Here are the rest of my mini-reviews of the other films I saw at Hot Docs:Songbirds
(dir. Brian Hill) - The premise of this documentary sounds highly unlikely: women in a UK prison tell their stories - but wait! let's make it into a musical! Fortunately it works, and amazingly well. I mean, other than Urinetown
, I hate musicals! The crimes of the women profiled range from drug smuggling to manslaughter, but what many of them have in common is male violence. After this and other documentaries I've seen in the festival and on television
, I'm beginning to wonder if there is a woman anywhere that hasn't been beaten up by her father/grandfather/husband/boyfriend/brother at some point in her life. Some of the women in Songbirds
said in their interviews that they'd grown up with that kind of violence in their families, and so by the time they were adults, it was so normalized they thought that was how everyone lived. Don't get the idea that this film is depressing; it's not. There is redemption and hope, and hey, there are powerful songs, too. The film is structured with segments of spoken interviews with the inmates, interspersed with verses from the songs about their situations and their histories. At first I thought they had each created their own songs - what a prison full of talent! but that was not exactly the case. In fact, it was the UK's much-loved poet Simon Armitage who wrote the lyrics for the songs. Some are rap songs, some ballads, some lullabies, depending on the woman's style and her particular story, but all the songs are really good. The director was present after the screening for a Q&A, and someone asked about the process of creating the songs. The answer was that Armitage wrote the songs based on audio transcripts of the interviews with the inmates, and all the singing was real, including the odd bit sung by a staff member. This was an excellent film with compelling people portrayed in a unique way. If it gets a wider release here, please go and see it!A Different Language
(dir. Eliya Reis) - This is an intensely personal exploration of one young woman's relationship with her mother. Eliya, director and main character of this short, returns to her mother's home as an adult, and one with a camera, to confront her regarding their relationship and past problems. She discovers that they still cannot seem to communicate or understand each other. Eliya is accused of coldness and vindictiveness, and as a child was smacked about and told she "hugs like a man." Though both women are frustrating at times, Eliya is engaging and as the viewer, I really wanted her to prevail, to acheive whatever sense of "closure" she was seeking. She didn't, and I really didn't know what the hell to make of the unpleasant New Age mother, but it was an oddly interesting film.Let's Talk About It
(dir. Deepa Mehta) - Deepa Mehta told the audience that this is the first documentary she's made in twenty years, and based on the strength of this one, I hope she makes more. This is a powerful film about domestic violence, in which the children interview their mothers about their various abusive situations and the impact on their family. Raw, candid and honest, Let's Talk About It
explores how violence against women permeates all economic levels and exists across many cultures, not specific to any particular demographic. Or put it this way - violence against women can be anywhere, even everywhere. The device of children interviewing their mothers sounds initially unsettling, and could even be exploitative, but this is not how it comes across in the film. The interviews offer rare insight into the strength of these women and children, and the psychological and sociological factors that impacted their decisions and coping strategies. During the Q&A afterward, one older white man nervously asked about the decision to focus on no white women, and wasn't it important to convey that violence happened in "regular" Canadian families too... He said something like "normal" or "regular", struggling to sound liberal or politically correct, but not succeeding...! It was, however, an interesting question, and Mehta was not trying to suggest that abuse didn't happen in white families, we all know it does, but that she was investigating how immigrant women's experiences and problems were different, such as how some of women would never consider calling 911, that it didn't occur to them, that 911 wasn't a service available to them. In fact, the seven year old daughter in an affluent black family said, unprompted, "the police only listen to men." The film is a powerful testament to these women, and one of deepening awareness and understanding. Another interesting question was about how the women featured were chosen, basically how did they find them? The director and producer posted information about the project in shelters and community centres. Those interested in conveying their stories came forward.Total Denial
(dir. Milena Kaneva) - An excellent film by a Bulgarian about human rights struggles in Burma, focussing on the efforts of exiled activist Ka Hsaw Wa to document the horrific human rights violations of the military against the Karen people, as the military "provide security" for TOTAL and UNOCAL's oil pipeline through their homeland. This "security" comes in the form of forced labour, burned villages, savage beatings, rapes, and murders. While many of the stories were deeply disturbing, Ka Hsaw Wa and others did succeed in bringing a major lawsuit against the multinational oil companies, and winning, setting a precedent for corporate accountability. While this was an excellent film that will hopefully raise awareness about these issues and incite action, there was one element that I was left wondering about afterward. What about individual accountability? What about those soldiers who chose to burn babies, rape girls, shoot workers at will? What happens when a different cause or company uses this militia for something else? More of the same? I can see this type of documentary being on Newsworld in the future, so check it out. What questions will you have?The Dark Side of the White Lady
(dir. Patricio Henriquez) - The "Esmerelda" is an iconic schooner in the Chilean navy, beautiful and celebrated, but with a disturbing past. The ship was used as a facility for torture during the coup that put Pinochet in power, ousting Allende in the 1970s. This film chronicles the efforts of several Chileans, tortured thirty years ago on the Esmerelda, as they continue to fight for justice and governmental accountability. This is an emotionally relentless film, but at the same time, beautiful in its current depiction and historical footage of the city of Velparaiso and surrounding area. The film was gripping and fascinating, and the only elements that didn't work for me were the cheesey dramatic re-enactments that tried to depict the moments leading up to torture aboard the ship. They were melodramatic and cheapened an otherwise powerful moment, though they didn't diminish the film's overall impact.
Well, those were the ones I saw. Emotionally draining, yes. Do I feel pretty fuckin' lucky to be where I am, when I am? Yes. Has my desire to do something tangible about male violence against women and children been solidified? Yes. I just don't quite know what the most effective thing to do is yet. Suggestions are welcome.
Meanwhile , it seems there is dissent and fragmentation in Toronto's small press literary community. I don't know too much about what's gone on, but from fourth-hand references, what I can glean is that a male poet publicly insulted a female poet, in a derogatory and allegedly sexist manner, possibly utilizing phrases like "sucked dick." Well, I'm not even going to get into who apparently said what to whom, not only because I don't know 100%, but because who was involved doesn't really affect my opinion - which is that sexist bullshit vitriolic hateful crap exists in all sorts of nooks and crannies, not just where we expect it to be unfortunately found; we just seem much more shocked and outraged when it's within the typically "leftist" and "politically correct" context of non-mainstream art. No, it exists here too. Just better at hiding it.
Maggie Helwig sent out an "OPEN LETTER" denouncing hate and supporting the insulted writer, ending in a long list of electronic "signatures" of many writers I like and respect. I wasn't asked to sign it, presumably because I am not close to the insulted party. I'm not sure how I feel about the "OPEN LETTER". Certainly I agree with the sentiments expressed therein, and encourage acknowledgement of and debate about sexism and nastiness within the literary community, and all communities. But something about the act bothers me. I'm not sure what it is. The preaching-to-the-converted element? Well, it's better than keeping silent. Is it self-congratulatory? Well, better that than being in denial about negative aspects of a "community." Maybe what bothers me is that this entire situation is happening at all; aren't you supposed to feel "safe" in your "community"? Something beyond the obvious is bothering me about this. That I need to use so many " " when I discuss sexism? I haven't put my finger on it yet, and I may never do so, but I'm thinking about it.
I wonder what I would do if someone insulted me and my writing and made a sexist slur... Crosscheck 'im in the jaw and Bertuzzi their eyeball? Not that I advocate violence... Sure would like to sometimes though.
Now that I've thoroughly depressed myself...LOVE IS ALL AROUND -
the Joan Jett version, please.