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#HotDocs19: Sixth Set of Capsule Reviews

May 3, 2019

By John Corrado

The 2019 Hot Docs Film Festival runs from April 26th to May 6th in Toronto, more information on tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

Seahorse ★★★½ (out of 4)

Freddy is a young gay trans man in England who wants to start a family, and decides to embark on the journey of having a baby by getting pregnant through artificial insemination using a sperm donor. This presents a multitude of challenges, including temporarily stopping his testosterone shots to raise his estrogen levels again, and having to face the pressures of society as someone who presents as male but is also pregnant, and he stresses about finding acceptance from his absent father, who left when he was young. While planning to co-parent with his partner and friend CJ, Freddy is embarking on the journey of parenthood largely on his own, with his mother as his only constant source of support.

Directed by Jeanie Finlay, the documentary Seahorse, which gets its name from the fact that seahorses are creatures where the males carry the babies, sensitively explores the subject of being trans and also pregnant. Because Finlay is cisgender, she made it a point to make the film very much in collaboration with Freddy, and this sense of respect is one of the things I really liked about Seahorse. The film is also interesting in that many trans stories being told focus on the transition process, where as this one is very much about someone’s life journey after that. Gaining intimate access into Freddy’s life throughout the entirety of this journey, Finlay has not only crafted a fascinating and emotional look at the challenges of becoming a parent, but also a definitive LGBTQ film.

Tuesday, April 30th – 9:00 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 8

Wednesday, May 1st – 1:15 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Assholes: A Theory ★★ (out of 4)

Director John Walker uses the book Assholes: A Theory by Aaron James as the jumping off point for his new documentary of the same name, which offers a broad but ultimately unfocused and disappointing exploration of the types of people who are often referred to as assholes within polite society. The film’s range of subjects, including author James himself and other academics like professor and Occupy Wall Street organizer Robert C. Hockett, as well as actor John Cleese to throw a famous face into the mix, discuss the different types of assholes ranging from entitled to boorish, and what this sort of behaviour does to society. Especially when assholes are elected to run countries, and social media has made being an asshole not only much easier but also far more acceptable.

The trouble is that a lot of what gets talked about in the film, especially the shocking experiences recounted by former RCMP officer Sherry Lee Benson-Podolchuk who faced horrible workplace harassment as a woman in the force, is actually abuse and goes far beyond what we usual consider simple asshole behaviour. As such, the film becomes more of a thesis on “toxic masculinity” and male entitlement, and to distill some of this stuff to asshole behaviour in a somewhat jokey film actually sort of belittles it. The film also doesn’t focus enough on female assholes, with some of the subjects denying that they even exist, while also completely neglecting to mention the sort of asshole who sucks up to people by pretending not to be an asshole, which I find to be one of the most pernicious types.

There are some interesting moments here, including a story involving the Italian LGBTQ activist turned politician Vladimir Luxuria, who talks about how she deals with internet trolls and the surprising pity that she ended up having for one of them who directed extremely nasty comments towards her. But as a whole, the film starts to feel repetitive after a certain point, with all of the subjects basically just saying variations on the same thing for ninety minutes, with no real visual interest beyond talking heads. I feel like the majority of people who go see Assholes: A Theory will do so based on the mildly amusing title alone, but it doesn’t really live up to the promise, and easily could have been done as a short film a third of the length.

Tuesday, April 30th – 7:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Wednesday, May 1st – 3:45 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Saturday, May 4th – 12:45 PM at Isabel Bader Theatre

Our Time Machine ★★★ (out of 4)

With his father Ma Ke, a celebrated former director at the Peking Opera, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, Chinese artist and puppeteer Maleonn decides to put on a play about a pilot who is losing his memories, and his son who tries to build a time machine for him to recapture them. Brought to life using inventive, life-size puppets manipulated by actors to tell the story, and inspired by moments from his own life, Maleonn’s play becomes a passion project for him, envisioning it as both a tribute and last gift for his father.

Directed by Yang Sun and S. Leo Chiang, Our Time Machine functions as both a behind the scenes look at the production of the play, and a portrait of the changing relationship between a father and son as their past fades into the background. The glimpses that we see of Maleonn’s play are visually impressive, and the professional camerawork and use of lighting gives the film a very filmic look. This is a touching story about using art to keep our memories alive.

Wednesday, May 1st – 6:15 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Friday, May 3rd – 4:15 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 3

Sunday, May 5th – 6:15 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 3

There Are No Fakes ★★★½ (out of 4)

When Kevin Hearn, the keyboard player and guitarist for the beloved Canadian band the Barenaked Ladies, bought a painting by Indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau for twenty thousand dollars, he was shocked to find out that the painting was actually a fake, just one of many fake Morrisseau paintings that are reportedly on the market in Canada. Hearn decided to take the Toronto gallery that sold him the painting to court, wading into a dark web of crime far beyond what he expected, with anyone who tries to expose the truth about the forged paintings being threatened.

Director Jamie Kastner documents the ensuing legal battle in his new documentary There Are No Fakes, finding that the forgery ring stretches far and wide throughout Canada, connecting it to a shocking crime ring that harmed countless lives. Hearn’s painting and the art forgery become almost secondary to the real story, which is one of sickening abuse that in many ways mirrors Canada’s larger history of cultural genocide. Throughout the film’s many twists and turns, There Are No Fakes becomes an extremely unsettling but startlingly brave look at how First Nations people are still exploited and abused in this country in a multitude of different ways. It’s not an easy film to watch, but it is an important one.

Monday, April 29th – 6:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Wednesday, May 1st – 8:15 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 3

Prey ★★★½ (out of 4)

After facing horrific sexual abuse throughout his high school years by the late Father Hod Marshall, who pled guilty to seventeen counts of assault, Rod MacLeod decided to sue the Basillian Fathers of Toronto for damages. Represented by Rob Talach, a slick lawyer who’s been nicknamed “the Priest Hunter” and wears it like a badge of honour, MacLeod hopes to expose the rampant sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, an institution that all too often responds to these cases simply by moving the abusive priests to another diocese and paying off the victims in hush money from charitable donations, rather than risking their stories going public.

Director Matt Gallagher follows this court case in Prey, an important work of documentary filmmaking that seeks to inspire long overdue change. The film also tells the story of Parrick McMahon, another victim of Father Marshall’s, who was abused by him when the priest would stay over at his family’s home, and now demonstrates outside of church, allowing people to see the face of someone who was victimized. While Father Marshall passed away before this case, he is seen in chilling videos from his trial that are being released to the public for the first time, coldly admitting to decades of abuse. This is a powerful and enraging look at the extent of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church going back decades, and the fearlessness of those who speak up and fight back.

Friday, April 26th – 9:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Saturday, April 27th – 1:00 PM at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

Thursday, May 2nd – 1:30 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

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