Hot Docs 2019 #6: Stimulation and Sanitation

Our Rating

Let me begin today by saying I thought I’d seen it all in terms of rude behavior by film-fest audience members over the years: texting or making/taking calls during screenings, cutting in line, sitting down in aisles. But yesterday took the cake when, during Mr. Toilet: The World’s #2 Man, a woman a couple rows ahead of me took out her phone (which was already turned on), aimed it at the screen, zoomed in and out a few times, and then started blatantly RECORDING THE MOVIE.


She shot for about 10 seconds, then put the phone away. About 10 minutes later, she did it again. I was stunned by what she was doing, but even more surprised that no one sitting behind her or around her asked her to stop. She was holding the phone up as though holding a camera to take a photo – it wasn’t subtle or discreet, and I guarantee that everyone sitting anywhere behind or beside her saw what she was doing, with the bright light of her device acting as a hugely distracting beacon.

When she took the phone out a third time and aimed it at the screen, I got out of my seat, went down the stairs (this was at the Scotiabank Theatre) to her row, leaned over and said, “Can you turn off your phone, please?”

She sort of harumphed and gave me an annoyed look… as though *I* was the one who’d done something wrong! Unbelievable. And all this after very clear onscreen title cards notifying audience members to turn all devices off, and that recording the film is strictly prohibited… though, obviously, no one is actually enforcing these rules. Alas.

ANYWAY… back to the actual films!

First up was director Pernille Rose Grønkjær’s Hunting for Hedonia (5/8), narrated by Tilda Swinton, which examines the history and modern-day applications of deep-brain stimulation – which, in a very basic nutshell, means inserting super-thin wires into the deepest recesses of the brain and sending through tiny pulses of electricity as a way of stimulating the pleasure center and, hopefully, alleviating depression, OCD, Parkinson’s disease and assorted other psychological and physical ailments. It’s fascinating material, and Grønkjær – using archival footage, animation and personal stories from patients who have undergone the procedure in recent years – does a good job outlining the evolution of the process, its pros and cons, and the benefits and risks to both patients and their physicians. What wasn’t clear to me is why it seems like this treatment is still not widely available. Or maybe it is? A number of neuroscientists are interviewed and it seems like they’re saying, “We need to make this available!”, yet… we also hear from patients who have received the treatment, so obviously it is (?) available… somehow? Or to some people? I was never sure whether the patients interviewed were part of clinical trials, random experiments or something else. As well, the film was a bit weighed down by what I found to be distracting “artsy interludes”: they were clever at first (a shot of snow-covered branches mimicking the “branches” of the brain), but grew tiresome after a while (“oh, another long, slow tracking shot of a river”). I liked the film but, as a fan of science docs and women filmmakers, just thought I would love it more than I did.

My second and final film of the day was the delightfully enlightening Mr. Toilet: The World’s #2 Man (8/8), a funny, heartfelt and immensely informative profile of Jack “Mr. Toilet” Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organization, and tireless advocate for improved sanitation and universal access to toilets in developing nations around the world. Goofy, charming and fully dedicated to his mission as a way of making a difference with his life, Sim criss-crosses the planet, raising awareness of the sanitation crises in countries such as India and China, where open defecation – leading to illness, disease and contaminated water – is rampant in poorer and more rural communities. Director Lily Zepeda paints a wonderfully well-rounded – and, of course, poop-joke-filled – portrait of this persistent potty pioneer, presenting not only his lofty dreams and assorted successes (such as having the UN resolve to name November 19 “World Toilet Day”), but also the occasional perils and potential pitfalls of his sometimes impetuous endeavors and myriad ideas. The film wisely follows Sim’s own blueprint regarding the subject matter, and succeeds as a result: presenting a topic that some might find difficult or embarrassing or taboo through humor as a softer-sell way of getting the no-less-important point across. Zepeda also peppers the doc with quietly moving sequences and insightful commentary, most notably featuring Sim and his wife each speaking about the other with such affection that you might actually get a little teary! Honestly, if you don’t fall in love with Jack Sim and his crusade – and feel compelled into action yourself – after seeing this doc, you might want to watch it again. Full pie!


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