HOT DOCS 2011 REVIEWS: The Shorts Edition

My Hot Docs marathon continues this week and I just wanted to make sure that short films got their fair shake as well so I made sure to catch a bunch. Here are some of my thoughts on six of the short films playing at Hot Docs this year.


TWO’S A CROWD

Rating: *****

Directed By: Jim and Tom Isler 

Country: USA

Runtime: 19min 41sec

Synopsis: The key to Allen and Collette’s midlife marriage has been keeping separate apartments, 20 blocks from each other, in New York City. But when financial pressures force Allen to move in with Collette, issues of privacy, independence and bathroom usage call into question the viability of relationships in the modern age. A docu-comedy about romance and rent control.

Review: Two’s a Crowd is the type of film so funny and lovable you wish it were a feature. We meet two people, Allen, 56 and a Libra, he let’s us know, and Collette, 55 with a strong sense of independence, who have seemingly walked out of a Woody Allen film onto the screen.  The film catches this couple who have been married for four years but have never lived together just as they are about to make the move. As the economy came crashing down they realised they would have to move in together for financial reasons and reluctantly brace to live together- in the same space- until death do them part. The most interesting thing for me was how much their individual spaces define them and they just can’t let go of that need for separate togetherness. I don’t want to spoil the film so I’ll just finish by saying that this is honestly one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen at the festival largely due to the unique, quirky and comic couple at the heart of the film. It’s a shame it’s only 20 minutes but worth the price of admission.

Playing with: MATCHMAKING MAYOR


THREE WALLS

Rating: *****

Directed By: Zaheed Mawani | Country: Canada

Runtime: 26 min

Synopsis: Three Walls traces the development of the office cubicle since its inception in the late 1960s to its current status as the dominant form of office furniture in North America. More than a bit of social history, this documentary captures the melancholic absurdity of the modern day office and examines the larger issues surrounding the shifting nature of white-collar work.

Review: Three Walls allows us to understand the nature of the office cubicle and its entrapment of the every day office working individual. The film quotes the inventor of the office cubicle, Bob Propst, “One of the dumbest things you can do is sit in one space and let the world pass you by,” which plays as a thesis statement to the impending film. Every thing after this proves that exact point. The film goes on to interview many people who work in office cubicles as they discuss their spaces intertwined with footage of office cubicles being made and an interview with a representative of Herman Miller which first put cubicles or ‘systems furniture’ on the market and their intentions by doing so (120 degree angled separators- not cubes). While all of this sounds pretty boring the cinematography and the hints at visual humor along with some quirky office workers propel the film to a level you wouldn’t think a doc about office cubicles could go. A must-see for anyone who works in an office.

Playing with: MAIDS & BOSSES


POSTER GIRL

Rating: ****

Directed By: Sara Nesson | Country: USA

Runtime: 38min

Synopsis: Sara Nesson’s Oscar-nominated debut follows Iraq War veteran Robynn Murray’s harrowing battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A one-time poster girl for young women in combat, Murray’s raw emotion devastates and inspires in this impassioned journey towards healing and self-discovery.

Review: Poster Girl follows Robynn Murray’s journey to reclaim her youth while dealing with the pounding after effects of war. She suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a direct result of the horrors she witnessed in Iraq as she vividly describes her time there spliced on screen with photos of the war. We see Robynn on her good days and on her bad. Some days she struggles to contain her rage and others she can barely contain her sadness. On a good day the best she can do is be hopeful that her future will not be as bad as her past. I am glad the film also shows the lack of social assistance she receives due to illness and the struggle to even receive a dime from the military two years after they were done using her as a weapon. I had slight problems with the end being a bit cliche but overall it was a very well told eye opening documentary.

Playing with: MELISSA- MOM AND ME


P.S. YOUR MYSTERY SENDER

Rating: ****

Directed By: Benjamin Wigley | Country: UK

Runtime: 9 min

Synopsis: Sir Paul Smith Jr., the English fashion retailer known for creating classically tailored menswear with a characteristic twist, has an anonymous benefactor. For 20 years he’s received a series of highly imaginative gifts in the mail: unsigned, unwrapped, uncanny yet perfectly charming. Who is responsible?

Review: P.S. Your Mystery Sender focuses on creativity in a most unusual form. Paul Smith has been receiving random objects from a total stranger unknown to him since the early eighties. These gifts range from a volleyball to a wagon to a traffic cone, to an E.T doll. I agree with Paul Smith in that there is something very beautiful about this act of randomness. Each object is sent not in a box but with the stamps thoughtfully placed and the address written directly on the object. Even the colour and placement of the stamps are well thought out. What Paul has ended up with over the years is now a diverse, interesting and oddly beautiful museum of random objects. I have mixed feelings about the pace of the film due to some poetic narration that breaks into scenes and some reenactments of the story but overall some of that works in its favour. This part of the narrator’s hypothesis particularly intrigued me, “Objects live too… they travel like hard souls…” This mystery sender has brought new life to seemingly banal objects and changed the nature of which these objects were originally intended.

Playing with: RESURRECT DEAD: THE MYSTERY OF THE TOYNBEE TILES


UPROOTED

Rating: ***

Directed By: Andrew Moir | Country: Canada

Runtime: 6 min

Synopsis: Tobacco farmer Joe Vanden Elzen was happily tending the land, just like the five generations of farmers who’d come before him. But in 2005, in an effort to curtail the tobacco industry, the Canadian government requested that hundreds of farmers relinquish their crops and say goodbye to their livelihoods forever. Joe was among those who signed the deal and lived to regret it.

Review: Uprooted delves into a family’s regret over taking a government buyout and relinquishing their farm and their livelihood. While I think this documentary is too short and doesn’t give quite enough detail or history on both Joe’s ancestry in farming and why the government was buying out tobacco farms in the first place I think the cinematography saves the day. Almost every shot could be screencapped and hung up on the wall as a beautiful piece of photography showcasing farming life in Canada. The shot inside the tobacco farm is particularly stunning. An astoundingly beautiful film but ultimately lacks depth in some areas.

Playing with: THE CHOCOLATE FARMER


SURPRISEVILLE

Rating: ***1/2

Directed By: Tim Travers Hawkins | Country: UK

Runtime: 9 min

Synopsis: Welcome to Surprise, Arizona, a study in irony. Make yourself at home in a master-planned, gated community of strict standards and rigorously maintained bylaws. Finally, a community for people who think the grass is greener on their side of the fence and the rest of the world should keep out.

Review: Surpriseville is a quiet doc that lets you make your own opinions but also (in my opinion) visually mocks a gated community in Arizona. Surpriseville, Arizona is a cultivated community founded on the idea of community safety. The community is a mish mash of people from all over basically escaping the realities of the real world. Their goals are to keep the community protected, safe, garbage-free, regulated, ‘beautiful’, and ‘enjoyable’. “I’m very happy to sometimes never leave here. We just don’t think about it,” one woman says. These people believe themselves to be among the happiest in the world  but I see them as the saddest people in the world. It’s surprisingly (pun intended) comic actually when one father says that kids get snatched up in vans “quite often” in the real world and his wife ironically states, “Fear is what keeps people from being productive. I mean it’s stifling.” It begs the question who is the one living in fear? Me or her in her gated community. Also just wanted to mention- who created these houses in ‘Paradise’ because they are particularly drab and ugly if I do say so myself. Just sayin’.

Playing with: THE GOOD LIFE


What will you be seeing at Hot Docs this year?

Rose Lagace | @artdepartmental

Posted by Rose Lagacé

Rose Lagacé is a production designer for film & television by day and an emerging filmmaker by night. Rose is also the creator and editor of Art Departmental where she celebrates the art and craft of production design.

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