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Hot Docs 2013 Preview Pt. 1

The Manor Hot Docs

The Manor
Special Presentation

The opening night film is not feel-good, but surely interesting and very hard to forget; whether you want to remember or not. A colourful cast of characters make up the people of The Manor, a hotel and strip club in Guelph, and those colors are pretty unattractive ones.

As narrated by the indecisive, apprehensive, and quixotic son of the club’s owner, The Manor is no commentary or quest, simply presentation and amazement. Shawney Cohen, an idealistic Jewish family man in his mid 30’s questions the Cohen business while tending to a few familial issues in his uneventful southern Ontario town.

The lives of those associated with The Manor, a historic Guelph institute, are anything but ordinary. Shawney’s father is dangerously obese, clocking in at around 400 pounds before his stomach surgery. His mother, on the other hand, is scarily underweight, and looks as if she were to fall, something would break. His brother, who enjoys the business, is dating a blond woman who works at the club, and the two live in his parent’s basement. The hotel manager has a problem with drugs, and another coworker, who is treated like a son, has trouble with everything else.

It’s a powerful portrait for sure, and Shawney gives the viewer incredibly intimate access over the course of three years in trying to deal with a tough, single-minded father, a feeble mother, and a carefree brother. Shawney for his part seems to want to be compelling, but his inaction is just as frustrating as the unhealthy and aggressive decisions made by others.

At times funny, mostly tragic, and always engrossing (or just gross), The Manor is a curious choice for opening night, a well-made film, and calls for a shower after viewing.

Thu, Apr 25
9:30 PM – Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Mon, Apr 29 12:00 PM – TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

[star v=35]

Special Presentation

An answering machine message, one that still seems too ludicrous to be real, one that asks for an explanation and an apology on behalf of someone else, becomes a fitting opening to a film about Anita Hill. The voice on the machine claims to be Ginny Thomas, wife of United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and she is asking for Anita Hill to explain why she accused Mr. Thomas of harassment in 1991 when he was a nominee for the court. So begins a retrospective, with Ms. Hill offering her thoughts along the way in a film that emphasizes her courage over the previous decades.

Divided into two distinct parts, the first is not at all new but still compelling and evocative. It follows Anita Hill’s testimony before the U.S. Congress on the character of Mr. Thomas, a lengthy appearance that somehow turned into a character assessment of Ms. Hill. It remains chilling, as an out-of-touch group of men, led by now Vice President Joseph Biden, are more interested in discussing sex the way a child might, almost giggling along the way. They interrogate Hill while bowing to Mr. Thomas.

Ms. Hill and contemporaries remember the momentous day, illustrating so simply the failure of the U. S. government.

The second half, however, takes a different tone. It shows how Hill’s life dramatically changed after hearings, and while what happened to her is significant, the film loses steam after a powerful start. The ending, however, redeems, as Hill today has become a unifying and inspiring figure in raising awareness about harassment and educating a younger, more empowered generation of women. It takes a while for the film to reach a stirring conclusion, but when it does, and when you hear a select group of very young women talk about equality, it’s something special.

Fri, Apr 26
6:30 PM – Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Sat, Apr 27 1:30 PM – Isabel Bader Theatre
Sat, May 4 4:00 PM – Isabel Bader Theatre

[star v=3]

Who Is Dayani Cristal?
Special Presentation

A dead body is found in the hot sun of Arizona’s Sonora Desert abutting the Mexican-American border. It is one of many bodies found annually in the desert of migrants looking to start a new life in America, having crossed the border illegally to gain access. This body may or may not be that much different from the other unknowns, but director Marc Silver and actor/producer Gael Garcia Bernal care deeply.

In what looks to be one of the most powerful and imaginative films at the festival, Silver wants to know who the dead man who has a tattoo across his chest reading ‘Dayani Cristal,’ was in life and why he tried to make it to America.

As Silver offers stunning insight into the forensics and statistics of these unknown deceased crosses, and seeks to find the family and friends of this dead man, Mr. Bernal sets out on an incredible pilgrimage. Clad in a red hat and blue shirt, Bernal narrates while weaving his way through Mexico, he attempts to recreate the path taken by so many as the leave their homes and head for the border in an attempt to better understand. He makes acquaintances along the way, hearing stories from those who seek America.

That is, of course, if they make it to the border. The most magnificent part of the film takes place atop a train, one that runs through Mexico and has become a part of the journey to America. They don’t ride in it, but atop, jumping on and off and sitting on the roof as it snakes its way through the country. It is breathtaking and unbelievable, not to mention exceedingly dangerous. Intimate and illuminating, Who Is Dayani Cristal is a tragic tale, giving very human faces to a growing international problem.

Sat, Apr 27
12:00 PM – Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Mon, Apr 29 4:00 PM – Isabel Bader Theatre
Sun, May 5 9:30 PM – TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

[star v=45]

Anthony Marcusa

A pop-culture consumer, Anthony seeks out what is important in entertainment and mocks what is not. Inspired by history, Anthony writes with the hope that someone, somewhere, might be affected.