Hot Docs 2016 #5: Hitting the Wall

Our Rating

Here’s how you know it’s perhaps time to slow down and take a break: you’re a film-fest veteran who’s attended Hot Docs for the past 10 years (and TIFF for some 25+ years), but you nonetheless wind up getting into the wrong ticketholders line. Twice. In the same day. For two different screenings. That’s what happened to me yesterday. Paired with finding myself drifting off during films, I knew my Tuesday would be aided greatly by cutting my Monday short to go home and get a good night’s sleep. So, I skipped my final screening of the day and saw only three films.

First up was one of the most buzzed-about documentaries screening at the festival. Its trailer was beyond-intriguing and the film itself was, I think, one of the most magnificently twisted and totally creepy docs to play the fest.

On the surface, Tickled (7/8) sounds kind of quirky: New Zealand pop-culture reporter David Farrier (who also co-directed the film with Dylan Reeve) stumbles upon a Facebook page related to Competitive Endurance Tickling and thinks it would make for an interesting story. Fun, right? But once he begins pulling on that thread, Farrier is not only met with resistance but open hostility. What unspools is a truly bizarre, thoroughly compelling “WTF?!” investigation filled with cover-ups, lawsuits, hacking, death threats and a decidedly sinister vibe. It was fascinating and fantastic and wildly unsettling.

Farrier was in attendance for the post-film Q&A, and explained that the repercussions of his investigation and the film itself continue today, and include private investigators being sent to the film’s screenings to record Q&As. He then answered a seemingly benign question from a guy sitting in the front row, who was wearing a hoodie with the hood up… and who’d been recording the Q&A. Farrier asked the guy if he was just such an investigator, and the audience laughed (so I couldn’t hear the answer), but my guess is that the question probably wasn’t a joke.

Up next, I was reminded of the perils of selecting a screening “just because it fits” into a vacant slot of time on one’s filmgoing schedule. Sometimes, random picks turn out to be amazing, other times… not so much. Yesterday was the latter. And it was my first walk-out of the festival.

Future Baby (no rating) purports to examine the issue of the future of reproduction now that advances in science and medicine are making conception, childbearing and parenthood possible for people who might not have had that opportunity in the past. But, wow, the film itself was so dry and clinical and dull that it was about as engaging as watching people read a biology textbook on camera. One static talking head after another appeared onscreen to detail the hows and whys of assorted techniques and procedures, from IVF to egg harvesting, but the proceedings were completely devoid of color or depth or heart. I didn’t care about the patients or the doctors or the researchers, and all were presented in the same sterile manner. After an hour, I gave up and opted to use the extra time to go have a proper meal.

As an aside, I decided to give Kupfert & Kim (in the Metro Centre food court) a try for the first time, and my meal was not only delicious but organic, sustainable and totally filling. /end of unsolicited plug.

Last up was a film tailor-made for lovers and aficionados of blues music… of which, admittedly, I am neither. That might be why I wasn’t really drawn in to I Am the Blues (4/8), which didn’t have a narrative structure that I could ascertain, and was more of a “hey, here are some deep-South legends still doing their thing in their 80s” series of vignettes than a structured documentary. In the film, director Daniel Cross (who served as EP on films such as Up the Yangtze and Last Train Home) takes his camera to the farthest reaches of rural Mississippi to catch up with the likes of Bobby Rush, Lazy Lester, Carol Fran and more… but if you don’t have prior knowledge of who these people are (as I didn’t), the names will mean little. While some do share compelling stories of their youth, and seeing these elderly men and women still savor the salvation that is their music was cool, the film became repetitive and scattered, and – unfortunately – just didn’t hold my attention.


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