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#HotDocs15: Seventh Batch of Reviews

May 2, 2015

By John Corrado

Hot Docs 2015 PosterThe final weekend of Hot Docs is now upon us.  I’ve got several more films on the docket for today and tomorrow, all of which I have high hopes for.

Below are my thoughts on five good ones that I have seen over the past couple of days, including Fractured Land, Radical Grace and Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle, which all ignite important conversations for their own reasons.

My previous batch of reviews can be found right here, with another set coming tomorrow to finish off the festival.  As always, more information on tickets and showtimes can be found through the links in the film titles.  Enjoy!

Mavis!: A legendary gospel and soul singer, and iconic civil rights activist in the time of Martin Luther King Jr., Mavis Staples has a lot of fascinating history behind her, from singing with her family in the Staple Singers, to the inspiring energy that she still brings to every concert and performance.  Although the film itself follows the somewhat typical bio doc approach, Mavis Staples makes for a truly great subject in the aptly titled Mavis!, appearing as energetic and openhearted as ever in front of the camera.  Director Jessica Edwards has assembled a rousing and entertaining celebration of her music and equally inspiring life, that is filled with great stories and some wonderful performance footage.

Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle: When TASERs were first invented, the company promised the electrically charged weapon would provide a non-lethal alternative for police officers who needed to use force.  But there is compelling evidence that they can also have serious or even deadly effects in some cases, perhaps most notably in the tragic airport death of Robert Dziekanski in Vancouver, British Columbia.  Although the morally questionable heads of the company have tried to disprove the evidence that their products have resulted in these fatalities, director Nick Berardini uncovers the often shocking truth in Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle.  This is a gripping expose that touches on sleazy corporate politics and police brutality behind the TASER revolution, opening an important conversation about the overuse of these supposedly safe weapons.

Orion: The Man Who Would Be King: Jimmy Ellis always dreamed of being a singer, but the golden voice that impressed everyone who heard him was both a blessing and a curse, because he sounded so much like Elvis Presley that nobody wanted to sign him.  When Elvis tragically died in 1977, Jimmy Ellis finally had his chance at fame, with the studio forcing him to wear a mask and advertising him as the potential reincarnation of The King.  Although a devout following of grieving Elvis fans briefly made him a star, this inevitably couldn’t last when he tried to branch out on his own.  This is one of those stranger than fiction films that is gripping to watch unfold, as director Jeanie Finlay uncovers and takes us through all the twists and turns of this largely forgotten true story.  A fascinating and ultimately tragic cautionary tale about the elusive nature of fame, and a nostalgic portrait of this brilliant performer who never got his due, Orion: The Man Who Would Be King a must see for all Elvis fans.

Fractured Land: Caleb Behn is a young indigenous hunter and environmental activist, who is studying to be a lawyer, swayed by the fact that some of the world’s largest fracking operations reside on Native land in British Columbia.  His goal is to legally challenge the sleazy oil companies and Canadian government, who are continuing to cheat the communities out of their land to ravage the natural gas resources, leaving behind toxic chemicals that are polluting their water supply and leading to birth defects and higher rates of cancer.  What makes Caleb Behn such a compelling subject are his emotional struggles between modern ideas and the laws of the natural world, as Fractured Land powerfully captures the internal conflicts that reside within all of us.  Directors Damien Gillis and Fiona Rayher offer an articulate and impressively nuanced look at the absolute environmental devastation of fracking and pipelines, as well as the job opportunities that compel so many to support the natural gas industry, igniting a vitally important conversation about one of the most pressing issues of our time.  This is an empowering call to action, that should be required viewing for everyone voting in the next election.

The film plays with The Wolverine: The Fight of the James Bay Cree, a beautifully done retelling of a traditional Native legend, that provides a powerful and thought provoking metaphor of the serious environmental affects of uranium mining.

Radical Grace: Rarely has the conversation around the role of women in the Catholic Church been as engaging and even exciting as it is in Radical Grace, following a group of nuns who have been deemed “radical feminists” by the Vatican.  This trio of admirably outspoken Sisters have received vocal criticism from the bishops for their advocacy of female ordination, and support of Barack Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act, standing firm in their hope for a more inclusive future for the church.  Their message of spreading a faith that supports gender equality is truly inspiring, and director Rebecca Parrish has assembled their stories into a compelling and surprisingly emotional film.  Fearlessly challenging the outdated patriarchal system and predominantly male teachings of the Catholic Church, Radical Grace ignites an important and incredibly timely conversation that ultimately affects all of us, regardless of where you stand on organized religion.

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