the babies' level — parents were often represented as just a disembodied arm or leg in the frame. And so we get to consider the universal and particular elements of each family, often accompanies by deft (but never rushed) cross-cutting. Quite delightful in the little moments of triumph, ending in a cavalcade of first steps.
With so many docs focusing on strife, conflict and the darkest edges of humanity, this might have served best as the last thing I saw at the festival, to rekindle some brightness and hope. But even near the start in was enjoyable bit of work, even for this "non-baby person".
Balmès was on hand to take questions afterwards and was reasonably informative.
And Everything Is Going Fine (Dir: Steven Soderbergh)
Revisiting the very tightly entwined life and works of the late Spalding Gray, Soderbergh has created a straight-forward autobiographical story from Gray, achieved by cutting back and forth between a wide range of monologues and other resources. A labour of love taken on between his big name projects, this film does a good job of showing us Gray's unsurpassed talent of using his own life experiences as grist for his art.
Given that everything we see comes straight from the source, as it were, the film ends somewhat ambiguously, and I'm not yet sure whether that's a strength or a weakness. Viewers coming to this without any previous knowledge of the subject would leave without learning of the sad dénoument, though for anyone who does know the story the last measures are painful to watch. When, in an interview conducted late in his life, Gray finishes off his always-present glass of water, there's a sad sense of the curtain falling.
It was a heady rush of words from Gray, a testament to his skills as a "poetic journalist". Quite glad I saw this film, though I don't know if this would be the ideal introduction to Spalding Gray.