Hot Docs 2013: Two by Rachel Boynton

May 22, 2013 | By

Like her first film, Our Brand is Crisis [M] (2006), Rachel Boynton’s latest documentary follows the same structure where an endeavor becomes more complicated as a country’s politics and certain key figures are destabilized, and the end goal is altered to the discontent of the drama’s central characters.

Boynton constructs her films like docu-dramas, letting the characters and events propel the plot, but she also interpolates post-event interviews where specific characters reflect on what should’ve been, where the journey took a detour, and whether anything could’ve been done differently to avoid some disastrous situations.

Big Men [M] (2013) is about a country that tries to take advantage of an economic boom – an offshore oil reserve – by using skills and investment from western companies but disallowing their total control of the natural resources. Boynton cross-cuts back and forth as Ghana slowly becomes an oil producer, and the awful situation in Nigeria where the promise of jobs, education, and a higher quality of life went out the window when oil + greed = rampant corruption.

Both films pretty much begin with characters flying into exotic regions, encountering some culture clashes, and learning how to adapt their methods to seal the deal and start work on a tough project, and there’s much to admire in the way Boynton whittles down her material into taut dramas, but the two films reach their own specific points where the momentum starts to wind down, and in Big Men, the big dramatic end point doesn’t really happen.

The film’s strengths lie in the interviews where each culture reflects on pivotal events – such as European exploitation during the colonial era, heady independence, sudden wealth, and missed opportunities – but because Ghana is still in the process of learning how to set up a system from which it will be the chief benefactor of its new-found riches, the doc just kind of slows down.

That perhaps lessens Boynton’s intended impact on audiences, but Big Men looks and sounds gorgeous on the big screen, and its director knows how to use sound & images to create dramatic beats.

I’ve uploaded the capsule review from its recent screening at Hot Docs, plus a review of her first film which is equally noteworthy for its premise.

Coming shortly :some reviews of Twilight Time releases, and if things click over the next day or two, a short-short video about running between screenings during Hot Docs – all arty-farty, of course.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor ( Main Site / Mobile Site )

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