#hotdocs17: Reviews (Day 5) – ‘Mama Colonel’, ‘Mommy Dead and Dearest’, ‘The Genius and the Opera Singer’ and ‘Chasing Coral’

Mama Colonel

Colonel Honorine Munyole is a formidable woman. Heading a specialized military brigade against sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo requires it. After 15 years in Bukavu, she’s transferred to Kisangani, a city 650 kilometres away, and the hometown of award-winning filmmaker Dieudo Hamadi. Seizing upon her arrival as a foil to tell the wider story of women in Congolese society, Hamadi uses an observational style to capture Munyole immediately beset with obstacles. From useless men who can’t spell her name correctly to officers who don’t bother showing up for duty, her resolve is tested. When confronted with unspeakable crimes against women in the Six-Day War, she must first battle townspeople claiming there are false victims before she can offer any help. Resisting the impulse to name the guilty and assign blame in a region ravaged by war, Hamadi allows the fault lines of Congo’s society to speak for themselves. Myrocia Watamaniuk


Hardly an easy watch but a documentary worthy immersing yourself in.  Colonel Honorine Munyole oozes brevity that anyone could be intimated by.  But yet the children in crisis clamour to her with ease the ease of Madonna with child.  The adults are far more fearful – perhaps because they know that she knows their truth.  As you become a participant to deathly disclosures, you may want you to flee the theatre with your hands over your ears. I encourage you to sit with the discomfort.  This is what makes documentaries transformative and it may perhaps inspire change through your own education.

Mommy Dead and Dearest

Gypsy Rose was a severely ill, wheelchair-bound young teen. But she had the support of her loving mother, Dee Dee, who provided all the care she needed. They were the shining example of a family persevering through tough times, and they held the admiration of their small community. In an absolute shocker, Dee Dee is found murdered and Gypsy is nowhere to be seen. The story takes an even bigger turn when Gypsy resurfaces with no need for a wheelchair and immediately becomes a prime suspect in her mother’s murder. From here, the truth begins to unravel, revealing a life’s worth of abuse inflicted upon Gypsy. Her mother essentially imprisoned her within her own body, forcing her daughter’s disabilities. With exclusive access to Gypsy, Mommy Dead and Dearest offers up an unbelievable and outrageous case where every revelation brings to light more dark secrets. Gabor Pertic


HBO provides the best in sensationalized documentaries ripped from the headlines.  Mommy Dead and Dearest will give you all the drama, intrigue, true crime and jaw dropping shock you need.  That aside, the viewer see’s the gritty side of mental health and the role of a mother projecting her own want for attention and control onto her vulnerable daughter.  What follows will make you question, is this a case more about mental health or perhaps retaliation as a result of mental health?

The Genius and the Opera Singer

Recently returned from a nursing home after being declared “incompetent” by the city, 92-year-old Ruth is deemed unable to live independently and must share uneasy quarters with her 55-year-old daughter Jessica. The claustrophobic New York penthouse apartment they’ve occupied for over half a century provides the time-capsule setting for their shouting matches and barbed confrontations. Scored by Ruth and Jessica’s own renditions of Frank Sinatra standards, they go from singing to slinging stinging insults faster than you can skip to the next track. A starkly observed, warts-and-all glimpse into a fraught parent-child relationship whose needle is stuck on an emotional broken record, The Genius and the Opera Singer doesn’t shy away from ugly truths. Hilarious and heart-breaking, director Vanessa Stockley records a raw communication breakdown in session and all the hurt feelings that make it so hard to forgive and forge ahead. Angie Driscoll


A film that may start out a bit quirky and a stack of chuckles will end quite differently once you lean into the true relationship between the subjects.  Timely as we see our own parents aging and perhaps feeling our own discomfort for the trials of our own youth.  Themes of growth, mental health and forgiveness stand out like sore thumbs in this documentary.  Hardly an easy watch as the narrative begins to unravel.  The viewer is left to wonder what role mental health has played in the past between the subjects and their current relationship and situation.

Chasing Coral

Rainforests of the sea, coral reefs are home to millions of species, acting as majestic underwater ecosystems vital to oceanic life—and ultimately, human survival. Despite their biodiversity, they remain vulnerable to coral bleaching, a deadly phenomenon caused by the warmer water temperatures of climate change. In this riveting follow-up to the award-winning glacier erosion epic Chasing Ice, director Jeff Orlowski joins a former ad executive, a self-proclaimed “coral nerd” and distinguished marine biologists and camera engineers as they embark on a breathtaking ocean adventure to capture the progressive degradation of mass bleaching events. Through several cameras skillfully submerged across the world’s tropical oceans, the team arduously battles technical challenges to reveal spectacular, irrefutable time-lapse footage of the catastrophic destruction happening underwater. With its impressive balance of artistry, suspense and urgency, Chasing Coral poignantly reveals the imminent ecological dangers threatening the globe. Shaka Licorish


We all need a good ecological shake up under the veil of a documentary that is beautifully shot and curated.  The beauty within this documentary is best seen on the big screen at Hot Docs.  Watching it on your Netflix account will not do it justice.  That aside, ‘Chasing Coral’ will inspire tears as the viewer is presented with clear evidence that our planet’s coral reefs are deteriorating due to global warming as a result of fossil fuel emissions.  You may start to wonder in thirty years’ time, will we still be alive and wonder why we didn’t pick up our socks earlier?  It may already feel too late.  Being aware in the present and embracing our environment when we know our leaders are not doing their due diligence is detrimental to our health and the health of our future generations.  We are connected to our environment and we have heard environmentalists say for years we need to pay attention – ‘Chasing Coral’ will inspire you to become an activist even before you have left the theatre.

www.hotdocs.ca  #hotdocs17, hot docs

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