It’s almost time for me to bid adieu to Hot Docs 2019 (cue: sad trombone). I have one more day of filmgoing before I need to pack it in and start packing for my annual post-festival vacation, during which I try to recover from 10 days of wall-to-wall documentaries by heading south, wandering on a beach and watching a lot of bad (read: great) TV. Until then, there’s time to squeeze in a few more screenings...
I began yesterday with a film I’d started to fear I would really dislike. Though initially excited when I scheduled it, over the course of the preceding week, I’d seen a lot of press for Drag Kids (5/8) and had encountered one of the kids out and about, and found some of their pint-sized behavior kind of obnoxious. Would the film wind up being 90 minutes of the same?
Thankfully, and perhaps surprisingly (to me), it was not. Though, yes, there’s certainly some off-putting narcissism on display, and a couple of cringe-worthy incidents of petulant behavior from one subject, on the whole the kids seem reasonably grounded despite the high-glam environments (and accompanying attention) they crave. Director Megan Wennberg follows four preteens all performing in drag in their respective hometowns, thousands of miles apart. Stephan is a British nine-year-old living in Spain, who performs as Laddy Gaga; Montreal-native Nemis is enamored with Donatella Versace and performs as Queen Lactacia; Jason, aka: Suzan Bee Anthony, is a shy, soft-spoken boy from Missouri, who comes out of his shell as soon as he’s on stage; and Bracken, the only girl in the group, performs a hyper-feminized form of drag, repping the House of Gvasalia. The quartet meet for the first time at Montreal Pride, where they become fast friends and prep for a group performance. Through it all, their über-supportive parents sew their costumes, help with makeup and cheer them on. Some of the kids embrace capital-D D-R-A-M-A, though, which I found totally exhausting just as a viewer!, and there are a few times when the line between supportive and overly indulgent parenting gets a bit fuzzy for some of the adults. To the doc’s credit, it presents the good, the bad and the iffy, and leaves it to viewers to form their own opinions.
My next screening was a two-fer: a feature preceded by a short.
The short film, Libre (6/8), sheds light on something I had never heard of: a company called Libre by Nexus, which “helps” immigrants to the U.S. get out of detention centers by paying their bonds in exchange for those immigrants signing questionable contracts, agreeing to wear ankle bracelets and pay Libre by Nexus $420/month for their “freedom.” Presumably in perpetuity unless those immigrants seek out and attain legal aid. Who knew this was happening?! And HOW is it being allowed to continue?! The film introduces audiences to several such immigrants, who are literally shackled to their (non-)freedom and who desperately want out of their contractual agreements. Not surprisingly, the Libre by Nexus folks declined to comment for the film, though title cards explain that, thankfully, the company is being investigated by assorted branches of state and federal government.
The subject of the feature that followed is one that’s always fascinated me, but one that I have admittedly never quite been able to properly understand: the sub-prime mortgage crisis that led to the financial crash in 2008. While director Jennifer Deschamps’s Inside Lehman Brothers (5/8) does shed some new light on the scandal by profiling a number of whistleblowers at Lehman’s mortgage subsidiary BNC – which helps illustrate how things were allowed to go so wrong for so long – whatever part of my brain is responsible for comprehension still isn’t quite there. The doc is filled with compelling interviews with several men and women who saw what the company was doing (in essence, cooking the books and defrauding their investors), who reported it... and who then suffered life-changing consequences as a result. Rather than having their claims investigated, these employees wound up harassed, threatened and, in some cases, fired; their names and reputations smeared in the industry, their livelihoods put in jeopardy and their futures left at risk. Some are more interesting than others – I was much more engaged listening to the women in the company’s comparatively lower echelons of power than I was hearing from a (white, male) former VP and former corporate attorney, who didn’t suffer nearly the same degree of intimidation as their women-of-color colleagues. Maybe because it was an evening screening (and my attention span is waning in direction proportion to my fatigue level), but I found sections of the film detailing the fraud a bit hard to follow. And I was repeatedly distracted by all the latecomers – people wandering in half an hour into the film – which didn’t help, either.