These three documentaries don’t really have much in common, topic-wise, but they’re all great films. Which, I think, is enough of a connection to merit grouping them together. So there.
Atomic Hope – Inside the Pro-nuclear Movement (7/8)
As anyone who’s read my Hot Docs coverage over the years knows, I love a good science documentary — anything that feeds my brain with knowledge it didn’t possess before — and this is one such information-dense film. Director Frankie Fenton’s fascinating and eye-opening doc tracks the global grassroots effort to promote nuclear power as an effective, eco-friendly source of clean energy, and raises a whole slew of important questions in the process. Most notably: is fear thwarting the acceptance of a viable, already-at-our-fingertips solution to climate change? The doc follows a group of determined scientists, activists and experts from around the world for a few years as they attempt to spread their pro-nuclear message to decision-makers and the (sometimes hostile-in-its-resistance) general public, and explains how we could accelerate decarbonization by embracing the use of thorium — a radioactive chemical element which, the group says, is safer and more abundant than uranium, and capable of generating six billion times (?!) more energy than coal. The film also outlines how and why the idea is so controversial — stemming largely from concerns about Chernobyl- and Fukushima-like reactor meltdowns, exposure, contamination and the like — and then has its experts promptly assuage and debunk all those concerns with scientific evidence. It was all super-enlightening, and made it easy to understand why the members of Generation Atomic, Mothers for Nuclear and similar groups are so passionate about their cause. The data they present (for example, that you’re exposed to more radiation on an international flight than you are strolling around Chernobyl) is surprising, and will hopefully inform the critical environmental-protection and clean-energy discussions at the policy-making levels of government across the planet.
OKAY! The ASD Band Film (7/8)
Guaranteed to touch your heart and make you bop in your seat, this sweet, moving and, without question, rockin’ doc from director Mark Bone lands squarely in the “feel good” category. The film introduces the hugely talented titular musicians — vocalist Rawan, guitarist Jackson, keyboardist Ron and drummer Spenser — who are all on the autism spectrum and who formed The ASD Band through an initiative at Jake’s House, a Toronto-based organization providing support to families living with autism. Bone follows the group members’ at home and at rehearsals, as they write songs, finesse chords and beats, and not only prepare to record their first EP, but get ready to take the stage at their first-ever live gig. As significantly, interviews with the band and their loving, supportive families shed light on the challenges, joys and quiet fears that go along with life on the spectrum, as well as the inherent benefits that being in the ASD Band have provided to its members: confidence, skills-building and growing independence. The result is a doc filled with joy and hope (and some kick-ass tunes), demonstrating that the universal language of music is a powerful force in overcoming even the most challenging of communication barriers, and why — as Jake’s House co-founder David Bodanis explains — parents should never give up on the potential of what a child with autism can achieve.
Still Working 9 to 5 (7/8)
Here’s what I thought I would get when I sat down to watch this doc: a retrospective look at the making of the 1980 comedy 9 to 5. Here’s what I actually got: a retrospective look at the making of the 1980 comedy 9 to 5, *and* a comprehensive, informative history lesson on clerical workers, feminism, equal rights, sexual harassment, the ERA (and the Stop ERA movement), and how all of these things and more — including the movie itself — remain as relevant in 2022 as they were 40+ years ago. As one of the film’s subjects so succinctly explains, we now have “new slogans but not new issues.” Co-directors Camille Hardman and Gary Lane deftly cram a huge pile of hot-button issues into a delightfully palatable package, assembling 9 to 5’s original cast (Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton and Dabney Coleman), original screenwriter Patricia Resnick and executive-producer Bruce Gilbert for a deep dive into the film, from casting and costume selection to its theatrical release and beyond. Archival footage, outtakes and interviews with the group are peppered throughout, providing levity and nostalgia, and are juxtaposed with the real-life problems, challenges, frustrations and concerns their film was addressing. Much more of a Serious Documentary than I was expecting, Still Working was nonetheless excellent and, given the social and political climate at present, feels more important than ever.