Sunday, 26 April 2015

HOT DOCS 2015: A DIFFERENT DRUMMER: CELEBRATING ECCENTRICS - Review By Greg Klymkiw ***1/2


A Different Drummer: Celebrating Eccentrics (2014)
Dir. John Zaritzky

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Marching to the beat of one's own drum is not without merit and the title alone was enough to pique my curiosity, but then, my heart sank. During the first few minutes of A Different Drummer: Celebrating Eccentrics, I felt primed to hate it. Why wouldn't I? I detest both whimsy and standard TV-style docs - both of which seem overbearingly present within the picture's opening.

We get the digestible bite-sized thesis in which we learn how a ten-year study revealed that eccentrics are healthier, happier and indeed, manage to live longer than everybody else. We then get the de rigueur snippets of introductory interviews from what will be our wild, wooly and wacky subjects - a lot of which are all set to a frightfully jaunty musical score.

Ugh was dancing across my cerebellum and I almost flushed the sucker down the toilet bowl of unmentionables in order to slap on a different doc, but then, as if by magic, genuinely delightful movie magic began to snuggle up to me and the next ninety-or-so minutes yielded one of the happiest, funniest and moving little pictures I'd seen in awhile.

Zaritzky clearly loves his subjects, but not to the film's detriment. He settles in on each glorious nutcase (a man who lives in caves, a zany inventor, a duck lady, a "joke" politician, a man who celebrates a "useless" American president and one real lollapalooza I won't spoil for you here) with sensitivity and good humour. He's never laughing at them and neither will you. Some you'll laugh with and others you might even need to shed a few droplets of ocular moisture.

At the end of the day, it has been said that I'm eccentric. As such, I luxuriated in Zaritzky's sweet, lovely ode to madness of the most glorious kind and I'd be delighted to host any one of these people in my own home.

The thesis is proven, the whimsy in the opening a minor aberration and one of the more delightful feel-good documentaries made in recent years won me over completely.

Oh, and the best news: I look forward to a long, healthy and happy life.

The Film Corner Rating: ***½ Three-and-a-half Stars

A Different Drummer is making its Toronto Premiere at the 2015 edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. Visit the Hot Docs website for dates, showtimes and tickets by clicking HERE.

HOT DOCS 2015: HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD - Review By Greg Klymkiw ****


How To Change The World (2015)
Dir. Jerry Rothwell

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Preamble: A few things about Robert (Bob) Hunter that contribute, for me personally, to his legendary perch in Canadian history.
"If we wait for the meek to inherit the earth, there won't be anything left to inherit" - Robert Hunter
Robert (Bob) Hunter was many things. Mostly, I just always thought he was cool. And well, you'd kind of have to be that to have accomplished so much in so short a time (he died of cancer at age 63).

As a dyed-in-the-wool Winnipegger, I especially thought it was cool, given Robert Hunter's deep concern for Canada's Aboriginal people, that he was born in the City of St. Boniface which eventually amalgamated with all the wonky neighbourhood city-states along the Red, Assiniboine and Seine Rivers of Manitoba to become - you guessed it, Winnipeg.

All this rich land, which not only became the city we all know and hate/love (plus all points north-south-east-and-west) historically belonged to the Metis Nation, but was torn from their possession by the Canadian Government's land transfer scrip system which was virtually useless except to rich white guys who knew how to push it through the complicated bureaucracy to actually cash it in. The vast majority of uprooted Metis were starving, so they sold their scrip to the rich white guys, for pennies on the dollar.

Even more interesting to me was that Hunter's birthplace in St. Boniface ended up being the one community which contributed the most to Manitoba becoming (even now) Canada's largest French-speaking region outside of Quebec. Why? Many of the displaced Metis were also targets for violence because of the 1870 Louis Riel wars against the corrupt rich white guys of Winnipeg and the eastern power-brokers who held a vicelike grip upon the government of Canada. This resulted in a huge number of Metis forcing their Native heritage underground and bringing their French heritage to the fore and living in - you guessed it, St. Boniface.

His tenure as a columnist at the Winnipeg Tribune and Vancouver Sun was before my time. I didn't even become aware of him as a journalist until I moved to Toronto in the early 90s and began watching CITY-TV (when it actually had a real personality thanks to its eventually-departed head Moses Znaimer). Here, I began to enjoy the amazingly cool, almost Hunter S. Thompson-like "environmental reporter and commentator. I was soon compelled to begin reading his books wherein I discovered that he was Bob Hunter, the heart, soul and public face of the environmental group Greenpeace.

This, for me, was virtually cooler-than-cool and when he passed away in 2005, I was genuinely saddened that we'd lost him. Thankfully, this film now exists. It's not a biographical documentary of Robert (Bob) Hunter, but in many ways, it might as well be.



And now, the Film Review proper:

There were many things about Hunter I didn't know after all these years and I'm grateful to director Jerry Rothwell for his almost-epic-like motion picture documentary How To Change The World which presents a side of this great Canadian that was not only fresh to my already-admiring eyes, but kind of jettisons Hunter into some supreme inter-stellar glowing orb of coolness.

Rothwell poured over hundreds of 16mm rolls of film that had been canned and unopened since the 1970s. Seeing, pretty much before his very eyes, the visual history of the Greenpeace organization, Rothwell consulted with Hunter's colleagues, foes, conducting fresh interviews with all of them, blending the result of Herculean research and expertly selected and edited footage from the Greenpeace Archives. (The fact that Hunter was so brilliantly media-savvy pretty much accounts for this wealth of material even existing.)

What we get is the story of a respected counter-culture columnist who aligns himself with a motley assortment of friends and colleagues (most of them of the 60s/70s "hippie" persuasion) to head out on a boat in an attempt to stop nuclear testing on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean and then, with the same bunch, to go tearing after Russian sailors butchering whales up and down the coast of the Pacific Northwest. The campaigns continued and somewhere along the way, the movement of Greenpeace was formed.

With both the existing archival footage and the new interviews, Rothwell has painted an indelible portrait - not only of the key events in the movement, but the individuals themselves - as disparate a cast of characters you could ever imagine. What makes them cool is how different they are as people, but as such, they each bring individual qualities to the movement that had a symbiotic relationship - for a time. As is the won't of anything or anyone growing beyond initial beginnings, egos as well as legitimate desires/directions begin to rear their ugly heads and minor cracks in the "vessel" become tectonic plates, yielding high-Richter-scale fractures.


In addition to the dazzling filmmaking, I was swept away onto the high seas and weed-clouded back rooms of Greenpeace thanks to the perfectly selected and abundant readings of Bob Hunter's exceptional reads. Embodying Hunter is the magnificent character actor Barry Pepper who delivers us the man's words with the kind of emotion which goes so far beyond "narration". Pepper captures the soul of Hunter impeccably. It's a brilliant performance. (If anyone does a biopic of Hunter, Pepper is the MAN!!!

The first two-thirds of the movie is compulsive viewing. The first third, focusing upon seafaring derring-do is nail-bitingly thrilling. With Bob Hunter at the helm of some totally crazy-ass dangerous antics - like some mad, dope-smoking, Sterling-Hayden lookalike - Rothwell creates a veritable action picture on the high seas with an obsessive Captain Ahab targeting not whales, but the hunters of whales. (So much of the film is charged with a great selection of period hit songs and a gorgeous original score by Lesley Barber also.)

Who'd have thought environmental activism could be as thrilling as Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin "Master and Commander" adventures? The middle section begins focusing on the leaks in the organizational battleship that became Greenpeace. Mixing in more derring-do with internal conflicts is easily as thrilling as the intrigue-elements of O'Brian's high-seas swashbucklers.

The final third of the film tends to fall by the wayside a touch. It's not Rothwell's doing, as that of - gasp - real life. There's a great deal of sadness and acrimony in this section of the film and part of me wishes that life didn't throw the kind of curve-balls that surprise your favourite batter at the plate into striking out. This is ultimately a minor quibble though, in light of the sheer force, power and entertainment value of the picture. What epics don't suffer from a sag or three? At least this one eventually builds to a note of well deserved and earned high notes and the movie finally packs a major one-two emotional punch. When this happens, tears might well be flowing amongst many and the lapses of real life will be fleeting, especially when you exit the cinema feeling, "Goddamn! That was one HELL of a good show!"

The Film Corner Rating: **** Four Stars

How To Change The World is making its Canadian Premiere at the 2015 edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. Visit the Hot Docs website for dates, showtimes and tickets by clicking HERE.

HOT DOCS 2015: SURVIVORS ROWE - Review By Greg Klymkiw *****

This is one of purportedly hundreds of children
viciously & mercilessly sexually assaulted by
former Anglican priest & Boy Scout leader Ralph Rowe.
Survivors Rowe (2015)
Dir. Daniel Roher
Prd. Peter O'Brian

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I doubt you're going to see a better short film at Hot Docs 2015 than Survivors Rowe. In fact, I doubt you're going to see a better short film all year than Survivors Rowe. There's something heroic about this picture - it's terrific filmmaking to be sure, but its subjects, all grown men who share their most deeply personal reminiscences of childhood are to be exalted to the highest degree imaginable.

The other heroic element, which cannot be ignored, is the commitment of the short's Producer Peter O'Brian to have offered his expertise, passion and artistry to director Daniel Roher's fine work. O'Brian is a legend. He's a genuinely heroic figure for having produced so many of Canada's greatest motion pictures including, but not limited to The Grey Fox with the late-greats Richard Farnsworth and Jackie Burroughs in one of the great westerns of all time - period - and One Magic Christmas with the astonishing Harry Dean Stanton as one of the most evocative (and dark) guardian angels in film history in (yes) one of the great films about Christmas - period!

What is not heroic is Canada itself and the country's insidiously grotesque and hateful history with respect to our aboriginal nations, a horrifying element of which is so artfully and powerfully exposed in Roher's short film. It is one of a multitude of inhuman(e) assaults upon Canada's Native People, one that began with colonialism and frankly, continues to this very day, especially in light of the hatred and disregard expressed by Canada's Chancellor (or is it Prime Minister?) Steven Harper, the leader of our country's Nazi party (or is it, the Conservative party?).

This is Canada's Prime Minister.
He and his government of intolerance
continue to besmirch the flag with their
continued refusal to acknowledge the ever-
prolonged exploitation of Canada's Native People
and the heinous crimes perpetrated against them.
Colonialism, Hatred, Human Rights Violations
and Apartheid will continue under this
government's "leadership".
What's reflected in Survivors Rowe is at once, infuriating and on another level, infused with a sense of both healing and forgiveness - indicative of the fearlessness of its subjects and the skill with which Roher renders his film. Skillfully blending archival footage with knock-you-flat-on-your-back interviews, we're introduced to several young men - notably Joshua Frog, John Fox and Ralph Winter of Northern Ontario's Anishinaabe nation. They tell us their stories of living on isolated reservations, a strange combination of genuinely idyllic surroundings, but within the trappings of Canada's own system of apartheid. There are fond, memories, to be sure: living in the wilderness, a special bond with the natural world, skating on icy waterways, genuine play not rooted in the mind-destroying contemporary world of digital gaming and, at least initially, the dashingly dramatic arrival of Ralph Rowe, the rugged man's man who serves as a pilot, Boy Scout leader and Anglican priest.

Rowe is not only a charismatic, almost mythic figure, but he's actually taken the time to learn Native languages and dialects to converse with elders, adults his own age and kids. What nobody knows, what nobody could ever imagine, is that Ralph Rowe is a pedophile. The on-camera testaments delivered by the film's key subjects reveal some of the most harrowing, horrific and just plain malevolent acts perpetrated by this man of the wilderness, this man of God, this monster.

One of the most extraordinary things director Daniel Roher achieves here as a filmmaker is how he fashions any great narrative's need for an antagonist. On the surface, this figure is clearly Ralph Rowe, but as the film progresses, Rowe's external position as a villain, or rather, as an antagonistic force flows into the pain, sorrow, self-loathing and self-harm faced by the victims of his crimes. Then, even more extraordinarily, the antagonistic force of Rowe, his victims' suffering and the metamorphosis of this into the aforementioned process of healing, gives way to an even greater antagonist - a seemingly perpetual cycle of abuse which, is ultimately societal and must be actively addressed far more vigorously and openly than it is.

Ralph Rowe most likely sexually assaulted over 500 Native children and was, no doubt, responsible for a huge swath of suicides amongst both children and adults (not to mention residual effects upon subsequent generations). Unfortunately, the Canadian judicial system has only tried and convicted him for what amounts to a mere handful of sex crimes. He served a meagre five years in jail, was essentially handed a deal by the Crown to leave him be no matter how many accusations continue to surface and he lives a quiet, peaceful life in Surrey, British Columbia. Neither the Anglican Church nor the Boy Scouts have ever officially apologized to the victims and yet, those victims who did not commit suicide have endured decades and, if truth be told, lifetimes of living Hell.

On a purely aesthetic level, what Roher achieves here is a film that serves as a document of the suffering, torment and misery Ralph Rowe caused, but there is a strangely magical and poetic structure to the work which takes us from idyll to horror and finally and astoundingly, but perhaps necessarily, to forgiveness.

It's impossible to shake the impact this short film has. In fact, it has the sickening shock of a merciless cold-cock, blended with an elegiac, profoundly moving sense of loss and leavened with a kind of grace that not only reflects the deep humanity of the film's subjects, but shines a light of clemency upon a monster.

What the film cannot forgive, nor can any of us (I hope and pray), is the deep-seeded hatred and racism of colonialism which continues in Canada to this very day. If an Anglican priest and Boy Scout leader viciously sexually assaulted over 500 white children, would he still be living freely in society with the legal implication that he'll never serve more incarceration for his crimes, no matter how many continue to surface?

The answer is obvious.

This is Ralph RoweHe is a convicted pedophile living peacefully
and freely in Surrey, British Columbia. It might be helpful to have MORE recent photographs circulated.
One final note about the heroism of the film's producer Peter O'Brian: Read his moving article in the Toronto Globe and Mail about the sexual assaults he suffered as a child and eventually came to terms with as an adult. Read it HERE.

And whatever you do, don't miss Survivors Rowe.

The Film Corner Rating: ***** Five Stars

Survivors Rowe is making its World Premiere at the 2015 edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. Visit the Hot Docs website for dates, showtimes and tickets by clicking HERE.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

HOT DOCS 2015: THE AMINA PROFILE - Review By Greg Klymkiw ****

The Amina Profile (2015)
Dir. Sophie Deraspe

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Set against the turbulent backdrop of war-and-revolution in contemporary Syria we meet one hot French-Canadian babe in Montreal (Sandra Bagaria) and one hot Syrian-American babe in Damascus (Amina Arraf).

They meet online. They're young. They're in love.

They're lesbians.

Okay. That's it. Go see the movie.

Review over.


Oh, that's not fair. Here's a bit more to, uh, chew on:

Yesiree-bob, they're lesbians and they're totally into each other, wholly - in mind (what's some nice sapphic eroticism without a few healthy dollops of intellectual discourse) and in, oh yeah, baby, BODY. And let me tell ya', quicker than you can say "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir)?", l'action de yum yum gets going and it's guaranteed to be hot and heavy.

'Nuff said.

No? Okay, check this out:

The rub, so to speak, is that they're separated by continents, culture and physical proximity, so they must create virtual worlds via text messaging and avatars to become one. Yes, it's cybersex, but no matter. This is a movie, so, via the film's director, we have mega-potential for lots of imagined, recreated hot caresses, tongue action, rug cleaning and soft, lithe, supple flesh against flesh to demonstrate for us, the unbridled passion unfurling in their respective loins - I mean, minds. Better yet, as the film progresses, they can well imagine what the real fireworks are going to be like when they finally meet.

So can we.

Yowza! Yowza! Yowza! Do I really need to keep writing?

I do? Well, okay. Don't mind if I do. Just thought you'd want to dispense with reading this review and just go see the movie (with a handy raincoat to place over your lap for any discrete digital manipulations you might wish to indulge in as the picture unspools).

So, where was I? Oh yes, so our two femmes are tres exotique and maybe, just maybe, the virtual will become a reality. There's danger, though. Sandra lives a fairly normal, comfy life in La Belle Province whilst Amina is surrounded by violence and political unrest during the Syrian uprising as its being quashed by the ruling patriarchy. Oh, and lest we forget, those of the LGBT persuasion are on the top of most Syrians' extermination lists which ups the suspense ante when brave Amina launches a blog entitled "A Gay Girl in Damascus" - a delicious blend of news, politics and ground zero reportage of the Syrian conflicts. The blog goes through the roof - journalists and news agencies from all over the world look to the "Gay Girl" for their news, until, the worst happens.

Amina tells Sandra that the secret police are on to her. It's scary stuff. She aspires to be a novelist and her blog posts and emails to her cyber-love are plenty evocative. She walks the streets of Damascus, attends rallies and protests, and at times, finds herself alone in the shadows of tiny labyrinthian walkways. All the while, she's convinced she's being followed. (The filmmaker delivers a whole lot of hazy dramatic recreations for us - a total bonus). Eventually, Amina informs Sandra that she needs to go further underground and that their communications will be sporadic and brief.

Then, nothing.

Amina completely disappears. The world is watching. Where is the Gay Girl in Damascus? Word travels through various underground and cyber channels that Amina has been kidnapped by the Syrian authorities and languishes in prison. Sandra is desperate. She launches an intense campaign to find and rescue Amina. With the help of Western activists and even American diplomatic channels (Amina is, after all, a dual American citizen), a tense, multilevelled investigation is underway. Mystery upon mystery begins to exponentially pile up and soon Sandra (and by extension, we, the audience) are ripped away like a Harlequin Romance heroine's bodice from a sex-drenched love story and plunged into a superbly complex thriller that keeps us wanting to know more.

And the more we (and Sandra know), the more we become afraid.

Very afraid.

And guess what? We're only a third of the way into the film. There's a lot more thrills and intrigue to enjoy.

AND it's all true.

Aside from the deftly directed dramatic recreations, skillfully edited with a myriad of other characters/subjects and interviews, The Amina Profile is never less than jangling, compulsive viewing. Where it goes, you'll never know until you see it. Once you do see it, as the suspenseful pieces of the puzzle slowly, creepily and shockingly fall into place, you'll find yourself registering surprise at every turn of every corner. You'll be confronted with the deep, dark mysteries of international intrigue amidst violent revolution as well as the strange, dark corners of cyberspace.

The picture's a corker. In fact, The Amina Profile might be one of the most vital contemporary films to examine how loneliness coupled with activism yields a Knossos-like journey to a shocking reality of what all of us face in parallel worlds - those in which we question and alternately, those we do not.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** Four Stars

The Amina Profile will have its Toronto Premiere at HOT DOCS 2015. For schedule and tickets, visit the Hot Docs website HERE.

Friday, 24 April 2015

HOT DOCS 2015: ARAYA - Review By Greg Klymkiw *****


Araya (1959)
Dir. Margot Benacerraf

Review By Greg Klymkiw

If the idea of watching sheer pain and utter drudgery in one of the most desolate corners of the earth sounds like your idea of a must-skip, think again. Araya is one of the most moving, powerful and poetic documentaries ever made.

In the late 50s, filmmaker Margot Benacerraf took her cameras to the furthest reaches of a forlorn peninsula in Venezuela to capture a day in the lives of several families who make their living as workers in a natural salt "farm". From early morning, through a blistering day and even deep into the night, we get a profoundly uplifting look at pure survival. These are people who live to work and they work harder than most of us couldn't even imagine.


Every element of their existence is work - hard, brutal, physical labour under the unrelenting rays of a sun that never ceases to beat down upon them. We experience the backbreaking toil of culling the salt, breaking it down, forming it into pyramidical shaped bricks, hauling it to get ready for shipping and then, doing it all over again. The only respite for some includes re-stitching fishing nets, casting them into the ocean and harvesting the food they need for sustenance.

We also get detailed insight into the domestic chores on the home front. This is all accompanied by haunting, astonishing black and white cinematography, moving poetic narration (as information packed as it is sweetly lilting) and heart rending music (plus meticulously captured natural sounds).

These are men, women and children. Nobody here is exempt from a life of hardship - a life born out of slavery and colonialism and continuing to this day under corporate slavery.

This is potent stuff. It might be even more valuable to us now than when the film was first released.


Acclaimed by some of the world's greatest directors (everyone from Jean Renoir to Steven Soderbergh), Araya disappeared off the radar for over half a century until it's revival and restoration. Now, it can be see in all its glory on both the big screen and at home.


Araya has been made available through the restoration efforts of the legendary Dennis Doros and Amy Heller at Milestone Films. For tickets, visit the Hot Docs 2015 website HERE. The film is also available on gorgeous home video transfers vie Milestone.

HOT DOCS 2015 - GRASS: A NATION'S BATTLE FOR LIFE ***** Review By Greg Klymkiw


Grass: A Nation's Battle For Survival (1925)
Dir. Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack

Review By Greg Klymkiw

You won't see many greater documentaries in your life than this one.

When I taught filmmaking at "Uncle" Norman Jewison's Canadian Film Centre, I'd often chide my charges with their pathetic lack of life experience and how it related (or rather, not) to their desire to make movies.

"Strap these fuckers on for size," I'd bark before relaying a brief biographical snapshot of two genuine pioneers in the art of filmed documentary and dramatic cinema. "They don't make filmmakers like Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack anymore and any pathetic desires you harbour to make movies about your petty bourgeois lives in the suburbs of whatever cozy enclave you were coddled in are total shit compared to this."

You see, by their early 20s, these two young men lived lives most artists could only dream about - that is, if those purported contemporary "filmmakers" actually had the wherewithal to conjure up the sort of life experience Cooper and Schoedsack gained before making some of the greatest motion pictures of all time.


Schoedsack ran away from his comfy home in Iowa (Council Bluffs, no less) as a teenager and worked as a surveyor before getting a job as a cameraman for the legendary Mack Sennett studios. He enlisted in the signal corps and served on the bloodiest fields of battle as a cameraman in France during World War I. He did the same thing in Ukraine and helped refugees when Russia and Poland duked it out for the rich fertile breadbasket of Eastern Europe and, adding more cherries to his ice cream sundae of life experience, he did the same damn thing during the war twixt Turkey and Greece.

Merian C. Cooper also fled his idyllic American nest, enrolling in the naval academy, resigning in disgust over his belief in the superiority of air power over sea power in battle, joined the national guard and embarked on the mission to chase down Pancho Villa in Mexico, enlisted in the airforce during World War I, flew DH-4 bombers, got shot down by the Hun, suffered such horrible burns to his arms that most people would just give it up, but after serving time in one of the Kaiser's POW camps, he continued as a pilot with the Red Cross in France, then joined up with the Polish airforce to kick Russian ass, served in a Russkie POW camp, escaped the clutches of the evil commie hordes and was given the highest military honours by the Polish government.

How d'ya like them apples, losers?

Schoedsack and Cooper, both born in 1893, met in Vienna and became fast friends and partners and formed a motion picture production company which not only made groundbreaking documentaries, but as a team were responsible for one of the GREATEST motion pictures of ALL TIME, 1933's King (FUCKING) Kong.


Grass: A Nation's Battle For Survival was made in 1925. Schoedsack and Cooper teamed up with the legendary (and gorgeous) spy and journalist Marguerite Harrison to capture one of the most astounding documentary films by ANY standards. Following a Bakhtiari in Iran (then Persia), the trio stunningly captured the migration of 50,000 people and 500,000 animals to better pasture over a 20,000 foot high ICY mountain range (the tribe was mostly barefoot) and the dangerous rapids of a massive river.


You will see images in this film that are not only gorgeous, but imbued with all the properties which can be rightly described as a "terrible beauty". These are real people, real domestic farm animals, really living, really dying, really suffering and really braving every danger in order to continue actually living.

They don't make 'em like this anymore. The movies, that is, AND the movie makers.


Grass: A Nation's Battle For Survival has been restored by the legendary team of Dennis Doros and Amy Heller of Milestone Films (winners of one of the highest accolades from the New York Film Critics Circle for their Shirley Clarke restorations as well as their important life's work). The movie has probably not looked as gorgeous since its release 80 years ago and it features a stirring new Iranian musical score.

This is an absolute must-see. You can do so at Hot Docs 2015 and also via home entertainment release from Milestone Films. Try to see it on a big screen if you can. For showtimes and tickets, visit the Hot Docs website HERE.


Thursday, 23 April 2015

Greg Klymkiw presents his HOT DOCS 2015 HOT PICKS #4: HAIDA GWAII - ON THE EDGE OF THE WORLD ****, FRACTURED LAND ***, CHAMELEON ***, MILK ***

Greg Klymkiw presents his HOT DOCS 2015 HOT PICKS #4

For the next fourteen days I will only review movies I liked, loved or that totally blew me away during the 2015 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto, Canada. Life is short. I won't bother reviewing movies that were godawful, mediocre or just plain okay. Note my picks, mark your calendars and save some precious hours, days and weeks of your life on planet Earth. Instead, spend it travelling the world via one of cinema's most vital genres.


Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World (2015)
Dir. Charles Wilkinson
Prd. Tina Schliessler

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Some of the most important environmental documentaries being made in the world include the work of Canadian director Charles Wilkinson who knocked us on our collective butts with his powerful energy-consumption doc Peace Out and his potent, strangely uplifting Oil Sands Karaoke, that focused upon the face of humanity amidst the horrific environmental exploitation in the Alberta Tar Sands. His new film, Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World, comprises the third of what feels like an unofficial trilogy (which one hopes will continue well beyond its current trinity).

On one hand, the current picture essentially supersedes Wilkinson's previous work with the film's delicate blend of cold, hard facts which, we should all be actively concerned about and, on the other paw, a very gentle (deceptively so) tone poem to one of the greatest natural treasures of the world. Officially known as the Queen Charlotte islands, this gorgeous archipelago in northern British Columbia (BC) comprises about 150 islands and is home to a varied and important population of flora and fauna - vital to the area itself, but also to the world at large.

The Haida Gwaii, which literally translates as "Islands of the Haida people" was traditionally the domain of this great aboriginal nation who prospered here for over 10,000 years until Colonialism decimated the population through both disease and, of course, Canada's uniquely polite form of genocide (both literal and cultural, the latter of which has always been the big stick Whitey calls "assimilation").

Treaties continue to be broken and ignored under the aegis of Canada's belief that all lands, even if they belong to Aboriginal Nations, are Crown Lands and as such, can be dealt with in any cavalier fashion the government chooses - dispensing, willy-nilly, all manner of dispensation to corporate rapists of the environment. One of Canada's more appalling back-handed acknowledgments of Aboriginal Rights in the Haida Gwaii has been to convert a huge chunk of land not destroyed by clearcut logging and other crimes against the environment into a massive national park. Yes, this protects the land (supposedly in perpetuity) but the park is essentially "owned" and administered by the "Crown" as opposed to those who really own it, the Haida Nation. It's the Government of Canada's God-like assumption that with one hand it giveth and with the other taketh, all in the schizophrenic snow job to make it seem like they respect the First Nations (and by extension, the environment), when in reality, it's to feather the nests of Big Money (and by extension, the on-the-take pockets of politicians).

What we continue to learn in Wilkinson's film is alarming. Canada's Federal Nazi Party (aka The Conservatives), in cahoots with corporate oil interests and the Fascist Party of BC (aka The Liberal Party of BC, aka Really Not Much Different Than The Conservatives Party) are all threatening to upset the natural balance of life in this paradise on Earth with the current desire to plough through the Tar Sands seaway to Asia. The powers-that-be want us to believe it's all about jobs (BC Premier Christy Lemire's spurious excuse for all her dubious decisions), but in reality, the short-term gain of this smokescreen will potentially wreak havoc that can only yield long-term environmental pain.

Wilkinson's film cannily places the anger of the Haida Nation over Canada's flagrant violation of Aboriginal Rights within the context of a people who are not only trying to live as traditionally as possible, but in many cases are working towards a reclamation of traditional cultural values which were under Colonial attack for so long. Wilkinson introduces us to Haida elders, activists and even the youth who all provide us with an important perspective - that the people and land are one; they're inextricably linked to the degree that any violation of this connection is not only an infringement upon the Haida, but by extension, all Canadians and frankly, the world. In fairness, Whitey is not only represented as the faceless corporate/governmental evil; Wilkinson also introduces us to those of the pale-skinned persuasion who are equal partners with the Haida in protesting the pillage of this paradise.

The poetic qualities of the film are what ultimately create a love and appreciation for what is both sacred and in need of protection. We are lulled, not into complacency, but the sheer magic these islands provide and the greatest impetus for Canadians and the world at large to reject the illegal, immoral use of these lands to ultimately benefit the very few.

Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World might well provide the most persuasive aesthetic argument to save these islands at all costs by placing us into frame of mind which is ultimately the next best thing to actually being there. By the end of the film, we're consumed with deep emotional ties to the land, but most importantly, we're firmly placed in the corner of those who possess the best chance to save our world, those indigenous First Nations who have been able to thrive in spite of the deadly roadblocks placed in front of their right to live freely in their own cultural and environmental milieu.

The Haida are fighters, but their greatest weapon is the land itself. Hats off to Wilkinson for crafting a film which walks tall, yet softly and carries the big stick of our ultimate salvation, the environment itself and, of course, its people, the Haida.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** 4 Stars

Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World enjoys its World Premier at Hot Docs 2015. For tickets and info, visit the festival's website by clicking HERE.


Fractured Land (2015)
Dir. Damien Gillis, Fiona Rayher

Review By Greg Klymkiw

It's the stuff good movies are made of; WITNESS: a young, handsome, rugged, Mohawk-pated Aboriginal man of the Dene Nation in northeastern British Columbia with a penchant for hunting, trapping and expert tomahawk-throwing is also an impeccably groomed "monkey-suited" lawyer entering his articling year with a desire to focus on Native land rights and environmental issues. He's split between the town and the country - a kind of Clark-Kent-Superman figure who is already on the cusp of shaking up the world of evil corporate and government exploitation.

Oh, and he has a physical "defect", a cleft-palate which is the result of environmental poisoning in his family's gene pool. It's a defect which, like all great movie heroes, causes him considerable and painful rumination upon his childhood and how this "defect" has affected him, but also how it empowers him. Joaquin Phoenix is a natural for the role if it's ever turned into a feature length drama (hopefully directed by Paul Thomas Anderson) or an HBO limited series.

For now, though, it's ALL documentary and ALL real. The aforementioned young man, one Caleb Behn, is the primary subject of Fractured Land by co-directors Damien Gillis and Fiona Rayher and they've deftly focused their interviewing techniques and cameras to capture the kind of complex, charismatic character that screenwriters and directors toil to bring to life on both the page and screen of feature narrative. They allow us to follow Behn in both the wilderness and the city, buffeting his compelling tale with a solid variety of interview subjects - friends, family, locals, elders, big oil honchos and, among others, fellow land claims and environmental activists.

We're privy to the cold, hard facts of the environmental devastation that has already taken place in northeastern BC as well as what's happening now and will, indeed, happen in the future if something is not done. It's a given that the right side of the war will be populated by many Native Canadians, but the film's thematic subtext reveals the overwhelming sense of fractures - not just in the fracked/clearcut and formerly pristine land, but in those Aboriginal people who are direct beneficiaries of the jobs on offer and the economic benefits of environmental exploitation. Even Caleb Behn knows that his opportunities to receive a post secondary education are rooted in the employment his own parents benefitted from.

BC's Liberal Premier, the sickening Christy Lemire with her continually smiling oh-so perky, chirpy cheerleader stance of "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs" is currently leading the way for more environmental abuses and playing right into the hands of Canada's psycho Nazi Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Government and Big Money also have deep pockets to fight any challenges to their blatant theft from Canada's First Nations.

Worse yet is the fact - once again - that any benefits of pillaging, raping and murdering the environment are strictly ephemeral. The future, however, could be very bleak for everyone and this is where Caleb Behn could make a difference. In the midst of his gruelling work as an articling lawyer/student, he is a much-sought-after public speaker on environmental/Aboriginal issues and he simply can't seem to say "No" to any invitation for him to publicly denounce the evils of fracking, clear cutting and all other manner of "legal" criminal actions against the Earth's potential for survival.

A very powerful sequence has Caleb visiting New Zealand and meeting with Maori leaders who discuss and then show him first-hand the devastating effects of tracking upon their land. It's potent and empowering, but also deeply moving. Caleb seems even more energized to fight the good fight in Canada.

It's a cool movie that way. Caleb Behn is going to become one of the country's important leaders (if not the world's) and here we get a ground-floor glimpse at the beginnings of what will be a stellar ascension. Looking forward to sequels will, in fact, be looking forward to Planet Earth's health and longevity with Behn leading the charge.

I can hardly wait.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** Three Stars

Fractured Land enjoys its World Premier at Hot Docs 2015. For tickets and info, visit the festival's website by clicking HERE.


Chameleon (2014)
Dir. Ryan Mullins

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Anas Aremeyaw Anas not only seeks to fight crime, he wants to expose it publicly, shame it and then create enough evidence for the evil-doers to be tossed into prison for a good long time. Anas will go to seemingly absurd lengths to "get his man". He's a master of disguise - so much so, that most people, even some who are close to him, don't even really know what he looks like.

Chameleon, indeed!

Oh, and he's not a cop.

Anas Aremeyaw Anas is Ghana's most popular tabloid investigative journalist. Working closely with the police, Anas pursues those who have eluded incarceration. He's not only fighting crime, he's getting the story first-hand for his readers.

The film entertainingly follows Anas at every step of the way during his detailed investigation into a notorious human trafficking ring. We get to see him behind the scenes, his collaboration with trusted members of law enforcement and even his speech (in disguise, of course) to a whole whack of admiring kids (which provides a ton of great tidbits about his past successes).

The movie offers a lovely appetizer case; an abominably deviant abortionist coerces women into having sex with him before he performs the fetal extraction. He claims that his highly skilled prodigious schwance-pronging will open up a woman's passageways in a natural fashion prior to the doc diving in and ripping the blob of living flesh from the abortion-seeker. The guy is a total dirt-bag and seeing him taken out is very pleasurable, but the lead-up to his capture is also nail-bitingly suspenseful due to Anas' "bait", a colleague placed in clear danger to help make the bust.

Though the film provides a tiny bit of tut-tutting about journalistic ethics, this (thankfully) takes a decided backseat to Anas' derring-do. The human trafficking case is especially suspenseful, but director Ryan Mullins captures the bust's aftermath superbly; giving us a very real, telling and melancholy exposure to the conflicted feelings of the traffickers' victims.

This is yet another doc that has feature film drama and/or dramatic TV series potential splashed all over it. I don't think this is a bad thing at all. It'll be fun to see if Chameleon becomes a franchise tentpole.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** Three Stars

Chameleon will have its World Premiere at HOT DOCS 2015. For schedule and tickets, visit the Hot Docs website HERE.


Milk (2015)
Dir. Noemi Weis

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I have to admit that Milk was a huge eye-opener for this fella and might well have a similar effect upon millions upon millions of people. On the surface, the film seems like a fairly standard, straightforward look at motherhood - most notably in the area of breast-feeding. As the film progresses, it is so much more. The picture touches upon areas like midwifery versus traditional medical birth methods, but in many ways this is the springboard needed to jettison us into the shocking and sickening misuse and abuse of women's bodies and by extension, those of their newborn babies.

Once again, corporate interests are promoting extremely unhealthy practises all in the name of profits. What I personally learned was the extent to which the commercial baby food industry held sway over women worldwide - especially in the area of promoting milk supplements instead of good, old fashioned breast milk. Frankly, I just assumed all babies were breast-fed except in rare instances where milk supplements were the only route to take.

Unfortunately the marketing and lobby of corporate pigs is so strong, that kids are being fed powdery packets of poison and chemicals because safety and convenience play such a huge part in the selling of said supplements. One of the more appalling examples of the lengths to which infant formula manufacturers will go to are presented by their purported altruism wherein they donate their product in far-flung reaches of the planet which have been decimated by natural disasters or war. Mothers and their babies get hooked on the crap, and then, the companies having not provided enough donations of formula, force families to pay for more of it in the supermarkets. Some families are so destitute they seek alternate forms of powdered food which end up being much cheaper.

And you know what? As the jingle goes, "Coffee Mate, tastes great, Coffee Mate makes your cup of coffee taste GREAT!"

The last time I checked, synthetic coffee cream powders are not food, but are fed to babies anyway. The marketing of said product does little to dispel the notion that it can be used successfully.

Milk goes well beyond its TV doc roots and delivers a powerful, insightful look at this detestable exploitation and does so across five continents. The scope is wide; as it should be in the case of children and what they're (force) fed during their earliest years.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** Three Stars

Milk will have its World Premiere at HOT DOCS 2015. For schedule and tickets, visit the Hot Docs website HERE.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Greg Klymkiw presents his HOT DOCS 2015 HOT PICKS #3: GRASS: A NATION'S BATTLE FOR SURVIVAL ***** and ARAYA *****

Greg Klymkiw presents his HOT DOCS 2015 HOT PICKS #3

For the next fourteen days I will only review movies I liked, loved or that totally blew me away during the 2015 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto, Canada. Life is short. I won't bother reviewing movies that were godawful, mediocre or just plain okay. Note my picks, mark your calendars and save some precious hours, days and weeks of your life on planet Earth. Instead, spend it travelling the world via one of cinema's most vital genres.


Grass: A Nation's Battle For Survival (1925)
Dir. Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack

Review By Greg Klymkiw

You won't see many greater documentaries in your life than this one.

When I taught filmmaking at "Uncle" Norman Jewison's Canadian Film Centre, I'd often chide my charges with their pathetic lack of life experience and how it related (or rather, not) to their desire to make movies.

"Strap these fuckers on for size," I'd bark before relaying a brief biographical snapshot of two genuine pioneers in the art of filmed documentary and dramatic cinema. "They don't make filmmakers like Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack anymore and any pathetic desires you harbour to make movies about your petty bourgeois lives in the suburbs of whatever cozy enclave you were coddled in are total shit compared to this."

You see, by their early 20s, these two young men lived lives most artists could only dream about - that is, if those purported contemporary "filmmakers" actually had the wherewithal to conjure up the sort of life experience Cooper and Schoedsack gained before making some of the greatest motion pictures of all time.


Schoedsack ran away from his comfy home in Iowa (Council Bluffs, no less) as a teenager and worked as a surveyor before getting a job as a cameraman for the legendary Mack Sennett studios. He enlisted in the signal corps and served on the bloodiest fields of battle as a cameraman in France during World War I. He did the same thing in Ukraine and helped refugees when Russia and Poland duked it out for the rich fertile breadbasket of Eastern Europe and, adding more cherries to his ice cream sundae of life experience, he did the same damn thing during the war twixt Turkey and Greece.

Merian C. Cooper also fled his idyllic American nest, enrolling in the naval academy, resigning in disgust over his belief in the superiority of air power over sea power in battle, joined the national guard and embarked on the mission to chase down Pancho Villa in Mexico, enlisted in the airforce during World War I, flew DH-4 bombers, got shot down by the Hun, suffered such horrible burns to his arms that most people would just give it up, but after serving time in one of the Kaiser's POW camps, he continued as a pilot with the Red Cross in France, then joined up with the Polish airforce to kick Russian ass, served in a Russkie POW camp, escaped the clutches of the evil commie hordes and was given the highest military honours by the Polish government.

How d'ya like them apples, losers?

Schoedsack and Cooper, both born in 1893, met in Vienna and became fast friends and partners and formed a motion picture production company which not only made groundbreaking documentaries, but as a team were responsible for one of the GREATEST motion pictures of ALL TIME, 1933's King (FUCKING) Kong.


Grass: A Nation's Battle For Survival was made in 1925. Schoedsack and Cooper teamed up with the legendary (and gorgeous) spy and journalist Marguerite Harrison to capture one of the most astounding documentary films by ANY standards. Following a Bakhtiari in Iran (then Persia), the trio stunningly captured the migration of 50,000 people and 500,000 animals to better pasture over a 20,000 foot high ICY mountain range (the tribe was mostly barefoot) and the dangerous rapids of a massive river.


You will see images in this film that are not only gorgeous, but imbued with all the properties which can be rightly described as a "terrible beauty". These are real people, real domestic farm animals, really living, really dying, really suffering and really braving every danger in order to continue actually living.

They don't make 'em like this anymore. The movies, that is, AND the movie makers.


Grass: A Nation's Battle For Survival has been restored by the legendary team of Dennis Doros and Amy Heller of Milestone Films (winners of one of the highest accolades from the New York Film Critics Circle for their Shirley Clarke restorations as well as their important life's work). The movie has probably not looked as gorgeous since its release 80 years ago and it features a stirring new Iranian musical score.

This is an absolute must-see. You can do so at Hot Docs 2015 and also via home entertainment release from Milestone Films. Try to see it on a big screen if you can. For showtimes and tickets, visit the Hot Docs website HERE.



Araya (1959)
Dir. Margot Benacerraf

Review By Greg Klymkiw

If the idea of watching sheer pain and utter drudgery in one of the most desolate corners of the earth sounds like your idea of a must-skip, think again. Araya is one of the most moving, powerful and poetic documentaries ever made.

In the late 50s, filmmaker Margot Benacerraf took her cameras to the furthest reaches of a forlorn peninsula in Venezuela to capture a day in the lives of several families who make their living as workers in a natural salt "farm". From early morning, through a blistering day and even deep into the night, we get a profoundly uplifting look at pure survival. These are people who live to work and they work harder than most of us couldn't even imagine.


Every element of their existence is work - hard, brutal, physical labour under the unrelenting rays of a sun that never ceases to beat down upon them. We experience the backbreaking toil of culling the salt, breaking it down, forming it into pyramidical shaped bricks, hauling it to get ready for shipping and then, doing it all over again. The only respite for some includes re-stitching fishing nets, casting them into the ocean and harvesting the food they need for sustenance.

We also get detailed insight into the domestic chores on the home front. This is all accompanied by haunting, astonishing black and white cinematography, moving poetic narration (as information packed as it is sweetly lilting) and heart rending music (plus meticulously captured natural sounds).

These are men, women and children. Nobody here is exempt from a life of hardship - a life born out of slavery and colonialism and continuing to this day under corporate slavery.

This is potent stuff. It might be even more valuable to us now than when the film was first released.


Acclaimed by some of the world's greatest directors (everyone from Jean Renoir to Steven Soderbergh), Araya disappeared off the radar for over half a century until its revival and restoration. Now, it can be see in all its glory on both the big screen and at home.


Araya has been made available through the restoration efforts of the legendary Dennis Doros and Amy Heller at Milestone Films. For tickets, visit the Hot Docs 2015 website HERE. The film is also available on gorgeous home video transfers vie Milestone.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Greg Klymkiw' presents his HOT DOCS 2015 HOT PICKS #2: THE AMINA PROFILE **** and ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD ***

Greg Klymkiw presents his HOT DOCS 2015 HOT PICKS #2

For the next fourteen days I will only review movies I liked, loved or that totally blew me away during the 2015 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto, Canada. Life is short. I won't bother reviewing movies that were godawful, mediocre or just plain okay. Note my picks, mark your calendars and save some precious hours, days and weeks of your life on planet Earth. Instead, spend it travelling the world via one of cinema's most vital genres.

The Amina Profile (2015)
Dir. Sophie Deraspe

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Set against the turbulent backdrop of war-and-revolution in contemporary Syria we meet one hot French-Canadian babe in Montreal (Sandra Bagaria) and one hot Syrian-American babe in Damascus (Amina Arraf).

They meet online. They're young. They're in love.

They're lesbians.

Okay. That's it. Go see the movie.

Review over.


Oh, that's not fair. Here's a bit more to, uh, chew on:

Yesiree-bob, they're lesbians and they're totally into each other, wholly - in mind (what's some nice sapphic eroticism without a few healthy dollops of intellectual discourse) and in, oh yeah, baby, BODY. And let me tell ya', quicker than you can say "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir)?", l'action de yum yum gets going and it's guaranteed to be hot and heavy.

'Nuff said.

No? Okay, check this out:

The rub, so to speak, is that they're separated by continents, culture and physical proximity, so they must create virtual worlds via text messaging and avatars to become one. Yes, it's cybersex, but no matter. This is a movie, so, via the film's director, we have mega-potential for lots of imagined, recreated hot caresses, tongue action, rug cleaning and soft, lithe, supple flesh against flesh to demonstrate for us, the unbridled passion unfurling in their respective loins - I mean, minds. Better yet, as the film progresses, they can well imagine what the real fireworks are going to be like when they finally meet.

So can we.

Yowza! Yowza! Yowza! Do I really need to keep writing?

I do? Well, okay. Don't mind if I do. Just thought you'd want to dispense with reading this review and just go see the movie (with a handy raincoat to place over your lap for any discrete digital manipulations you might wish to indulge in as the picture unspools).

So, where was I? Oh yes, so our two femmes are tres exotique and maybe, just maybe, the virtual will become a reality. There's danger, though. Sandra lives a fairly normal, comfy life in La Belle Province whilst Amina is surrounded by violence and political unrest during the Syrian uprising as its being quashed by the ruling patriarchy. Oh, and lest we forget, those of the LGBT persuasion are on the top of most Syrians' extermination lists which ups the suspense ante when brave Amina launches a blog entitled "A Gay Girl in Damascus" - a delicious blend of news, politics and ground zero reportage of the Syrian conflicts. The blog goes through the roof - journalists and news agencies from all over the world look to the "Gay Girl" for their news, until, the worst happens.

Amina tells Sandra that the secret police are on to her. It's scary stuff. She aspires to be a novelist and her blog posts and emails to her cyber-love are plenty evocative. She walks the streets of Damascus, attends rallies and protests, and at times, finds herself alone in the shadows of tiny labyrinthian walkways. All the while, she's convinced she's being followed. (The filmmaker delivers a whole lot of hazy dramatic recreations for us - a total bonus). Eventually, Amina informs Sandra that she needs to go further underground and that their communications will be sporadic and brief.

Then, nothing.

Amina completely disappears. The world is watching. Where is the Gay Girl in Damascus? Word travels through various underground and cyber channels that Amina has been kidnapped by the Syrian authorities and languishes in prison. Sandra is desperate. She launches an intense campaign to find and rescue Amina. With the help of Western activists and even American diplomatic channels (Amina is, after all, a dual American citizen), a tense, multilevelled investigation is underway. Mystery upon mystery begins to exponentially pile up and soon Sandra (and by extension, we, the audience) are ripped away like a Harlequin Romance heroine's bodice from a sex-drenched love story and plunged into a superbly complex thriller that keeps us wanting to know more.

And the more we (and Sandra know), the more we become afraid.

Very afraid.

And guess what? We're only a third of the way into the film. There's a lot more thrills and intrigue to enjoy.

AND it's all true.

Aside from the deftly directed dramatic recreations, skillfully edited with a myriad of other characters/subjects and interviews, The Amina Profile is never less than jangling, compulsive viewing. Where it goes, you'll never know until you see it. Once you do see it, as the suspenseful pieces of the puzzle slowly, creepily and shockingly fall into place, you'll find yourself registering surprise at every turn of every corner. You'll be confronted with the deep, dark mysteries of international intrigue amidst violent revolution as well as the strange, dark corners of cyberspace.

The picture's a corker. In fact, The Amina Profile might be one of the most vital contemporary films to examine how loneliness coupled with activism yields a Knossos-like journey to a shocking reality of what all of us face in parallel worlds - those in which we question and alternately, those we do not.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** Four Stars

The Amina Profile will have its Toronto Premiere at HOT DOCS 2015. For schedule and tickets, visit the Hot Docs website HERE.


All The Time In The World (2014)
Dir. Suzanne Crocker

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A happy, progressive family from Dawson City realize that the stress of modern living is wreaking havoc with their quality of life and creating barriers between honest, real communication in their home. They do what many dream about, but never do - they pack their bags with kids, cat and dog in tow and hightail it up north to the most isolated reaches of the Yukon to live for a year completely off-grid. Mom (Director, Producer and Cinematographer Suzanne Crocker) also decided to document the family's journey and given how much old settler-style toil the family endures (especially during the first third of the picture), she probably deserves some manner of SuperMom Oblation to have made a movie and carried on like Honest Abe Lincoln's Mom must have done in that old log cabin.

Happily, we don't spend too much time in the city, nor are we subjected to what must have been a seeming lifetime of rumination, then planning and finally getting everything ready that they're going to need to live on in the middle of nowhere - a place bereft of any means to communicate with the outside world. We get just enough of the aforementioned so we can get to the good stuff.

And wow! What good stuff! We get to experience the utter drudgery of carting what seems like half the contents of a storage locker warehouse from their boat up to the cabin deep in the forest, building a humungous above-ground storage facility for their food, rigging a platform to pull their boat onto dry ground for the winter and a whole whack of other necessary duties to get themselves set up.

I was especially delighted to note that the family brought along archery gear, big sharp blades and firearms. I know from experience that the wilderness can be home to bears, wolves, coyotes and perhaps, most menacing of all, inbred country cousins. My fingers were crossed. All good storytellers know you don't introduce weaponry into your yarn without making good use of them.

The film has a unique three-act structure which naturally follows the events of the family's journey, but clearly much effort and thought has been placed into evoking more than mere narrative beats. What the film provides us with is the actual tone and almost poetic nature of this lifestyle. The family have no phones, no computers, no radios, no television sets, no walks, no CBs and perhaps most importantly, no clocks of any kind. The sense of time having no meaning is something the film beautifully evokes. We get to experience genuine conversations, the simple pleasures of reading aloud, preparing all the food from scratch, chopping firewood (one of my personal favourites - NOT!) and endlessly hauling buckets of water up and down a steep, rugged hill (double NOT on this for me).


There's fun, of course: skating on rivers, ice-sledding, playing in the snow, building a huge tent which gets covered with snow (becoming a cool clubhouse/fort) and even celebrating events like Halloween and Christmas in ways unique to the isolated setting. There's also a real sense that the family is in on stuff together - the kids often present very cool ideas and contributions to their lifestyle. There's danger, too. (No, the inbred country cousins haven't shown up yet.) There's a humungous snow storm and Dad's out in the wilds on his own, thus injecting a few beats of genuine tension.

What the film does not show (or chooses not to show) is the kind of nasty, verbal sparring that can rear its ugly head when family or friends are afflicted with cabin fever. I longed, with baited-breath for some Edward Albee or Eugene O'Neill-like acrimony - Mom and Dad sloshing back several beakers of rotgut then hurling barbs of verbal abuse at each other while the children cower in the corner.

Oh well, they seem like nice people. I cannot fault them for that.

Finally, what really hits home (at least for me) is the silence and then realizing, life in the middle of nowhere is NEVER silent, but that the sounds of the natural world are not unlike a gorgeous symphony orchestra. I personally know quite a bit about living off-grid (because I indeed do) and certainly found much in the film I was able to connect with, but even I couldn't do what this family did. They're not simply off-grid for most of the picture's running time, they might as well be off the planet. Me, I need my shortwave radio to listen to crazy survivalists and evangelists barking madly into the deep night and while I'm perfectly adept at chopping wood, I much prefer getting one of the locals to dump a few cord of wood every six months or so. I do, however, enjoy stacking it.

Much to my consternation, the inbred country cousins never do show up. Damn! I harboured images of Dad blowing the grizzled, drooling psychopaths away while the kids got into the action with bows, arrows, knifes and axes. (Mom would be filming all this, of course.) I was ready to throw in the towel when the reality of this hit me. However, an unexpected visitor DOES show up and yes, the gun must be fired.

This made me happy. Then again, don't mind me. As James Cagney would always say in Raoul Walsh's Strawberry Blonde, "It's just the kind of hairpin I am."

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *** Three Stars

All The Time In The World will have its Toronto Premiere at HOT DOCS 2015. For schedule and tickets, visit the Hot Docs website HERE.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Greg Klymkiw presents his HOT DOCS 2015 HOT PICKS #1: LEAVING AFRICA *****, SURVIVORS ROWE *****, HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD **** and A DIFFERENT DRUMMER: CELEBRATING ECCENTRICS ***½

For the next fourteen days I will only review movies I liked, loved or that totally blew me away during the 2015 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto, Canada. Life is short. I won't bother reviewing movies that were godawful, mediocre or just plain okay. Note my picks, mark your calendars and save some precious hours, days and weeks of your life on planet Earth. Instead, spend it travelling the world via one of cinema's most vital genres.

Leaving Africa (2015)
Dir. Iiris Härmä

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Uganda is a beautiful country and so are its people, but it's been fraught with scourges like the butcher dictator Idi Amin Dada and in recent years, organized religion. The intolerance, repression and mass-manipulation continue to run rampant in the country, but there are many brave people who constantly struggle against it. Certainly, the 2013 Hot Docs presentation of Call Me Kuchu by Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall was a numbing, powerful and moving experience which detailed the country's hatred towards its LGBT community.

Leaving Africa is a new film which superbly presents its material and story with a combination of filmmaking excellence and compulsively fascinating subject matter. Friendship forged through a mutual appreciation for education is the heart that drives Iiris Härmä's truly great film. And yes, this is a film with heart.

And soul.

Finland's Riitta Kujala lived in Uganda for 27 years, bringing public health education to the country and nurturing new generations of those Ugandans who will continue this vital work. When the film begins, she is 67 years old, already past retirement and embarking upon what might be the crowning glory of her legacy and by extension, that of Finland and the Ugandans who carry-on and support her endeavours.

Riitta begins an important workshop devoted to gender equality and sexual health aimed squarely at Uganda's religious leaders. Given that so much of the country's difficulties have stemmed from the backwards idiocy perpetrated by many of God's cheerleaders in collaboration with a government too often exhaling a miasma of extreme conservatism, this is not only an action of utmost significance, but a brave one as well.

Riitta's best friend and housemate Kata Othieno devotes herself as a chief and equal partner in all of her educational initiatives. She's as big-hearted as they come and visually, her tall, robust, full-figured beauty is a striking contrast to that of Riitta's lean, slender, wiry and seemingly steely - dare I say, "buff" - physical countenance. At age 63, Kata could still have her pick of any litter of hunky suitors, but after an often tempestuous and outright abusive life with men, she's eschewed their place in her life - she's tired of lap-doggish gents hiding their inner-most pit bull nature.

Education is her constant bedfellow and driving force.

Luckily for Riitta, she not only has a dear friend and colleague in Kata, but a family. Kata's children and grand kids are the genuinely loving progeny Riitta avoided physically bearing herself, especially having remained single her entire life.


And then, there is the work - a life's work that these two dynamic women have shared. One of the more fascinating and delightful elements of this are the workshops for the Ugandan religious leaders. They've come from all over the country and represent a variety of faiths within the purviews of Christian and Muslim persuasions. Huge drawings of female genitalia with a pointer aimed at various parts of the equation meet the (often) open-mouths of the assembled pupils.

Role playing, discourse, questions and answers relating to sexuality and gender are engagingly presented by the filmmaker in a manner that documents the undertaking itself as well as delivering ideas and information that the participants are ultimately eager to learn about. These deftly-captured-and-cut sequences also contribute greatly to film's compelling narrative. I'd even argue that some of these sequences might well provide a much-needed education to "enlightened" Western gentlemen who see the film. (For me, though, as a descendant of sensitive, open-minded, Eastern-Rite-influenced Ukrainian Cossacks, the information dispensed served merely as that which has already been bred in the, uh, shall we say, bone.)

Though much of the film feels idyllic and good humoured, the crushing reality of repression, tribalism and corruption eventually rears its ugly head - threatening to scuttle Riitta and Kata's influential ongoing legacy. Riitta feels the pull of retirement and the inevitable return to her native Finland, but if an anonymous letter to the Ugandan government, a virtual poison pen blackmail tome fraught with horrendous allegations achieves its nefarious intent, everything could be swiftly destroyed.

Riitta and Kata are going to fight this to the end, though. It might be bitter, bittersweet or uplifting, but love, friendship and dedication will persevere through whatever tempests brew up in the grand, but oft-repressed nation of Uganda.

All of this works quite splendidly as the mise-en-scene and editing are so potent that director Iiris Härmä's extraordinary film feels like one of the best independent neo-realist dramas I've seen in years - worthy, certainly, of the same pantheon occupied by the likes of the Dardennes Brothers. The difference, of course, is that we're watching a documentary and it's undeniably matched by filmmaking of the highest order, which unflinchingly impels Leaving Africa into stratospheric heights.

The Film Corner Rating: ***** Five Stars

Leaving Africa is making its International Premiere at the 2015 edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. Visit the Hot Docs website for dates, showtimes and tickets by clicking HERE.

This is one of purportedly hundreds of children
viciously & mercilessly sexually assaulted by
former Anglican Minister & Boy Scout leader Ralph Rowe.
Survivors Rowe (2015)
Dir. Daniel Roher
Prd. Peter O'Brian

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I doubt you're going to see a better short film at Hot Docs 2015 than Survivors Rowe. In fact, I doubt you're going to see a better short film all year than Survivors Rowe. There's something heroic about this picture - it's terrific filmmaking to be sure, but its subjects, all grown men who share their most deeply personal reminiscences of childhood are to be exalted to the highest degree imaginable.

The other heroic element, which cannot be ignored, is the commitment of the short's Producer Peter O'Brian to have offered his expertise, passion and artistry to director Daniel Roher's fine work. O'Brian is a legend. He's a genuinely heroic figure for having produced so many of Canada's greatest motion pictures including, but not limited to The Grey Fox with the late-greats Richard Farnsworth and Jackie Burroughs in one of the great westerns of all time - period - and One Magic Christmas with the astonishing Harry Dean Stanton as one of the most evocative (and dark) guardian angels in film history in (yes) one of the great films about Christmas - period!

What is not heroic is Canada itself and the country's insidiously grotesque and hateful history with respect to our aboriginal nations, a horrifying element of which is so artfully and powerfully exposed in Roher's short film. It is one of a multitude of inhuman(e) assaults upon Canada's Native People, one that began with colonialism and frankly, continues to this very day, especially in light of the hatred and disregard expressed by Canada's Chancellor (or is it Prime Minister?) Steven Harper, the leader of our country's Nazi party (or is it, the Conservative party?).

This is Canada's Prime Minister.
He and his government of intolerance
continue to besmirch the flag with their
continued refusal to acknowledge the ever-
prolonged exploitation of Canada's Native People
and the heinous crimes perpetrated against them.
Colonialism, Hatred, Human Rights Violations
and Apartheid will continue under this
government's "leadership".
What's reflected in Survivors Rowe is at once, infuriating and on another level, infused with a sense of both healing and forgiveness - indicative of the fearlessness of its subjects and the skill with which Roher renders his film. Skillfully blending archival footage with knock-you-flat-on-your-back interviews, we're introduced to several young men - notably Joshua Frog, John Fox and Ralph Winter of Northern Ontario's Anishinaabe nation. They tell us their stories of living on isolated reservations, a strange combination of genuinely idyllic surroundings, but within the trappings of Canada's own system of apartheid. There are fond, memories, to be sure: living in the wilderness, a special bond with the natural world, skating on icy waterways, genuine play not rooted in the mind-destroying contemporary world of digital gaming and, at least initially, the dashingly dramatic arrival of Ralph Rowe, the rugged man's man who serves as a pilot, Boy Scout leader and Anglican Minister.

Rowe is not only a charismatic, almost mythic figure, but he's actually taken the time to learn Native languages and dialects to converse with elders, adults his own age and kids. What nobody knows, what nobody could ever imagine, is that Ralph Rowe is a pedophile. The on-camera testaments delivered by the film's key subjects reveal some of the most harrowing, horrific and just plain malevolent acts perpetrated by this man of the wilderness, this man of God, this monster.

One of the most extraordinary things director Daniel Roher achieves here as a filmmaker is how he fashions any great narrative's need for an antagonist. On the surface, this figure is clearly Ralph Rowe, but as the film progresses, Rowe's external position as a villain, or rather, as an antagonistic force flows into the pain, sorrow, self-loathing and self-harm faced by the victims of his crimes. Then, even more extraordinarily, the antagonistic force of Rowe, his victims' suffering and the metamorphosis of this into the aforementioned process of healing, gives way to an even greater antagonist - a seemingly perpetual cycle of abuse which, is ultimately societal and must be actively addressed far more vigorously and openly than it is.

Ralph Rowe most likely sexually assaulted over 500 Native children and was, no doubt, responsible for a huge swath of suicides amongst both children and adults (not to mention residual effects upon subsequent generations). Unfortunately, the Canadian judicial system has only tried and convicted him for what amounts to a mere handful of sex crimes. He served a meagre five years in jail, was essentially handed a deal by the Crown to leave him be no matter how many accusations continue to surface and he lives a quiet, peaceful life in Surrey, British Columbia. Neither the Anglican Church nor the Boy Scouts have ever officially apologized to the victims and yet, those victims who did not commit suicide have endured decades and, if truth be told, lifetimes of living Hell.

On a purely aesthetic level, what Roher achieves here is a film that serves as a document of the suffering, torment and misery Ralph Rowe caused, but there is a strangely magical and poetic structure to the work which takes us from idyll to horror and finally and astoundingly, but perhaps necessarily, to forgiveness.

It's impossible to shake the impact this short film has. In fact, it has the sickening shock of a merciless cold-cock, blended with an elegiac, profoundly moving sense of loss and leavened with a kind of grace that not only reflects the deep humanity of the film's subjects, but shines a light of clemency upon a monster.

What the film cannot forgive, nor can any of us (I hope and pray), is the deep-seeded hatred and racism of colonialism which continues in Canada to this very day. If an Anglican Minister and Boy Scout leader viciously sexually assaulted over 500 white children, would he still be living freely in society with the legal implication that he'll never serve more incarceration for his crimes, no matter how many continue to surface?

The answer is obvious.

This is Ralph RoweHe is a convicted pedophile living peacefully
and freely in Surrey, British Columbia. It might be helpful to have MORE recent photographs circulated.
One final note about the heroism of the film's producer Peter O'Brian: Read his moving article in the Toronto Globe and Mail about the sexual assaults he suffered as a child and eventually came to terms with as an adult. Read it HERE.

And whatever you do, don't miss Survivors Rowe.

The Film Corner Rating: ***** Five Stars

Survivors Rowe is making its World Premiere at the 2015 edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. Visit the Hot Docs website for dates, showtimes and tickets by clicking HERE.


How To Change The World (2015)
Dir. Jerry Rothwell

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Preamble: A few things about Robert (Bob) Hunter that contribute, for me personally, to his legendary perch in Canadian history.
"If we wait for the meek to inherit the earth, there won't be anything left to inherit" - Robert Hunter
Robert (Bob) Hunter was many things. Mostly, I just always thought he was cool. And well, you'd kind of have to be that to have accomplished so much in so short a time (he died of cancer at age 63).

As a dyed-in-the-wool Winnipegger, I especially thought it was cool, given Robert Hunter's deep concern for Canada's Aboriginal people, that he was born in the City of St. Boniface which eventually amalgamated with all the wonky neighbourhood city-states along the Red, Assiniboine and Seine Rivers of Manitoba to become - you guessed it, Winnipeg.

All this rich land, which not only became the city we all know and hate/love (plus all points north-south-east-and-west) historically belonged to the Metis Nation, but was torn from their possession by the Canadian Government's land transfer scrip system which was virtually useless except to rich white guys who knew how to push it through the complicated bureaucracy to actually cash it in. The vast majority of uprooted Metis were starving, so they sold their scrip to the rich white guys, for pennies on the dollar.

Even more interesting to me was that Hunter's birthplace in St. Boniface ended up being the one community which contributed the most to Manitoba becoming (even now) Canada's largest French-speaking region outside of Quebec. Why? Many of the displaced Metis were also targets for violence because of the 1870 Louis Riel wars against the corrupt rich white guys of Winnipeg and the eastern power-brokers who held a vicelike grip upon the government of Canada. This resulted in a huge number of Metis forcing their Native heritage underground and bringing their French heritage to the fore and living in - you guessed it, St. Boniface.

His tenure as a columnist at the Winnipeg Tribune and Vancouver Sun was before my time. I didn't even become aware of him as a journalist until I moved to Toronto in the early 90s and began watching CITY-TV (when it actually had a real personality thanks to its eventually-departed head Moses Znaimer). Here, I began to enjoy the amazingly cool, almost Hunter S. Thompson-like "environmental reporter and commentator. I was soon compelled to begin reading his books wherein I discovered that he was Bob Hunter, the heart, soul and public face of the environmental group Greenpeace.

This, for me, was virtually cooler-than-cool and when he passed away in 2005, I was genuinely saddened that we'd lost him. Thankfully, this film now exists. It's not a biographical documentary of Robert (Bob) Hunter, but in many ways, it might as well be.



And now, the Film Review proper:

There were many things about Hunter I didn't know after all these years and I'm grateful to director Jerry Rothwell for his almost-epic-like motion picture documentary How To Change The World which presents a side of this great Canadian that was not only fresh to my already-admiring eyes, but kind of jettisons Hunter into some supreme inter-stellar glowing orb of coolness.

Rothwell poured over hundreds of 16mm rolls of film that had been canned and unopened since the 1970s. Seeing, pretty much before his very eyes, the visual history of the Greenpeace organization, Rothwell consulted with Hunter's colleagues, foes, conducting fresh interviews with all of them, blending the result of Herculean research and expertly selected and edited footage from the Greenpeace Archives. (The fact that Hunter was so brilliantly media-savvy pretty much accounts for this wealth of material even existing.)

What we get is the story of a respected counter-culture columnist who aligns himself with a motley assortment of friends and colleagues (most of them of the 60s/70s "hippie" persuasion) to head out on a boat in an attempt to stop nuclear testing on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean and then, with the same bunch, to go tearing after Russian sailors butchering whales up and down the coast of the Pacific Northwest. The campaigns continued and somewhere along the way, the movement of Greenpeace was formed.

With both the existing archival footage and the new interviews, Rothwell has painted an indelible portrait - not only of the key events in the movement, but the individuals themselves - as disparate a cast of characters you could ever imagine. What makes them cool is how different they are as people, but as such, they each bring individual qualities to the movement that had a symbiotic relationship - for a time. As is the won't of anything or anyone growing beyond initial beginnings, egos as well as legitimate desires/directions begin to rear their ugly heads and minor cracks in the "vessel" become tectonic plates, yielding high-Richter-scale fractures.


In addition to the dazzling filmmaking, I was swept away onto the high seas and weed-clouded back rooms of Greenpeace thanks to the perfectly selected and abundant readings of Bob Hunter's exceptional reads. Embodying Hunter is the magnificent character actor Barry Pepper who delivers us the man's words with the kind of emotion which goes so far beyond "narration". Pepper captures the soul of Hunter impeccably. It's a brilliant performance. (If anyone does a biopic of Hunter, Pepper is the MAN!!!

The first two-thirds of the movie is compulsive viewing. The first third, focusing upon seafaring derring-do is nail-bitingly thrilling. With Bob Hunter at the helm of some totally crazy-ass dangerous antics - like some mad, dope-smoking, Sterling-Hayden lookalike - Rothwell creates a veritable action picture on the high seas with an obsessive Captain Ahab targeting not whales, but the hunters of whales. (So much of the film is charged with a great selection of period hit songs and a gorgeous original score by Lesley Barber also.)

Who'd have thought environmental activism could be as thrilling as Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin "Master and Commander" adventures? The middle section begins focusing on the leaks in the organizational battleship that became Greenpeace. Mixing in more derring-do with internal conflicts is easily as thrilling as the intrigue-elements of O'Brian's high-seas swashbucklers.

The final third of the film tends to fall by the wayside a touch. It's not Rothwell's doing, as that of - gasp - real life. There's a great deal of sadness and acrimony in this section of the film and part of me wishes that life didn't throw the kind of curve-balls that surprise your favourite batter at the plate into striking out. This is ultimately a minor quibble though, in light of the sheer force, power and entertainment value of the picture. What epics don't suffer from a sag or three? At least this one eventually builds to a note of well deserved and earned high notes and the movie finally packs a major one-two emotional punch. When this happens, tears might well be flowing amongst many and the lapses of real life will be fleeting, especially when you exit the cinema feeling, "Goddamn! That was one HELL of a good show!"

The Film Corner Rating: **** Four Stars

How To Change The World is making its Canadian Premiere at the 2015 edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. Visit the Hot Docs website for dates, showtimes and tickets by clicking HERE.


A Different Drummer: Celebrating Eccentrics (2014)
Dir. John Zaritzky

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Marching to the beat of one's own drum is not without merit and the title alone was enough to pique my curiosity, but then, my heart sank. During the first few minutes of A Different Drummer: Celebrating Eccentrics, I felt primed to hate it. Why wouldn't I? I detest both whimsy and standard TV-style docs - both of which seem overbearingly present within the picture's opening.

We get the digestible bite-sized thesis in which we learn how a ten-year study revealed that eccentrics are healthier, happier and indeed, manage to live longer than everybody else. We then get the de rigueur snippets of introductory interviews from what will be our wild, wooly and wacky subjects - a lot of which are all set to a frightfully jaunty musical score.

Ugh was dancing across my cerebellum and I almost flushed the sucker down the toilet bowl of unmentionables in order to slap on a different doc, but then, as if by magic, genuinely delightful movie magic began to snuggle up to me and the next ninety-or-so minutes yielded one of the happiest, funniest and moving little pictures I'd seen in awhile.

Zaritzky clearly loves his subjects, but not to the film's detriment. He settles in on each glorious nutcase (a man who lives in caves, a zany inventor, a duck lady, a "joke" politician, a man who celebrates a "useless" American president and one real lollapalooza I won't spoil for you here) with sensitivity and good humour. He's never laughing at them and neither will you. Some you'll laugh with and others you might even need to shed a few droplets of ocular moisture.

At the end of the day, it has been said that I'm eccentric. As such, I luxuriated in Zaritzky's sweet, lovely ode to madness of the most glorious kind and I'd be delighted to host any one of these people in my own home.

The thesis is proven, the whimsy in the opening a minor aberration and one of the more delightful feel-good documentaries made in recent years won me over completely.

Oh, and the best news: I look forward to a long, healthy and happy life.

The Film Corner Rating: ***½ Three-and-a-half Stars

A Different Drummer is making its Toronto Premiere at the 2015 edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. Visit the Hot Docs website for dates, showtimes and tickets by clicking HERE.