The thing about Hot Docs and documentaries in general is that you never know how you’re going to feel after a viewing. Emotions can go from infuriating to tearjerking to stirring all in the span of a few hours. If done well, film essays are importunate in their arguments while personal profiles can bring meaningful experiences to a viewer. Hot Docs this year keeps bringing in the convincing, the influential, and the weighty and boy, I am ready for more.
The Amina Profile (2015)
Director: Sophie Deraspe
Director Sophie Deraspe takes on the story of a Montreal woman, Sandra Bargaria, who had an online relationship with Syrian blogger Amina Abdallah. In interviews with people who knew both of them, Deraspe paints a portrait of Sandra, a supportive partner who would do anything for the love of her life, and Amina, a fervent political activist who will stop at nothing to make people aware of the injustices of her world. Amina is kidnapped and international media and organization swoop in to call for her release. It is only until then and a massive hunt for Amina’s true whereabouts that it is revealed that Amina only ever existed as an online persona for American Tom MacMaster.
Deraspe approaches Bargaria as someone who is genuinely interested in the woman within the chaos of Amina’s story. Bargaria had to live with the humiliation of MacMaster’s hoax and was given little consideration after the revelations. MacMaster, in turn, nonchalantly received fifteen minutes of fame as a result. The director gives Bargaria a chance to speak of her perspectives and her lingering need for closure, while giving a voice to the crucial struggles that the Syrian people face at the hands of their government and ratings hungry media.
Missing People (2014)
Director: David Shapiro
In 1978, Martina Bartan’s brother was violently murdered near their home. Many years later, Bartan, now a Manhattan art gallery director, has become obsessed with collecting the paintings of New Orleans’ self-taught artist Roy Ferdinand. In Missing People, David Shapiro explores Bartan’s quiet life, still scarred by the loss of her brother. She walks her dogs, continually builds a giant Lego structure in her home, and works on creating a vast archive of Ferdinand’s work.
Shapiro focuses on the minutiae of Bartan’s life in contemplative snapshots of her every day and interviews with those around her. While Bartan travels to meet with Ferdinand’s relatives and acquaintances, her inquiries draw an interesting link between Ferdinand’s violent art themes and her brother’s past. Bartan is an unassuming character, but the film reveals a far more compelling complexity of emotions beneath her silent exterior. As she hires an investigator to look into her brother’s unsolved murder, we are abruptly taken to unexpected places.
Missing People is an engrossing watch that makes you think about the anonymous lives that surround you every day.
Drawing The Tiger (2015)
Directors: Amy Benson and Scott Squire
Directors Amy Benson and Scott Squire were filming a promotional video for a nonprofit agency in Nepal. They focused on the Darnal family and their daughter Shanta. Shanta’s intelligence and determination were a great hope to her small village and for her family who struggles endlessly with poverty. In an unexpected turn events, Benson and Squire end up spending seven years filming the family and elements of Shanta’s life of pressure in the big city of Katmandu.
The beauty of the Nepalese landscape is fascinating and viscerally contrasted with the conflicts of the people in the village. Shanta’s father moves between two wives and two families, while Shanta’s brother in the city, Kumar, barely makes enough to feed his family. Shanta is provided with an education, a uniform, a food every day, but little by little, her world unravels, displaying a young girl who lacks the genuine love and care needed to uphold the load of expectations on her shoulders. “Village life is hard,” she says, “but city life is lonely.”
By providing the profile of Shanta and her family the varied perspectives of generations show that while outside help is received, and inside support is given, it’s not always enough. Hope is a very human element, but Drawing The Tiger shows that hope isn’t a solid replacement for tenderness, understanding and having a shoulder when you need it.
Shanta cuts a haunting figure and you will observe her through the eyes of her siblings, her parents, and the land she so desperately misses.
Director: Noemi Weis
If modern day debates about the lack of agency for women over their own bodies weren’t enough to make you angry, you’ve got Noemi Weis’s Milk to enrich it. The film takes a bold look at the politics of pregnancy, birthing, and breastfeeding. Weis weaves a narrative essay with the lives of various mothers or mothers to be around the world, along with doctors, experts, professors, and workers in breastfeeding and birthing professions. It’s a sobering look to realize how much the medical world intervenes during birth, preferring to get them out of the hospital quicker instead of providing an environment of patience that is conducive to both mother and child. Even more revealing are the shameless attempts by corporations to take over a women’s right to breastfeed her child. Instead of feeding the mother in disaster situations, corporations zoom donating and thereby, marketing bottled formula in any way they can.
Although Weis provides an informative and compelling case for women’s birthing and breastfeeding rights, the film was a little disjointed in focus. However, this was of no detriment to the film’s argument. Weis’s lens is clear and engaging with strong visuals evoking how imperative it is to safeguard women, their choices, and in turn, their children.