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Hot Docs 2017: Let There Be Light

Cinema Axis

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Today, the vast majority of the energy we produce comes from burning fossil fuels.  We generate smaller amounts by splitting large radioactive atoms, capturing a tiny percentage of the energy in sunlight, or other various techniques, but these are not currently capable of generating energy at the same cost and abundance of fossil fuels.  Let There Be Light documents the quest for an entirely different way to generate energy, one that promises to be cheap, plentiful, and pollution-free: fusion.

The film focuses on a megaproject called ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), funded by 37 different nations and currently under construction in the South of France.  The science in the film is well-explained and fascinating, and there are some quirky animated segments to help relate historical events important for fusion research.  The film pieces together interviews, on-site visits to ITER and other experimental fusion reactors, and these animated segments to tell a…

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Hot Docs 2017: Still Tomorrow

Cinema Axis

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Jian Fan’s Still Tomorrow considers its fascinating subject in all its facets.  The film follows a year in the life of Yu Xuihua, a middle age woman with cerebral palsy who has worked on her parent’s farm for her whole life.  Her arranged marriage of 20 years is one of convenience, and her life is a struggle, both physically and mentally.  To parse her world, Yu explores her passion:  writing poetry.

She types away at her laptop on a rickety table as chickens scurry in the background, and it gives her life meaning.  She worked in obscurity, posting her work to a poetry blog.  Until her poem Crossing Half of China to Sleep with You is shared over a million times on Chinese social media.

Now a popular artist, Yu has a collection of poems published, attends readings of her work, and is an absolute sensation.  Yet, Still Tomorrow is…

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Hot Docs 2017: 69 Minutes of 86 Days

Cinema Axis

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The realities of refugee life are captured with stunning passivity in Egil Håskjold Larsen’s understated 69 Minutes of 86 Days.  The film follows a refugee family en route to Sweden, careful to observe the journey, not comment.  The brilliance of the film lay in a stylistic choice that forces the spectator into the perspective of the most vulnerable and least understanding member of the family:  3-year-old Lean.

The camera is a fly-on-the-wall, only without a wall.  It observes the family from the same point-of-view as Lean.  Usually, this sets the camera about a meter off the ground, giving the audience a frame full of adult legs, low angles, and a reduced perspective of the greater context.

Occasionally, Lean is carried in the arms of her father or uncle, and only during these times does Larsen pick the camera up to an adult eye level.  Once you get into this…

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Hot Docs 2017 Over on Cinema Axis

This is going to be a short post to draw attention to the eight screeners from the 2017 Hot Docs Film Festival I was fortunate enough to review over on CinemaAxis.  Below, I’ll link to all of the reviews once they’re posted, but for now I’ll just introduce each film and give a quick synopsis.

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“Paterson”: Jim Jarmusch’s Ode to Discovering Poetry in the Mundane

Paterson follows a week in the life of Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey.  Paterson’s life traces a banal routine:  wake up at 6:15 (without an alarm), walk to work, drive a bus, come home to his live-in girlfriend, eat dinner, walk the dog, stop at a bar, have a drink, go to sleep.  Paterson spends his free time writing poetry, drawing inspiration from the beauty ensconced in this mundanity.  The film is almost plot-less, focusing more on imagery, rhythm, repetition, and tone to convey its themes.

You know, like a poem.

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Pablo Larraín’s “Jackie” Hinges on Natalie Portman’s Stellar Performance

No film in recent memory lionizes a performance quite like Pablo Larraín’s Jackie.  The entire film embraces Natalie Portman’s expert depiction of the iconic first lady.  Portman’s performance has a imitative style to it, complete with specific elocution, affect, and emotion – all of which she delivers with a quiet and confident ferocity.  Larraín takes full advantage of Portman’s talent by framing most of the film in close ups, a stylistic choice that instills the spectator with a deep empathy.  Even the structure of the narrative reflects Portman’s performance:  thoroughly non-linear, the disjointed organization conveys and cements the confusion that Jackie is experiencing.  Portman’s nonesuch portrayal completely fuels Larraín’s film, and is responsible for the heights it reaches.

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“Colossal”: Part Kaiju Flick, Part Exploration of Abuse and Recovery

Writer-director Nacho Vigalondo is no stranger to off-the-wall storytelling; Los cronocrímenes (Timecrimes) may be the best film featuring time-travel ever.  In Colossal, Vigalonda tries his hand at a kaiju movie, but infuses it with his own style.  Vigalondo exploits the genre for allegory and dark comedy, crafting an inventive exploration of indulgence, regret, and self-destruction – followed by attempts at self-improvement.  The director has a deft command of his characters, abrupt shifts in mood and tone, and thematic allegory.  The peculiarity of Colossal is a big part of its appeal, but it has far more to offer than its bizarre gimmick.

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Fight for Your Dreams: “Your Name.” and the Winding Path to Now

Is there anything in life more enigmatic than the haphazard paths that lead us into the another’ arms?  Makoto Shinkai’s anime Your Name. (Kimi no na wa) explores these paths by way of a fantastical body-swap comedy.  But, there is a genuine seriousness at the heart of the film that coalesces romance, connectivity, memory, and identity into a cohesive story about time, space, and the hidden strings that surround us all.  Your Name. sports a lavish animation style, energetic soundtrack, and intelligent use of imagery and metaphor, all of which contribute to an absolutely breathtaking experience.   Shinkai’s film amazes constantly, and is right at home alongside other pinnacles of this oft-celebrated style.

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“The Void”: a Loving Homage to Practical B-Movie Horror

The Void is an unabashed celebration of classic B-movies, a smorgasbord of horror tropes lovingly arranged for nostalgic consumption.  Co-written and directed by Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski, the film champions an old-fashioned approach to horror filmmaking, and will certainly delight fans of the genre.  Though some of the plot elements end up feeling rushed and overly complicated (especially the ending), The Void offers some astonishing visuals, a gripping and creepy story, and wonderful gore effects.  This is B-movie charm at its absolute finest, and should delight lovers of ‘80s horror, even if it is a little haphazard.

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