Saturday, April 26, 2008

Hot Docs: Day 4

posted under , , , , by Bloody Bonnie |
Another day packed with doc goodness! First I got to see Carts of Darkness, a delightful film about homeless men who get their thrills racing shopping carts down the hilled roads of North Vancouver. The filmmaker, Murray Siple tells us that he used to shoot snowboarding, but after being paralyzed in a car accident, he hasn't picked up a camera in 10 years – until now. It is really amazing to watch as he spends time with the men and begins to establish a very close and trusting relationship with them. Siple tags along as Ray, the rowdy and vivacious main character, shows him the best carts for racing, the best spots for camping out, and how to make a living collecting bottles. The uniqueness of this film is that the men recognize Siple as a societal outsider himself (because of his wheelchair), and are much more willing to open up to him and to accept him as a friend. I must say that this was one of my favorite films of the whole festival – not to be missed.

Another film that dealt with the issues of societal outsiders was Be Like Others, which focused on transsexuals living in Iran. I was surprised to learn that although homosexuality is punishable by death in Iran, sex change operations are legally permitted for diagnosed transsexuals. The movie follows several pre-op men as they deal with the cultural ramifications facing them on their way to becoming a woman. Because of her connection with the doctor who performs the operations, director Tanaz Eshaghian had the opportunity to talk to and follow many different men and women at different stages of their transition. But in a way, I felt that this was a disadvantage, because the uniqueness of some of the characters was lost in the sea of voices featured in the film. There were a few moments when certain characters really stood out from the crowd, including when one woman expressed her regret over getting the operation and alienating her entire family. But I never really got the feeling that I fully knew or could empathize with any one particular character. Overall, the film wasn't so much character driven as it was informative for someone unfamiliar with the mores and laws of Islamic culture regarding transsexuals.

Next I saw Mechanical Love. For the most part this movie followed Professor Ishiguro the creator of a very realistic robotic duplication of himself. I had seen some short videos of him with the robot on YouTube before, and it was really interesting to get to delve into it and learn about Ishiguro's motivations. Surprisingly, Ishiguro talks very little about the process of building the robot or the technology behind it. Rather, he offers his ruminations on the definitions of humanness and the implications of trying to manufacture life. The film also looks at residents in nursing homes who keep Pero (an adorable robotic seal) as a pet. It was great to see their reactions and attachments to the toy – one lady carries it with her wherever she goes. Mechanical Love offered an interesting comment on the kinds of relationships that people establish with robots and artificial intelligence. It was a great compliment to Second Skin, which looked at how online gaming is changing how we define interaction and relationships.

Finally I saw Killer Poet, a film that told the story of Norman Porter - a man convicted for murder in the 60's who later escaped from prison. He moved to Chicago where he took on the name J.J. Jameson and became well known as a poet there. During his 20 years living in Chicago, Porter was an upstanding citizen, a volunteer in his church, and a dear friend to many in his community. The filmmakers had access to many different people with different perspectives on Porter's case - from the families of the victims who want to return Porter to prison, to his friends and church members who believe him to be reformed, to the police force that has been tracking him for 20 years. This creates a really well rounded story and a very in depth look at just who this man is.

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