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2013

Hot Docs 2013 #11: Sickness and Sea

HotDocs Let me begin with a quick open letter to the Scotiabank Theatre: Perhaps, in future, it would be nice if you would notify filmgoers that your water has been shut off – and, thus, all of the washrooms are closed and unusable – BEFORE they get tickets and head inside for a screening. Because discovering this fairly important piece of information when one has a full bladder and is en route to, say, a cordoned-off ladies’ room five minutes before showtime is seriously annoying and inconvenient. Thank you.

Anyway...

In equally irritating news, I’d love to tell you what I thought about the short film Like a Breath, but I didn’t actually get to see most of it because of all the latecomers who wandered into the Bader and then tried to find seats. The short is only five minutes long, and I would estimate that I was completely distracted by flashlights, the hemming and hawing of the newly arrived ticketholders, and their eventual climbing to vacant seats for at least four of those minutes. So, there you go. As an aside, WHY are festival staff and volunteers seating people more than 20 minutes into a film? It keeps happening, despite Hot Docs’ policy that no one will be admitted after 15. And who are these people who stroll in at the 25-minute mark??? Why even bother to show up at that point? Especially since so many of the films are in the 80-minute range, meaning you’ve already missed a third of what you clearly didn’t care enough to show up on time to see?

Further anyway...

My first feature documentary of the day was Remote Area Medical (6/8), which reminded me a lot of last year’s The Waiting Room in terms of tone and content, only I didn’t find it quite as strong. RAM centers on a free four-day medical-care facility that sets up shop in a tiny Tennessee town, and tracks a number of the ailing residents who turn up for dental work, vision care and overall medical aid. The organization was founded to provide medical services to remote regions around the world (think: Third-World countries), but has instead discovered a massive need for their care right in America. Though the patients the filmmakers follow are compelling and heartbreaking, I was hoping there would have been a greater focus on the physicians and volunteers providing the care – as it stands, I couldn’t tell you the name of RAM’s founder (who’s featured only briefly). Perhaps as a result, and by focusing mainly on the sick and poor who are unable to afford medical insurance, the film has a fairly bleak tone. Also, for anyone with a delicate constitution, be warned: there are multiple graphic shots of teeth being pulled.

I followed that up with the comparatively brighter Maidentrip (5/8), which follows Dutch teenager Laura Dekker as she attempts to become the youngest person to sail around the world solo. Setting out on her two-year voyage when she’s just 14, Dekker – armed with a camcorder and a healthy dose of self-confidence-bordering-on-arrogance – films her adventures at sea (including battling storms and embracing solitude) and in the ports where she stops along the way. Filmmaker Jillian Schlesinger crafts an interesting travelogue with some really lovely animated transitions, but is somewhat limited in terms of material for the at-sea portions because all that (often nauseatingly shaky) footage was shot by Dekker herself when she was alone on Guppy (her boat) in the middle of the world’s oceans. As a result, the film does feel lacking in that regard – after all, what an occasionally (and, given her age, appropriately) bratty 14-year-old girl thinks is scintillating footage or insightful commentary isn’t necessarily what makes for a captivating film. Still, an entertaining doc about a daring young woman who continues to pursue her dreams.

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