I love discovering new films at festivals and testing just how memorable a film becomes amongst so many more. So a month after Hot Docs, which films have stayed with me?
Planet of Snail
This IDFA winner by Korean director Seungjun Yi is a beautiful love story of a deaf-blind poet and his wife. He is extremely tall and child-like; she is very short with a serious face. She uses finger braille to communicate with him. Her fingers were like butterflies liberating him from his silence. The film employs exceptional observational cinematography to capture those intimate moments and the way they share and experience the world. I was mesmerised and immersed in their world.
Sundance award-winning Danish director Mads Brügger goes to extremes in order to expose how easily diplomatic accreditation can be bought in Africa for purposes of illegal trading. From setting up backroom deals with corrupt consuls and brokers to creating his own business in the Central African Republic, he takes us on an extraordinary journey of corruption and deception. There is a huge irony to this film: to be able to expose how power truly works, the director acts as the main character, and the film turns into a well-crafted black comedy that gets exponentially more dangerous the deeper he goes. We know from the beginning that he is not real – but the situation and the dangers are very real indeed. I would not normally go for such acting in documentary, but the ability to navigate between danger and comedy by making the audience an accomplice allowed the director to create various perceptions of reality within one film.
Sweden had a very strong presence this year at Hot Docs, and the following are among my favourite films.Read more
Hot Docs has an amazing and magical pull as a documentary festival that brings together filmmakers from all around the world – but more importantly, year after year, Hot Docs develops new ways of increasing their local audience. This year, they offered free screenings to students and anyone above 60, creating the most challenging, yet welcoming audience one could dream of. Toronto as a city is also exceptional, being littered with single-screen arthouse cinemas. Almost every neighbourhood has a their own non-commercial screen, making it one of the best in North America. Whether living in the East or West, Midtown, or down by Lake Ontario, Toronto cinephiles with their insatiable appetite for classic, foreign and challenging cinema are never likely to go hungry.
And now the Bloor cinema is dedicated to documentary alone, can you believe this! Owned and operated by the Hot Docs festival, the theatre has been restored to its former glory, retaining its original 1913 architecture and its art-deco charm, but equipped with a great screen and the latest acoustic panelling to further enhance the viewing experience.Read more
Reports from the production of this year's Bridging the Gap short documentaries, part 4
For a long time, skippers in Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire could not find locals to work on their fishing vessels. That was the reality until Filipino fishermen started coming to town. Now they crew most of the boats, but they have to deal with the vast sea and the enormous distance that separate them from their families.
First entry: 26th of March
It's a bit hard to write here, with all this movement and my life jacket on (I do actually have it on) but I'll try...
First thing: we're alive, and still on board the Polaris… We left the North Sea, and we're spending most of the time in the Atlantic, some 100 miles west of Shetland... The weather was amazing the first day and we managed to film alright... But unfortunately, seasickness has started to hit the film crew...
[rise of tension; music] It's been a bit tough, not knowing whether we would manage to shoot this film or not, feeling every wave in your stomach; but the ocean brought us good news today...
[music ends; sound of rice boiling in a pot] When I woke up in what was seemingly morning, Julian was having rice in the galley... He smiled and I noticed straight away that he had a much better face… The sea and the weather have been very nice today and we have been able to film for the whole day... It's been fantastic to be working together aboard the Polaris... We laughed, teased each other and enjoyed the scenery… It was like a director/DoP honeymoon... Really unusual… The swell seems like it may be gentle tomorrow, too, so hopefully we'll manage to film some more stuff...
Julian and Chico keeping safe at the galleyRead more
Reports from the production of this year's Bridging the Gap short documentaries, part 3
The Isle of Islay, Scotland. Human population: 3,457. Sheep population: 20,000 (or thereabouts). Wallaby population: 1 (deceased)?
We have come to Islay with one intention – to solve the mystery of the wallaby.
A wallaby is a small kangaroo more often associated with the dusty plains of Australia than the Hebridean Isles of Scotland. In 2004, one such creature showed up at the side of the road. When it was found it was dead, it was suspected to have been flattened by a car. The police soon buried it to keep their unsolved crime rate down.
How it got to the island and how it died remain till this day, a mystery. But Islay is a small community in which everybody knows everybody and secrets don’t
stay secrets for too long…
The search goes on: Alistair giving a calf something it’s not going to likeRead more
Roxana Vilk is producer of the POETS IN PROTEST series made by SDI Productions for Al Jazeera English. She's also the director of the episode on Yehia Jaber: Laughter is My Exit.
There is something very enticing about filming poets. Here are these characters, reflective and questioning by nature, living through a truly historic time of change in the Middle East.
The idea for the documentary series Poets of Protest came after I had been commissioned by Reel Festivals to make three short films during their poetry festival in Beirut in 2011. I was curious to see the changes in the Middle East through their eyes and their poetry. There is also an added creative challenge: How do you bring their poems to life on screen? Poems are an art form in their own right, and film is a whole new artistic language. I wanted to explore where these two art forms could meet and create something new together. And I was keen to have an equal number of female and male poets, three men and three women. I proposed the idea to Al Jazeera English during the Edinburgh Pitch hosted by the Scottish Documentary Institute, and they liked the idea!
Yehia Jaber is a well loved and very funny Lebanese poet. Back in June 2011 when I first met him, it was his laughter that immediately drew me in: it is warm, infectious, and can’t help but gather you up in its path. With his shock of white hair and a cigarette constantly perched precariously on his lip, he is everything you imagine a poet to be, questioning society and politics around him, and spot on with his sharp, funny observations of life. I immediately warm to his poems, which are both incredibly funny and deeply emotional. I knew in my gut we had to make a film together.Read more
Reports from the production of this year's Bridging the Gap short documentaries, part 2
I've spent the past three months hanging around on wasteland in Cranhill, Glasgow. Cranhill is perhaps best known for spawning Scotland's most successful rock brothers Angus and Malcolm Young who formed AC/DC and, least we forget, another famous son of this fine scheme – Junior Campbell from the Sixties' beat group Marmalade, but perhaps best known as the man who penned the iconic theme tune to 'Thomas the Tank Engine'.
Rab and Michael keeping their eyes in the sky, hoping for a capture.
Prior to my film endevaour, Cranhill represented something different to me. When driving from Glasgow to Edinburgh of an evening, you pass three tower blocks on your right as you leave Glasgow. These blocks with their semi-circle reflectively-glazed peaks were the first blocks in the city to incorporate what can only be described as a visual bungle. I am talking about the city authorities' attempts to brighten up our city's night skyline by adding insipid lighting decorations to every housing tower block over 15 metres high. These particular blocks with their ill-conceived illumination have always felt like they mark your exit or your return into Glasgow, and for that reason, I find them a reassuring landmark which has become a focal point in my short film.
Over the past three months, I've spent days hanging around directly in front of these tower blocks, spectating and documenting a century-and-half old, little-known Scottish sport called doo fleein' – or pigeon flying, if you're not familiar with the colloquial terms.
Reports from the production of this year's Bridging the Gap short documentaries, part 1
Chinese takeaway is one of the most popular carry-out foods in the UK. However, working as a takeaway driver might not be the most delightful job. Through the eyes of a takeaway driver, we are not only able to look at the world beyond the takeaway counter, a mysterious catering community that provides our familiar late-night snacks, but also at the city we thought we knew everything about.
Here are some pictures from the shoot for this film:
DoP David Lee (left) and director Yu-Hsueh Lin (right) enjoying a dinner break at the takeaway, the driver Jerry watching telly and not hungry at all.Read more
It’s a bar in Ramallah called Beit Aneesh. Apparently named after an old lady that lived there. A laid-back place with posters from the history of the struggle of the Palestinian people. We had just completed a documentary workshop in Ramallah, and Tue Steen Müller, who has helped so many emerging filmmakers from all over the world, suggested anyone who likes joins us for a beer or coffee at eight.
Few have come. Most have long, unpredictable journeys through the occupied territories where they will undoubtedly be stopped several times.
Khaled Jarrar has turned up though – just arrived from France where his work as a radical conceptual artist has become celebrated. We’re so pleased to see him – a filmmaker of huge promise as well as an artist. Tue has just seen the rough cut of his first film which is about the wall. He shows us a scene with him with a tiny chisel, chipping little bits of the wall off. Tue suggests he end his new film like this. It’s a futile act of defiance, made funny by its impotence.Read more
"We can grow a professional cyclist from stem cells," claim scientists – backed up by filmmakers.
Scientists in Edinburgh today announced that they would theoretically be able to grow professional athletes from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) in the lab. They are now urging the Scottish Government to grant them permission to go ahead with this experiment, the first of its kind in the world.Read more
Our arrival in Tripoli was an anti-climax, all the clocks had stopped. There was no life at the airport, even the duty-free shop was closed, the shelves empty. A driver from the British Council had patiently been waiting for our delayed flight. We would soon learn that time is of no consequence in Libya... But this whole workshop was going to be a race against time: delivering basic film skills, engaging our 13 participants with creative documentary, showing them clips of doc gems so they open up to a new form of storytelling – beyond their Aljazeera experience – and produce a short film suitable for international festivals. Yes, I agree, we were asking for the impossible – but hey, we are filmmakers!Read more