Christopher Wong's debut documentary -- about a principal that decides to start a school in the South Bronx -- earned him a Grand Prize at the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival.
Alexander Lee follows four people's journeys to Shaolin in his Special Jury Prize-winning documentary, The Real Shaolin.
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This year's Hot Docs Documentary Festival coverage includes reviews of Action Boys, Burma VJ, Love in India, and Intangible Asset Number 82.
Thumbing its nose at a recession, Toronto's 16th Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival (April 30-May 10, 2009) reported one for its books: a record-breaking attendance after presenting more than 170 films from 39 countries across 10 program sections. While the modest line-up of North America's largest documentary festival generally tends to not favor titles from Asia, this year was a marquee one for South Korea, with Hot Docs devoting its annual "Made in…" section to the country's filmmaking.
Yet, the small selection of five films in this national focus -- Jung Byung-gil's Action Boys (2008), Choi Jung-min's Black Badge (2008), Yi Seung-jun's Children of God (2009), Yoon Dochyun's Farmer's Song (2009), and Mun Jeong-hyun's Grandmother's Flower (2007) -- was barely representative of South Korea's documentary range. Nevertheless, more titles from or about Korea could be found elsewhere in the line-up: Emma Franz's Intangible Asset Number 82 (2008), Ulrike Ottinger's The Korean Wedding Chest (2009), Lee Chung-ryoul's Old Partner (2008), and Mads Brügger's The Red Chapel (2009).
Here's a look back at the high, low and moderate points in the year of Hot Docs' "personal best":
dir: Jung Byung-gil, South Korea 2008
Likely to frustrate martial arts nerds who only chase after money shots, stuntman-turned-filmmaker Jung Byung-gil's look at the weathered lives of stuntmen working in the South Korean film and television industry is revealing, just for how thankless this profession is. Here, Jung logs the career trajectories of his stuntman school alumni -- all aspirants when they stepped in the door, but just as many branded as amateurs for failing to impress. For those unlucky enough to make the cut, the road ahead is long, and those trailing it need to take care not to trip on the litter of broken bones -- or the occasional corpse.
Burma VJ: Reporting From a Closed Country
dir: Anders Østergaard, Denmark 2008
When Yangon students, activists and monks staged a rare and protracted insurgency in late 2007 to protest the military's manipulation of commodity prices, their rebellion was slowly but surely crushed by a brutal counterinsurgency. With Myanmar barring foreign media, a phantom team of reporters obliged the task of documenting the carnage and smuggling the evidence out for global broadcast. A rare look at the range of highly furtive citizen journalism during these tense months, Anders Østergaard edits a chronicle of events from the amassed and anonymously authored footage. Although the effect is intense, witnessing these brave souls risking their lives relays little satisfaction.
dir: Louie Psihoyos, USA 2009
An unsurprising audience award winner at both Sundance and Hot Docs this year, this second-rate exposé about dolphin hunting in Taiji, Japan mostly betrays the untamed arrogance of dilettante animal activists. Appealing to the bourgeois soft spot for dolphins, The Cove's featured pro-dolphin sheriffs believe that the more anthropomorphic a mammal is, the less it deserves to be food. But the amount of cash this cabal has blown on their extended Japanese vacation could have been better spent aiding humans suffering worse fates than dolphins. Sushi socialists shopping for a cause should first rid the worms crawling in their backyards before terrorizing the ocean.
dir: Yoav Shamir, Israel 2009
Having never experienced anti-Semitism, Israeli (but of course) filmmaker, Yoav Shamir decides to travel across the Western world to see what the fuss is about. Although offering an incisive look at ethnic tensions at various local levels, Defamation is more remarkable for introducing some of the major US faces and firebrand ideologies battling it out on the Zionist front—notably, Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League (both shown nursing deep persecution complexes), and embattled academic, Norman Finklestein, a modern-day persecuted Jew (by Jews). In prodding this fatigued subject with his funny bone, Shamir's project recalls Canadian Jamie Kastner's similarly mordant Kike Like Me (2007).
Intangible Asset Number 82
dir: Emma Franz, Australia/Japan 2008
Moved by the rhythmic parallels in the music of noted Korean shaman, Kim Seok-chul, Aussie jazz drummer Simon Barker travels to South Korea to seek an audience with the master. But meeting one's favorite celebrity is never easy, and as Barker's guide meanwhile trains him in the art, one suspects that this process is in fact a subtle test to determine if he's some hack fanboy. Music may be something of a universal language, but understanding the praxis behind making different kinds of music certainly isn't. The film's title refers to the South Korean government's official designation of Kim's value to the nation.
dir: Hubert Davis, Canada 2009)
When We Were Boys
dir: Sarah Goodman, Canada 2009
Separated by more than just alphabetical order in the Canadian Spectrum program, the festival's only two films dealing with the experiences of male adolescence in Toronto would have doubled their respective relevancies had they been programmed as a doublebill. In When We Were Boys, Goodman's sober observation of the quotidian rituals in an all-boys prep school hones in on a pair of teenagers as they navigate the deceptive waters of young adulthood. Although without an overt political agenda, her boys -- white, sheltered and privileged -- are nevertheless shown being fitted with expansive wings so that they may soar high above the ivory towers of elite society. On the other hand, Davis' similar (but needlessly romantic) chronicle in Invisible City focuses on two teenagers from a housing project whose lives have already been classified by the criminal system. His duo -- black, brutalized and disadvantaged -- is shown defenceless against an elaborate social structure designed to trample them under the colossal mass of these same ivory towers. A serendipitous presence at Hot Docs, perhaps the most revealing thing about these two films is their inadvertent portrayal of North American racial politics as a world of black and white.
Love in India
dir: Q, India/Germany 2009
Convinced that contemporary India's sexually conservative mores are at odds with its historic reputation for being a land proud of lust and love, Kolkata filmmaker, Q and his girlfriend embark on a trip across India to investigate this perceived incongruity. While the modern nation state's control of the sexuality of its citizens is hardly endemic to India, Q's case study is interesting for a glimpse at society's double standards toward variables like gender and sexuality -- particularly in a unique cultural setting like India's. Although blandly titled, the breadth of the film's random sampling of talking heads more than makes up for things.
dir: Alexis Spraic, USA 2009
A tabloid-style account of the mysterious disappearance of Larry Hillblom, the co-founder of logistics giant DHL, Alexis Spraic's pulp investigation is sensational for all the wrong reasons. A renegade businessman with a weakness for Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander virgins, Hillblom's unflattering legacy was exposed when various women and their young children began filing to claim his billions following news of his presumed death in a plane crash near Saipan. Thwarting their efforts were a flock of crooks already in line: Hillblom's opportunistic business associates and other shady individuals eager to do anything to grab a share of Hillblom's mammoth pie.
The Yes Men Fix The World
dir: Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, France/USA 2009
Armed with the same mission to 'correct' big businesses who favor profits over humanitarian concerns, culture jammers Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno return with this self-directed update on their creative pranks -- a sequel of sorts to the 2003 documentary, The Yes Men. Among the corporate swine roasted this time round: American chemical company, Dow, who has yet to take responsibility for a fatal gas leak at their factory in Bhopal, India in 1984. (In their haste to announce Dow's landmark 'apology,' the British Broadcasting Corporation also takes an innovative hammering for failing to recognize that the devil is in the details.)
Date Posted: 6/19/2009