HotDocs 2010 Day Two: Sexuality, Secrets and Surrogacy

Let me begin by saying something I say every year, and something that merits mentioning yet again: Myrocia Watamaniuk kicks ass. And I’m not just saying that because she actually used the word “meh” in one of her introductions today. Know what else kicks ass? The fact that every pre-film introduction explicitly and emphatically requests that folks not only shut their phones completely off (not just on “vibrate”), but that they refrain from texting when the lights dim. I love it! But I digress.

Despite a weather forecast calling for thundershowers all day, the skies remained mainly cloudy with only one spell of rainfall, so I actually managed more films than I thought I might when I set out this morning. Since all the venues have outdoor line-ups, the idea of standing in a torrential downpour and then sitting through a movie soaking wet was, in a word, unappealing, and I figured perhaps my fest-going would be thwarted. But it was not.

First up was a double bill running as part of the Kim Longinotto (Sisters in Law, Rough Aunties) retrospective. Both were mid-length documentaries from early in Longinotto’s career, and both show how much she’s grown as a filmmaker. Eat the Kimono (4/8) didn’t really grab me, unfortunately. Made in 1989, it profiles controversial Japanese feminist and performance artist Hanayagi Genshu as she preaches her social and political “gospel” to assorted audiences. But it’s basically an hour of Genshu ranting, often gratingly, and I found it difficult to engage in the film.

The second mid-length doc was Shinjuku Boys (5/8), which was more polished in terms of its storytelling but, again, wasn’t nearly as great as I’d hoped. Made in 1995, it examines the phenomenon of “onnabes,” Japanese women who live their lives as men and who offer their romantic and sexual services to other women as social clubs. While none of the “boys” actually identify as butch lesbians, or lesbians at all for that matter, they’re all involved in lesbian relationships. It offered a glimpse at a world I’d never seen before, and so in that respect the doc worked, but didn’t have the same power or heart as Longinotto’s more recent films.

I followed one two-fer screening with another, and this time the theme was authors. The short film Notes on the Other (5/8) centers on Ernest Hemingway – specifically, how one of his most notable claims to fame (being gored by a bull in Pamplona) never actually happened. It ties this revelation to the present-day life of the son of the actual man who endured the goring in the 1920s, and to a convention of Hemingway look-alikes in Key West. Entirely non-linear and admittedly murky in terms of its message or point (maybe I just didn’t get it?), the film was nonetheless well-made and interesting.

Next was Anne Perry – Interiors (6/8), a quiet and rather sombre look at the best-selling author, whose literary accomplishments are sometimes eclipsed by her notoriety… thanks to her murder conviction as a teenager and the subsequent retelling of that chapter of her life in Peter Jackson’s film, Heavenly Creatures (she was played by Kate Winslet). With its camera wandering the rooms and hallways of Perry’s home in the remote Scottish countryside, the film documents Perry’s day-to-day life, her small cadre of close friends and staff, and the tiny fissures that appear in the walls Perry has erected around her personal life. What struck me was the fact that the words that came to mind as I watched – compelling and, at times, somewhat sad – could be used to described the film as much as the woman at its core.

I decided to spend my entire day at the ROM theatre, so my last screening was Made in India (7/8), a fantastic and fascinating (and, given the packed house and sizable rush line, in-demand) look at the growing trend of Westerners seeking surrogacy in India – specifically, the efforts of one Texas couple as they go through the process of having a woman in India carry a child on their behalf. Wonderfully crafted and engaging from the get-go, the film addresses all the moral, ethical, social and economic issues related to this practice – and, not surprisingly, complications do arise for all involved. It also very subtly offers opinions while being balanced enough to let audiences decide for themselves how to feel about everything. As an aside, this screening was also the first time I’d ever heard the term “procreative-tourism industry,” which was both enlightening and sort of terrifying.

Then, with my stomach growling very loudly as a result of only having had breakfast followed by endless snacks throughout the afternoon, and with clouds looming, I decided not to press my meteorological luck. I called it a day.

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