HOT DOCS 2014: Review Set 4

May 5, 2014 | By



Hot Docs officially ended its 2014 season Sunday night, and the Toronto Jewish Film Festival is already underway, having begun Thursday May 1st, but before I start posting reviews of some more great docs, let’s finish up with the second last of the Hot Docs sets.

In Set 4 I’ve a review of the hour-long Danish film The Agreement / Forhandleren (2013) which seems timely in depicting the length of time it took for former warring parties to begin formal negotiations and relations. The wars that plagued the former Yugoslavia have been virtually forgotten by the media, but this quiet film reminds us of the time it takes for a certain healing and pride-swallowing before steps towards negotiations can begin. Translation: with all the optimism from experts and self-interested politicians, any change in a country – take the so-called Arab Spring countries, for example – cannot yield fast unity, civility, constitutional reform, democracy, stability, and normal relations with neighbours and former enemies within a year or two. Of course, it’s rare when politicians learn from history, but at least The Agreement captures the baby steps and banality of diplomacy, right down to stiff disagreements on the use and translation of a single word.

The Beijing Ants (2013) is ostensibly about tenants forced to move and find reasonably priced lodging in expensive Beijing, but it’s really a fascinating glimpse into terrible behaviour, despair, and saving face.

The NFB’s Everything Will Be (2014) could easily apply to the disappearance of any distinct neighbourhood, but Julia Kwan’s exemplary doc focuses on Vancouver’s shrinking Chinatown as the value of land increases, and condo developments can’t be stopped. You see similar changes in Toronto (especially the sickening over-building of glass towers aimed at investors), but unless Kwan chose to edit out local ire and rage, at least in Toronto, there are strong local movements to keep condos, megatowers, and big box stores and multinational chains in check. (Witness the grass roots effort to preserve the indie and artisan character of Kensington Market.)

In any event, the loss of a city’s history is part of its inevitable growth, and I’ll post some reviews of similarly themed docs this week, including Spadina (1985), which covers the last of the Jewish run operations in Toronto’s garment district that’s screening in this year’s TJFF.

Next is The Sower / Le Semeur (2013), another Canadian doc about the cultivation and sale of so-called heirloom seeds for unique vegetables deemed outmoded, if not unfashionable. Part of what I love about spring & summer is looking forward to seeing what rare & unique fruits & vegetables make it to local markets. I miss russet apples; just because a fruit or vegetable is small, coarse, or weird-looking doesn’t mean it’s worthless. (Here’s a related piece on the virtues of ‘pre-domesticated fruits and vegetables.’)

Finally, there’s What is Left? (2014), the latest doc from Italy: Love It or Leave It (2011) filmmakers Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi. Satire in English is enjoyable and enriching, but satire in Italian is musical and hysterical; absurdities seem to explode when expressed by idiosyncratic filmmakers in one of the world’s greatest languages.




The fifth and finals set of Hot Docs reviews should be up in a day or two, after which I’ll have the first set of TJFF reviews, and an Editor’s Blog reflecting on Hot Docs 2014, plus something of interest to me (and hopefully other fans of prior Hot Docs festivals).

Also coming very shortly is another composer interview + related film reviews as I lead up to a revisitation of the video store and VHS docs, including the promised Q&A with Rewind This! director Josh Johnson, and right after: a review of Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector (2013) slated for a release June 17th (although you can already get copies from the film’s official website).

Will there be more bonus home video related / dead tech short films at

Of course!

In the works is my Toronto Urban Film Festival (TUFF) entry which, if the sun finally bothers to come out and I can get my hands on compatible batteries for a portable recorder, I’ll film my subject using the Canon VC-50 Pro, since I’d like to see how well a 1985 Saticon tube camera does in peak lighting conditions.


A Panasonic PK-972 Newvicon tube camera, circa 1982.

Also in the works: a short featurette showing how I managed to resuscitate a supposedly dead Panasonic PK-972  (or rather, watch footage as it goes from completely bonkers to stable colour reproduction as its Newvicon tube is revived). A colleague branded me The Camera Whisperer (which I frankly don’t deserve, since I’m no service technician). I’m just stubborn, and I refused to believe a cosmetically near-mint camera could be 100% dead, and applied patience and words of encouragement. (I am the guy who wrote this piece about my departed 1991 Honda Civic SE, after all.)

Lastly, I’ll have a review of some video game scores + a review of Winifred Phillips book A Composer’s Guide to Game Music (MIT Press), and a cluster of Twilight Time Blu-ray reviews.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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