Monthly Archives: April 2017

#hotdocs17: Reviews (Day 4) – ‘For Ahkeem’, ‘Becoming Who I Was’ and ‘New Chefs On The Block’

For Ahkeem

When 17-year-old Daje winds up in juvenile court and risks expulsion from high school, we quickly learn she’s one of many Black youth caught in the school-to-prison pipeline. Living in St. Louis, Missouri, she faces an uncertain future growing up in a marginalized neighbourhood surrounded by gun violence, police brutality and a biased criminal justice system. In this powerful and intimate coming of age story, a pathway opens when Daje is placed in an alternative high school and love blossoms with classmate Antonio. But just as things seem hopeful, events in Ferguson break open with the shooting of Michael Brown, and Antonio finds himself drawn into the criminal justice system. Daje, discovering she’s pregnant, questions how she’ll protect her new family in a world and system that’s set up for them to fail. Heather Haynes


A timely documentary based on current day USA.   ‘For Ahkeem’ will provide a glimpse into a Missouri youth’s architecture and her struggles to stay afloat in the school system.  Strife with family, a boyfriend, a school system that refuses to give up on her versus the law and the racial uprisings in Ferguson only adds to the temperature on the screen.  This film aches generational injustice, race and class divisions, discrimination and systemic abuse as Obama leaves and Trump enters the picture.

Becoming Who I Was

In northern India’s sparsely populated Ladakh region, an impoverished young boy discovers he is the reincarnation of an esteemed, high-ranking Tibetan monk. Born displaced from his original monastery and disciples in Tibet, Padma Angdu is denied the privilege of his second incarnation as a noble Rinpoche, and banished from a local monastery. Filmed over eight years, as circumstances change and the young Rinpoche enters adolescence while waiting indefinitely for his Tibetan disciples to retrieve him, an incredibly touching bond between the future religious leader and his elderly godfather is intimately depicted. Amid growing doubts and mounting expectations in the community, the two embark on a gruelling, improbable quest across India to return the young Rinpoche to his rightful monastery before it becomes too late. An evocative, longitudinal exploration of culture, tradition and identity, Becoming Who I Was artfully captures the universal truths of unconditional love and sacrifice. Shaka Licorish


All you need is one documentary during a film festival that will make you rethink your whole existence, what you are doing with your life and what you are still yet to achieve.  ‘Becoming Who I Was’ will slaughter you.  The story of Rinpoche heaps with emotional fatigue but also a sense of wonderment.   What could come of you if you turn a different corner just on your way home?  If you work harder?  Play less?  Stay away from over stimulation for a day?  ‘Becoming Who I Was’ is truly inspirational, heartbreaking and a love story for the books.  You will be encouraged to live simply with intent, perhaps breathe a little more with gusto and enhance your life so you can stretch yourself a tad further.  Try to catch the last screening of this film before it leaves town or watch it again.  A Hot Docs 2017:  Best Doc of the Film Festival (hands down)!

New Chefs On The Block

Think starting your own restaurant is easy? Think again. Nearly 30 per cent of new restaurants fail within the first year, and most are risky investments that rely on borrowing from banks and unquestioned commitment from friends and family. Filmmaker Dustin Harrison-Atlas’s debut feature chronicles the roller-coaster ride of two young chefs in Washington, D.C., as they tackle opening their first restaurants. From design to demolition to opening night, Atlas serves up a multi-year portrait of chefs Aaron Silverman of Rose’s Luxury and Frank Linn of Frankly…Pizza! In the digital age where the difference between a two-star and three-star rating can make or break you, New Chefs on the Block is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at two dedicated chefs where one becomes the most famous new restaurant in America and the other redefines his definition of success. Ravi Srinivasan


I had hopes for New Chefs On The Block.  It was a tad overindulgent, a bit all over the place and disjointed.  The subjects and their stories did not ooze intrigue or interest.  Where’s the hootspa?   Indeed, learning of the early days of a start up resto venture is always intriguing.  But how does a director make it different for the viewer without re-examining the financial short fall throughout the documentary?  Perhaps showcasing a different lens into the chef’s journey would have created a deeper meaning for the viewer.  or maybe Chef’s Table has spoiled me?  #hotdocs17, hot docs

#hotdocs17: Reviews (Day 3) – ‘Winnie’, ‘The Lives of Thérèse’ and ‘Libera Nos’


For decades, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s life was under heavy public scrutiny. As her husband Nelson Mandela served out his sentence in prison, Winnie took centre stage before the world as the face of the African National Congress, and met with the challenges of a nation under apartheid in addition to those of a woman in a critical political role. Unflinching in her pursuit of progress and rights for the people of South Africa, history still paints a complex portrait of her, one where many questions linger and heated divisions endure to this day. Through archival footage and intimate interviews from her supporters and detractors, including interviews with Winnie herself, this film attempts to unravel the controversies and get a clearer picture of this singular woman who met the extraordinary challenges of a nation in violent transition head on. Gabor Pertic


A wonderful snapshot into a life that captures the essence of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in her moments of success and torment.  One cannot help but feel empowered and humbled by observing Winnie in her fighting youth and her reflective wisdomed present age.  The documentary is hardly an easy watch but will provide you with a thorough examination of Winnie’s legacy.

The Lives of Thérèse

One of France’s most passionate feminist and LGBT activists, Thérèse Clerc was at once an icon of militancy and a woman you wished was your best friend: ardent, funny, sharp, generous. Approaching the end of her life, she asked director Sébastien Lifshitz to witness her final months so she could confront yet another taboo: aging and death. Looking back over a remarkable evolution, the film celebrates the legacy of a life lived to the fullest. Once a typical 50s housewife, Thérèse came out as a lesbian later in life, and relentlessly fought for the legalization of abortion, gender equality and gay rights. She changed so dramatically that her four children feel they all experienced a different mother. A Queer Palm winner at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, this tender and graceful portrait is also a lesson in empathetic filmmaking, revealing an exceptionally deep bond between author and subject. Charlotte Selb


A quietly reflective film on a topic we all rather avoid – aging.  Think ‘Amour’ but with a raw frayed texture.  This documentary delves into two areas, one’s own aging and the aging of our parents and loved ones.  Hardly an easy watch but this small documentary contender paints bold strokes into mortality and legacy.  If you are an adult child of a senior parent, this film will remind you that you are not alone.  The want to provide the best support, comfort and peace in the last days or years for your loved one and letting go of past transgressions are common threads throughout the film.

Libera Nos

Claims of Satanic possession are increasing around the world. In meeting the demands of those desperately seeking help, the Catholic Church responds with the solution they’ve employed for centuries: exorcisms. A new wave of exorcist priests is being trained, while veteran Sicilian priest Father Cataldo maintains his stern, diligent practice of the controversial method. His weekly mass is filled with those seeking a cure for the demons they feel they have within them. They cling to the power of their faith as the ultimate source of inner peace but whatever the root of their anguish, its evident many are suffering. It’s here that you start to see the true cost of deliverance. As priests attempt to cast Satan back down, the business of exorcism continues to rise. Gabor Pertic


A controversial film but painted in the most respectful of ways – Libera Nos is what it is.  Full of prayer suffocating demonic rage, we the view the faithful’s suffering at Satan’s feet while also feeling the pull towards saving from Sicilian priest Father Cataldo.  There is no ‘Excorcist’ moments of head spinning, but rather a conversation on what role does mental health play with these individuals and where does Satan intervene.  The viewer has an excellent view into the Catholic Church’s stance, course of study and practice into providing a refuge for their faithful.  Perhaps not a film to watch on Sunday?  #hotdocs17, hot docs

Standing in Line at #hotdocs17: Mon Amour from TWG Tea


Mon Amour is an alluring infusion to entice your one true love; this black tea is blended with yellow blossoms and sweet notes of quince, the sacred fruit of the goddess of love, Aphrodite. Beckon your beloved with this magical potion! This has to be favourite tea for the tea season. If you pop a little extra milk in your tea thermos, this tea will take it next level.

#tea @hotdocsfest #vacation #hotdrinks #wellness

#hotdocs17: Reviews (Day 2) – ‘Bee Nation’ and ‘Blurred Lines’

Bee Nation


Kahkewistahaw First Nation Reserve is a world away from Toronto in so many ways, but for Grade 3 student William Kaysaywaysemat III it’s a journey he’s keen to make to represent his school and community. Through the first province-wide First Nations Spelling Bee, William and many others have an opportunity to compete against the nation’s best. There’s one way to spell success, but many ways to define it. The tensions of the competitions are highly compelling cinema, but the heart of the film lies with the families and teachers. They’ve built an empowering support system, challenging policies of inequity and refusing to limit their children’s options. As Chief Kahkewistahaw Community School principal Evan Taypotat says, “Never judge a person ’til you’ve walked a mile in their moccasins.” Bee Nation highlights kids who have dedicated themselves to their education in an inspiring story that encourages us all to be our best selves. Alexander Rogalski




‘Bee Nation’ earned a well deserved opening night contender slot.  Brimming with emotion, truth and multiple narratives reminding Canadians that we need to elevate our First Nations peoples. Government of Canada, take notice.


Blurred Lines: Inside the Art World


Just days after the 2008 financial meltdown, British artist Damien Hirst’s record-breaking Sotheby’s auction made headlines worldwide. As banks and stocks collapsed, Hirst cashed out 223 pieces of work with a smirk. Asking the reasonable market price of contemporary art is akin to asking what makes good art. It’s worth what someone’s willing to pay, and for the general public, that amount may appear completely ridiculous. But if you’re fortunate enough to be among the 1 per cent and you treat your latest Jeff Koons acquisition as an investment, you’re going to make sure it retains its value. From artists to galleries, auction houses to collectors, each player has their motives in this game of spectacle and speculation. Director Barry Avrich paints a vivid picture of an economy that runs contrary to any rules and regulations while laying bare a system that has converted canvases into commodities. Alexander Rogalski




Just when you thought the art world was free from mass consumption and overindulgence – nope, it’s just as tainted with greed and debauchery along with the rest of the world.  Beautifully shot and providing tremendous insight into museums and galleries you may have visited on holiday.  The behind the scenes pot shots of art procurement, commerce and auction popularity contests abound.  #hotdocs17, hot docs


Standing in Line at #hotdocs17: Darjeeling Princess from TWG Tea


It’s the night before Hot Docs 2017 – it’s time to prep my tea thermos with a gorgeous blend to keep me warm and toasty in the theatre.

Fine, first flush Darjeeling Princess black teas are delightfully blended with ripe orchard fruits to evoke a moment of beauty and sweetness. A jewel of a blend that will carry you away to legendary kingdoms.

 #tea @hotdocsfest #vacation #hotdrinks #wellness 

National Film Board of Canada (NFB) Slays in #hotdocs17 Documentary Programming


Powerful, life-changing stories are at the heart of this year’s lineup of National Film Board of Canada (NFB) films at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, with four world premieres of feature documentaries in the festival’s Canadian Spectrum program, as well as a wealth of retrospective screenings of classic NFB works.

Attiya Khan makes her directorial debut alongside co-director Lawrence Jackman with A Better Man (Intervention Productions/NFB), premiering April 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the Isabel Bader Theatre. Twenty-two years ago, 18-year-old Attiya feared for her life―fleeing her ex-boyfriend Steve, who’d been abusing her on a daily basis. Now, all these years later, Attiya wanted to know how he remembers their relationship and whether he’s willing to take responsibility for his actions. Their emotionally raw first meeting, filmed by Attiya with Steve’s consent, is the starting point for a fresh and nuanced look at how healing can happen when men take responsibility for their abuse. A Better Man is produced by Christine Kleckner for Intervention Productions and Justine Pimlott for the NFB’s Ontario Studio, based in Toronto. The executive producers for Intervention Productions are Sarah Polley, Kathy Avrich-Johnson and Janice Dawe. The NFB executive producer for A Better Man is Anita Lee. Jane Jankovic is the executive producer for TVO.

Premiering April 30 at 9:30 p.m. at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2, writer/director Marie ClementsThe Road Forward is an electrifying musical documentary that connects a pivotal moment in Canada’s civil rights history—the beginnings of Indian Nationalism in the 1930s—with First Nations activism today. Interviews and musical sequences describe how a tiny movement, the Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood, grew to become a successful voice for change across the country, as this feature documentary seamlessly links past and present through superb story-songs, blues, rock and traditional beats. The Road Forward is produced and executive produced by Shirley Vercruysse for the NFB’s BC & Yukon Studio in Vancouver.



Premiering May 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the Isabel Bader Theatre, Charles Officers Unarmed Verses presents a thoughtful and vivid portrait of a community facing imposed relocation, taking a look at marginalized Toronto Community Housing residents in the city’s north-east end. At the centre of the story is a remarkably astute and luminous 12-year-old black girl, whose poignant observations about life, the soul, and the power of art give voice to those rarely heard in society. Unarmed Verses is produced by Lea Marin and executive produced by Anita Lee for the NFB’s Ontario Studio.



Directed by Tasha Hubbard and written by Tasha Hubbard and Betty Ann Adam, Birth of a Family premieres May 2 at 9:00 p.m. at Scotiabank Theatre 3. The film follows three sisters and a brother, adopted as infants into separate families across North America, as they meet together for the first time. Separated as part of Canada’s infamous Sixties Scoop, in which 20,000 Indigenous children were removed from their families and placed into foster care or adopted into white homes, the four are now all in middle age, with no shared memories. Together, they piece together their history, deepen their connections and take the first steps in building their family. Birth of a Family is produced by Bonnie Thompson and executive produced by David Christensen for the NFB’s North West Studio in Edmonton.



Complete screening schedule of world-premiere films


A Better Man

April 30 6:30 p.m. Isabel Bader Theatre

May 1 1:15 p.m. Isabel Bader Theatre

May 6 4:00 p.m. Scotiabank Theatre, Cinema 3


The Road Forward

April 30 9:30 p.m. TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

May 1 12:45 p.m. Scotiabank Theatre, Cinema 3

May 6 8:45 p.m. Scotiabank Theatre, Cinema 7


Unarmed Verses

May 1 6:30 p.m. Isabel Bader Theatre

May 2 3:00 p.m. Scotiabank Theatre, Cinema 4

May 5 10:00 a.m. Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema (Docs for Schools screening)

May 6 3:15 p.m. TIFF Bell Lightbox 1


Birth of a Family

May 2 9:00 p.m. Scotiabank Theatre, Cinema 3

May 3 3:00 p.m. Scotiabank Theatre, Cinema 4

May 6 6:00 p.m. Innis Town Hall

A #hotdocs17 Let’s Dig Deeper View: Manic


Manic chronicles filmmaker Kalina Bertin’s struggle to make sense of the mental illness wreaking havoc over her family’s household. Convinced he holds a piece to the puzzle, she sets out to find the truth about their father, a man known alternately as a cult leader, a scam artist, a prophet, and a father of 15 children around the world. Manic takes the viewer on an intimate journey through the legacy of mental illness.

What’s unique about the film is that she travels around the world and speaks to friends and lovers from his various lives; she has documentation of the past through his extensive home videos, including videos of her family when Kalina was a child and, additionally, she is in the family home filming when her siblings have their episodes. It really makes you feel like you are unraveling a mystery alongside Kalina while living the angst that is omnipresent in her family.

Kalina herself is such a great conversation. At 27 years of age, she has been working on this film since she was only 23. She is open, honest and has a clarity toward the subjects and the subject matter that allows her to talk about her family and their mental illness in a very honest and calm manner.

There are so many topics to discuss here.

Obviously, any discussion of mental health helps to de-mystify it and in turn gives anyone who may be suffering a better chance to get help if there are less prejudices against them.

How was she able to investigate all of these elements of her father’s life, while maintaining a certain distance from the events? Also, how was she able to talk about her siblings’ bipolar disorder with them, on camera, in both emotional and non-emotional ways? Since the camera gave her distance from them, did it help her to deal with their problems more easily?

From a strictly entertainment point of view, the film has all the great elements of conflict, fear, intense characters, beautiful locales and the deeper you get into it, the more you want to get to the end of the film to see what happens to the main subjects.

Kalina, the filmmaker is young, female and from Montreal. This year Hot Docs has announced that 48% of their filmmakers are female. That’s quite an interesting commitment. There is great filmmaking talent coming out of Montreal: Dolan, Villeneuve, Vallée, 2 Oscars for Short Films, etc.