Sadly, it’s that time again – time for me to bid adieu to all-day, all-night, wall-to-wall documentaries and line chats and post-film Q&As for another year. Happily, my final day of Hot Doc-ing featured a balance of despair and delight onscreen, with a series of strong films that brought my 2016 festival to a nice close.
The day began with a pair of documentaries that were, to put it mildly, serious downers. The films were good, but their content equally sad, disturbing and pretty bleak. First was the short film Omnia (6/8), which detailed – through heart-wrenching voiceover narration – an unseen young woman’s harrowing experience with genital mutilation (in the name of “purification”) at the hands of her family. Simple and powerful, the short packed a lot into its nine minutes.
It was paired with Iranian director Mehrdad Oskouei’s Starless Dreams (6/8), which – while similarly simple and powerful – was also draining to watch. Shot over roughly three weeks inside a juvenile detention center, the film profiled a number of young women imprisoned for a variety of offenses (ranging from theft to drug use), who each relay the circumstances that led her to a life of “crime.” But each story was more depressing than the last, and the harsh realities of life in a patriarchal society – where women are viewed more as property than people – made painfully clear. There are repeated scenes of the girls weeping, wailing, pleading with apathetic family members over the phone and, in some cases, admitting that they would rather remain imprisoned than return to the abusive situations they faced at home. There is an understandable but emotionally exhausting lack of optimism, both in the film and among the girls, which made me glad when the closing credits finally rolled. I felt wiped out!
At the other end of the mood spectrum was my next screening, the fun and quirky Mattress Men (6/8). In the doc, director Colm Quinn tells the story of Irish mattress-store employee Paul Kelly, who decided to create no-budget promotional videos to help his schlumpy boss, Michael “Mattress Mick” Flynn, market his struggling business in an equally unstable economy. As Flynn’s popularity grew, so did the pressures on Kelly, a husband and father who was strapped for cash and in need of steady employment. The film tracked the duo over the course of a year or so, as they worked on an epic rap video (which you can watch in its hilarious entirety right here) while attempting to reconcile their differences, both creative and professional.
Both Flynn and Kelly were in attendance for the screening, along with Quinn and Brian Trainer, the store’s mattress-wearing mascot, whose poetic waxing on life provided some of the film’s best moments. The Q&A was spirited, with dozens of audience members posing for post-film photos with the guys.
My final screening of the day, and of the festival, was Sour Grapes (6/8), a lighthearted but compelling investigative documentary about the massive con that wine connoisseur Rudy Kurniawan perpetrated on collectors. Young, wealthy and charming, Kurniawan became popular amongst the wine-consuming elite, living the high life, sharing ridiculously expensive wines with his inner circle and unloading millions of dollars’ worth of rare vintages via auctions. But when questions arose about the authenticity of the wines Kurniawan was selling, and collectors began double-checking the bottles for which they’d paid tens of thousands of dollars, a mystery began to unfold. Was Rudy for real? Was he a fake? Were his wines fakes? And, more importantly, what would this do to the inflated prices his sales had caused in the market? Entertaining and lively, the doc is a fun whodunit?... or, more to the point, howdhedunit?, that ultimately shines a light on the perils of being filthy rich and so desperate to acquire more stuff that you’d drop $20K on a bottle of wine without blinking. Or fact-checking its origins.
My bus schedule meant having to dart out as the Q&A got underway, but I did stay long enough to hear Kurniawan likened to an art forger, who possess exquisite talents that he uses for ill-gotten gains. And I think that analogy is a fitting one in this case.
And that’s a wrap, folks! As ever, my Hot Docs experience was fantastic – plenty of amazing films, great line chats, so many snacks and, for the most part, nice weather, which made lining up at the Bader and Hart House so much more pleasant. Thanks to the festival staff, volunteers and filmgoers for another awesome year. See you in 2017!