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Alternavox Picks the Best of Hot Docs 2009!


By Mikhail Saavedra

Hot Docs once again has outdone itself. One of the most unique film festivals in North America is back for a 16th installment, and all the passionate and nearly obsessed film junkies here at Alternavox headquarters have done their homework and come up with a list of documentaries you simply can’t ignore. There is such incredibly variety this year that it was very hard to come to single consensus of what was best. But we persevered and came up with a list that reflects the incredible variety that Hot Docs seems to have at its very heart.

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Canada, 71 minutes
Director: Phillip Lyall, Nimisha Mukerji
Thursday, May 7/ 7:30 PM/ The Royal Cinema
Saturday, May 9/ 2 PM/ The Royal Cinema
Sunday, May 10/ 9:15 PM/ Bloor Cinema

Review by Sofia Ramirez:

We take so much for granted in our lives.  This inspiring story of a beautiful young woman dealing with the reality of cystic fibrosis will remind you to be thankful for every breath you take.
The story follows Eva as she waits painfully for a double lung transplant.  Through an online network of girls with CF, Eva is able to motivate and inspire others to fight for life as she does.  These friends are unable to meet in person because they risk passing on superbugs to one another yet they play important roles in each other’s lives.

Absolutely see it!



Denmark, 60 minutes
Director: Nikolaj Viborg
Language: Danish (English Subtitles)
Tuesday, May 5/ 7:15 pm/ Innis Town Hall
Tuesday, May 8/ 4:30 pm/ Innis Town Hall

Review by Jennifer Finjan:

Youth House 69, was a self-run house for non-conformist youth in Copenhagen.  The house functioned not only as a home to countless young people, but gave them a sense of belonging, provided them with a meeting place and a venue for creative freedom. Although the house was lawfully given to them in 1982, the local government later evicted the youths, leaving them homeless. Residents refused to give up their home without a fight. 69 is an inspirational story about a human rights struggle through the eyes of Mads, a young gay activist. He reminds us that while teachers and parents tell us to do the right thing, to behave and uphold democracy; what does one do when the powers that be don’t play the same game?  He compares the experience to playing monopoly with someone who keeps cheating.  At some point you just chuck the board away and the games over.

See it!


Action Boys

South Korea, 108 minutes
Korean (subtitled in English)
Director: Byung-Gil Yung
Sunday, May 3/ 9:45pm/ Innis Town Hall
Monday, May 4/ 4:15pm/ Cumberland 2

Review by Sofia Ramirez


Only seven of the 34 students who begin the stunt program at the Seoul Action School graduate. This film is a fun and quirky look into the Korean action film industry and a look at the career of Jung Byung-Gil and his rise from stuntman to director.

You will probably conclude that being a stunt person in Korea is enormously dangerous.  If you are into martial arts and action flicks, then you will appreciate this creative look behind the scenes.  If you have your sights set on a career in the stunt world, then this film may make you reconsider.

See it.


Bitch Academy

Russia, 29 minutes
Russian (subtitled in English)
Director: Alina Rudnitskaya
Wednesday, May 6/ 7pm/ Cumberland 2
Friday, May 8/ 2:15PM/ Cumberland 2

Review by Hannah Koh:

The title and subject matter hints at a promise of humour, but watching this 30 minute documentary, laughter is the last thing that you feel like doing. While the subject material has all the potential in the world to be comedic (women learning how to snag rich husbands? how could this be any funnier?), Rudnitskaya instead chooses to explore the sadder side of gold diggers in Russia, and the result is a look at the reasons, both simple and complex, of why young women in Russia enroll in classes to learn how to snag a rich husband. As these young women are taught how to do everything from initially approaching a man, to how to do a strip tease, you can’t help but wonder if it’s meant to be funny in its pathetic subjects, or an ironic look at the lengths women will go to secure their financial futures.

See it!


Black Wave: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez
Canada, 99 minutes
Director: Robert Cornellier
Sunday, May 3/ 6:30 pm / Bloor Cinema
Monday, May 4/ 4:00 pm/ Innis Town Hall

Review by Yasmeen Finjan:

Recognized as the biggest environmental disaster in North America, on March 24, 1989, Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground, leaking massive amounts of oil into the waters of Prince William Sound.  This event caused catastrophic effects on the ecosystem, and its people. The oil spill caused many species of fish and wildlife to drastically decrease and many to this day have never fully recovered.  This story is told by the people in Prince William Sound, whose lives were drastically and irreversibly changed by Exxon. After the spill, Exxon was ordered to pay the victims 5 billion dollars in damages. Not only has Exxon never paid a penny to those affected by the spill, Exxon is also responsible for poisoning workers through experimental clean-up methods following the disaster. What was once considered to be an important issue, twenty years later seems all but forgotten.  This story shows that corporations cannot be trusted to always tell the truth.  Often they look out for their own capital gain and neglect to protect lives and the environment affected by their business. ExxonMobil has and will continue to delay the case against them, all the while raking in billions of dollars per year in revenue.

See it!


Carmen Meets Borat

Netherlands, 89 Minutes
Director:  Mercedes Stalenhoef
Saturday, May 2/ 6:30 pm/Bloor Cinema
Sunday, May 3/ 4:30 pm/ The ROM Theatre
Sunday, May 10/ 9:30 pm/ Cumberland 2

Review by Mikhail Saavedra:

I liked Borat, I really did, and it was so obscene and wrong, and at so many levels that you either had to laugh at it or be offended by it. This film deals with a group of people who took such offense, the poverty stricken folks of the town of Glod in Romania who decide to sue Sasha Baron Cohen Aka Borat for the merciless mocking he inflicts upon them.

Fair warning:  The title may imply funny but in reality this documentary is rather a no holds barred look at the effects of poverty in a nearly forgotten corner of Eastern Europe. It deals with the seldom explored repercussions of newly implanted capitalism after the fall of the Berlin Wall. After a while you nearly want the town to succeed in their lawsuit for the mockery they suffer during the filming of Borat, but greed and worse yet, lawyers crush hopes and dreams including those of the title character Carmen.

See it and weep!


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Canada, 160 Minutes
Director : Richard Brouillette
Thursday, May 7/ 9PM/ Cumberland 2
Sunday, May 10/ 12:30PM/ Cumberland 3

Review by Shamim Ahad:

Encirclement is a two part series about the damaging effects of neo-liberalism on our democratic processes and the global economy. Since the Cold War, neo-liberalism has appealed to all governments, both left and right alike, to an alarming degree. Richard Brouillette uses 12 years’ worth of black-and-white 16mm film footage to present a clear picture of how neo-liberalism has served to erode democratic processes and skew the public discourse in favour of supposed “free” market forces and against notions of public good.

Thirteen acclaimed academics explain and critique neo-liberal gospel, exposing how multinational financiers, think tanks, the IMF, the World Bank and our politicians have created a virtual unelected shadow government of global proportions whose main focus is to siphon resources straight to private interests while remaining accountable to no one. If you would like to understand our current global economic crisis, then this engaging documentary is not to be missed.

See it!



Director Alan Black
USA, 50 minutes
Friday, May 1/10pm/ The Royal Cinema
Sunday, May 10/6:30pm/ Bloor Cinema

Review by Hannah Koh:

We all have dreams of what we would do if we won the jackpot: buy a cottage/boat/car; take a trip around the world; go on a shopping spree in NYC at the height of Fashion Week. The dreams and the means are as varied as the people who have them, and this movie takes a look at the people who not only have grandiose dreams of what they would do with their winnings, but actually depend on them for their rent, bills, and day-to-day lives.

For some of the regulars at Toronto’s Delta Bingo, sitting in their favourite seats at the bingo hall has been a way in which to both pass the time and pay their bills for years, if not decades, and Black captures the pressure they feel with every number stamped out with their colourful bingo markers. The hope, the joy they feel at a win, and the neverending optimism, even in the face of a losing card, are all beautifully captured in this documentary, and is a little reminder that dreams are always worth having.

SEE IT (x3)


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France, 100 Minutes
Arabic, English, Hebrew (subtitled in English)
Director: Simone Bitton
Sunday, May 3/ 6:30 pm/ Isabel Bader Theatre
Wednesday, May 6/ 1 pm/ Cumberland 3

Review by Sofia Ramirez


There is a famous quote by Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano that says “The walls are the publishers of the poor.” One scene in this movie shows the following words painted on a rumbled wall:

“Rachel who came to Rafah to stop the tanks, we remember her with love and honour as an inspiration.”

For me, these writing goes a long way to sum up the courage of Rachel Corrie.

In 2003, American peace activist Rachel Corrie was killed by a Caterpillar bulldozer as she tried to protect a civilian home from demolition in Gaza. She was in Gaza with the peace group the International Solidarity Movement. If you visit the group’s website you will read that they use “nonviolent, direct-action methods and principles”. This means that they would go so far as to place themselves between a tank and the families in Gaza, without weapons.

The film follows the “investigation” into her death. I am sure that you will agree after watching this film that the previous statement is an exaggeration.

Please, SEE IT.


Rise Up

88 Minutes
Director: Luciano Blotta
Friday May 8/ 7:15 pm/ Innis Town Hall
Saturday, May 9/ 11:59 pm/ Bloor Cinema
Sunday, May 10/ 4:00 pm/ The Royal Cinema

Review by Jordan Hodgson:

Rise Up is a brilliantly shot story of three Jamaican artists and the musical scene around them. It follows ‘Turbulance’ the soon to be dancehall star from the Kingston ghetto. ‘Ice’ the uptown rich kid trying to breakthrough at Sumfest. And ‘Kemoy’, the shy songstress from the country with a beautiful voice. The film features interviews with reggae legends such as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Sly Dunbar, also it contains a killer soundtrack. Rise Up is a tribute to the power of music even in the most crippling situations.

See it!


Roadsworth: Crossing the Line

Canada, 71 Minutes
Director: Alan Kohl
Friday, May 8/ 9:30 pm/ Cumberland 2
Sunday, May 10/ 4:30 pm/ Innis Town Hall

Review by Nika Jaksic:

A man driven by his creativity decorates the roads of Montreal with a spray can, stencils and a lot of planning. The city, however, is unable to define the difference between art and vandalizing and takes the man to trial. The trial gains Roadsworth some international fame as well as a lot of attention at home. The film explores issues of censorship, the idea of selling out and the boundaries of where and how art should be displayed. This is all done in a very non-political down to earth manner that allows the audience to make their own conclusions. It is an inspiring story that urges you to create and believe in your art.

See it!


Those Who Remain

Mexico, 96 Minutes
Director(s): Juan Carlos Rulfo, Carlos Hagerman
Saturday, May 2/ 9:30 pm/ The ROM Theatre
Sunday, May 3/ 4:15 pm/ Cumberland 2
Monday, May 4/ 1:45 pm/ The ROM Theatre

Review by Mikhail Saavedra:

Watching CNN or any number of US news outlets, you are always reminded of issues to do with immigration and the constant influx of economic refugees coming from Latin America and elsewhere, not always in the most sympathetic of lights. The purpose of this documentary is a tad different; it focuses on the people that stay behind in Mexico while their loved ones seek fortune in “El Norte”

A moving film that deals with the repercussions of immigrating to a foreign land. There are those that find no support in Mexico from their own authorities, and watching the documentary you get the sense that government is almost nonexistent or at best populated by charlatans and the corrupt. If, like most people in Canada, you are connected to someone who came to this country looking for a more promising future, you will undoubtedly find something that will connect you to this film.

Do your humanity a favour and see it.

See it!



USA, 90 Minutes
Director: James Toback
Tuesday, May 5/ 9:15 pm/ Isabel Bader Theatre

Review by Mikhail Saavedra:

I can say that out of all the films we got to see this time around, director’s James Toback’s Tyson is perhaps the most surprising. It deals with the formidable rise of one of the greatest boxers of all time, Mike Tyson as well as his subsequent fall from grace.

What stands out in this documentary is the fact that, while it is one sided, Tyson makes absolutely no excuses for the bad things he has done. It is actually refreshing and rare to see public figures be that honest about the screw ups they experience at the top and on the way down. It is also obvious that while not perfect by a long shot Mike Tyson is a lot more complex and eloquent than you would ever imagine just from reading gossip journalists.

A must see!



Canada, 78 minutes
Director Ron Mann
Saturday, May 9/ 9:45 pm/Isabel Bader Theatre

Review by Lindsey Hodgson:

Twist is a nice slice of American pie on the revolutionary dance craze – the twist.  The film opens with a great black and white montage of cool cats twisting their hips and shouting from their lips “Come on baby, let’s do the twist.” Paying homage to Hank Ballard and The Midnighters’s famous twelve-bar blues song.  The song was originally released in 1959 and then covered and popularized by Chubby Checker who reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 on September 19, 1960.

The film has great narrative, interviews and footage.  From Harlem’s Savoy and Apollo clubs to American Bandstand, the documentary takes you back in time.  A time where the twist dance was considered revolutionary and what some religious leaders and politicians deemed as vulgar and “synthetic sex.”  The twist led the way for the free-style dancing that we all now enjoy, a time when the rules were broken and there was no going back!

See it!


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The Yes Men Fix the World

France/U.S.A. 90 minutes.

Director(s): Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonanno

Tuesday, May 5/ 9:15 pm/ Cumberland 3
Thursday, May 7/ 4:45 pm/ The ROM Theatre
Friday, May 8/ 11:45 pm/ Bloor Cinema

Review by Eric Schmitt:

The zany P.R. saboteurs of corporate oppression, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonnano are back! Their latest film showcases the new surplus of world problems and their subsequent stunts, where they capitalize on opportunities by impersonating captains of industry to deliver the message of common sense and concern for humanity over profitability. This film will have you aghast, with glee, at the disasters (Bhopal and Katrina), mentality of profit at all costs, and current economic climate caused by greed. The manner in which The Yes Men are able to effectively infiltrate will leave a smile on your face and wrinkle in your brow wondering how good their lawyer must be, and how easy it really should be for us to make this world a better place.

No ifs ands or buts about it, see it!


21 Below
USA, 2008 91 min
Director: Samantha Buck
Wednesday, May 6/ 9:15 PM/ Cumberland
Friday, May 8/ 4 PM/ The ROM Theatre

Review by Adam Jamieson:

The familial situations and themes presented in ’21 Below’ are tragic and unfortunate, but not altogether uncommon if compared to the average American household. For this reason, the film felt like an elongated version of a reality TV episode that we have all seen one too many times. While perhaps depressing in its commonality, director Samantha Buck provides an intimate foray into the every-day challenges faced by a uniquely fractured middle-class Jewish family from Buffalo, NY. Sharon, now 28, and the eldest of the three daughters, provides passionate and frank first-person narrative as she returns to the family she abandoned at 17 in hopes of reconciling the complex problems currently facing her kin. Interracial relationships, teen pregnancy, infant mortality, family feuding, and matriarchal clout are just a handful of topics covered through following the lives of this family. The viewers are invited to examine their own models of morality and ethics, but no new altruistic theses concerning the general human condition are granted through this documentary.

Skip it!


USA, 113 minutes
Director: Zachary Levy
Friday, May 8 /9:45 pm /The ROM Theatre
Sunday, May 10/ 10:00 pm / Cumberland 2
Slamdance Grand Jury Award Winner – Best Documentary Feature

Review by Jennifer Finjan:

At first, this film appears to be a movie spoof – the blight of yet another poor soul looking to end generations of despair and hopelessness. Filmed in South Brunswick, New Jersey, this film follows the life of Stanley Spleskun aka Stanless Steel – the self-proclaimed strongest man in the world at bending steel and metal. Although he leg-presses trucks, lifts people with his finger, bends pennies and steel pipes with his bare hands, all too often his only audience is children at birthday parties. Filmed over several years, Stan never gives up on his American Dream to make it big and to finally gain the recognition he feels he deserves. Stan’s inability to accept his own limitations and face the hard fact that success doing one’s God-given talent falls to a lucky few, result in a sad existence.

If the film’s goal is to leave you with overwhelming feelings of pity and despair, it succeeds. The countless afflictions and dysfunctions surrounding Stan and his family, is hard to swallow – especially for two hours.

Skip it!

About the author: Mikhail

Publisher. Loves: justice, beauty, passion, revolutionaries, good food and wine, a zany sense of humor and friends and family. Dislikes: cowards, empty promises, winter, most politicians, wasted potential and injustice.