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Hot Docs 2012: Heidy’s Top Picks

Continuing our Hot Docs coverage, this list contains films that deal with human rights issues, corporate greed, women’s inequality, life-threatening illnesses and the passion that fuels art. These are, for now, my top picks. Do note I have yet to see other films during the festival but for now, keep these in mind and go get your tickets soon!

With My Heart In Yambo / Con Mi Corazón En Yambo
Synopsis: In 1988, the director’s teenaged brothers were illegally detained, tortured and murdered by Ecuadorian police. Decades later, with their remains still missing, new developments fuel the family’s refusal to give up their search.

My thoughts: Dealing with such a personal and tragic story, director Maria Fernanda Restrepo, takes us back in time and deep into the abyss her family was thrown into since the day of her brothers’ disappearance. Like other documentaries dealing with human rights abuses in Latin America, this one is not easy to watch but a very important film in many regards. Restrepo presents us the grim picture of what ‘justice’ her family has yet to find, the strength her family has that keeps them moving forward and fighting for said justice. Stylistically, this film is also a stand out.

N.B. This past weekend, this documentary was recently honoured with theDirk Vandersypen Award, which is an international prize of 2,500 Euro. It is presented to the maker of the best television documentary about Latin America and in honour of journalist Dirk Vandersypen.

Big Boys Gone Bananas!*
Synopsis: When director, Fredrik Gertten, took on food giant Dole in his previous documentary, the corporate machine responded with aggressive legal and media campaigns to quash distribution and discredit the filmmakers. This epic battle for free speech proves documentarians will not go quietly.


My thoughts: Many of us would not be surprised that a giant company like Dole would take on Gertten given his last documentary presented them in a not-so-positive light. Yet, there are many that have yet to realize the extent to which companies will spend millions of dollars just to cover their own ‘behind’. Thus begins this story and its whirlwind of emotions, corporate bullying and more. If you’re a documentary fan and a believer that documentarians should expose corporate greed and abuse of power, you will not be disappointed.

Herman’s House
Synopsis: After living in solitary confinement for 30 years, what kind of house would you envision? When artist Jackie Sumell asks jailed Black Panther activist Herman Wallace, it triggers a trip through years of brutal injustice.

My thoughts: Since Wallace is still in solitary confinement, he is never seen on-camera. However, we get to know through his talks with director Angad Singh Bhalla and his regular phone conversations with Sumell. Through the film Bhalla presents us with issues like social and racial injustice, personal struggle on part of Sumell. We do see the art installation she is able to put on with Wallace’s design for his ‘dream house’ on display as well as a wood replica of the 6’x9′ cell he’s been made to live in. But we also see how Sumell, at the request of Wallace, looks for land on which to live his ‘dream house.’ The film, like Sumell’s artworks, should make you question the ‘rationale’ behind life imprisonment and the U.S. penal system as a whole.

The World Before Her
Synopsis: As young hopefuls compete in a Bombay beauty pageant, village girls undergo combat training in a rural fundamentalist camp. Director Nisha Pauja brilliantly captures the clash between modernity and tradition faced by young women in India.

My thoughts: It is not news that in India, women have few rights in a male-dominated society. Pauja takes us into the world of beauty and pageants while at the same time, contrasting it to the Durgha Vahini, the women’s wing of the militant Hindu fundamentalist movement. There are some very interesting comments from the young women themselves, from both sides. One that stuck out for me was from Prachi (a girl raised in the depths of the Durgha Vahini movement), who states “Being a girl child, [my father] let me live.” And a contestant on the Miss India pageant echoes the sentiment of how grateful she is to her mother for not getting rid of her. Regardless of how you feel about feminism or women’s empowerment, this is an interesting film to watch from the sociological perspective. These are certainly two very extreme ways of women ‘taking control’ of their lives.

Beauty is Embarrassing
Synopsis: Follow the exuberant highs and crushing lows of pop-culture icon artist Wayne White from humble puppeteer to one of the creators of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, for him, every day is an opportunity to create.

My thoughts: How many of you remember watching Pee-Wee’s Playhouse back in the day? Well, Wayne White  not only created some memorable characters for the iconic show but also has worked on other great projects like the Smashing Pumpkins “Tonight, Tonight” video – for which he received an MTV Video Award – and also his own paintings that have become widely popular as well. All that aside, what’s really interesting and engaging about White and his artistic family is that he does not take himself too seriously. He lives and breathes art but has fun with it! His perspective on art as a whole is refreshing, as he think that not all art has to be intellectual. A candid portrait of an artist and a greatly designed one too; you do not need to be an artist or a student of art to appreciate where he’s coming from. Make sure you stay for the credits for some great animations and other tidbits created by White.

Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet
Synopsis: In 1991, at 19 years old, Jason Becker landed a gig as David Lee Roth’s lead guitarist, but this headbanging prodigy’s dream is quickly yanked away when he is diagnosed with ALS. Despite the odds, Jason Becker is still rocking today.


My thoughts: This is an inspirational film about a young virtuoso whose dream of being a musician was interrupted by ALS (Lou Gehrigh’s disease). Many people die young from this illness but Becker continues to fight it and continues to make music. This documentary shows how his father created a system of eye movements in order for Becker to communicate but it also highlights the great impact family and friend support has on an individual. It is amazing to see Becker’s resilience. His rock star buddies still continue to be impressed as are his fans, who’ve expanded all over the world and continue to be amaze by his story and his talent.

For full details about screening times and ticket availability check out hotdocs.ca or in person at their box office at 783 Bathurst Street.

If interested in reading my other Hot Docs previewed films, go to my webpage Hye’s Musings.

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About the author: Heidy

Heidy is an avid supporter of the arts. She has written for The Toronto International Film Festival's Doc Blog and also volunteered at the Art Gallery of Ontario. She hopes to bring you updates on film, theatre and other festivals in Toronto. You can follow her on Twitter @HeidyMo or visit her blog at hyemusings.blogspot.ca.