New Internationalist

The highlights of Hot Docs 2012

July 2012

Toronto’s 2012 Hot Docs festival presented a richness of images – from a hijacking drama at Dhaka’s airport in the 1970s to a ventriloquists’ convention in rural Kentucky. Richard Swift picks a few of the highlights.

We are Legion: the story of the Hacktivists (93 mins)

Veteran US public TV director Brian Knappenberger pulls his audience into the strange world of internet activism in this fascinating presentation of the way in which hacktivist groups like Anonymous grew out of the murky hacker world. The film traces the way in which ‘for the hell of it’ online funsters and their websites, such as the infamous 4chan, moved from sabotage of the pompous to serious confrontation with the powerful. First it was the Church of Scientology, then some of the forces complicit in the attack on Wikileaks. Now things have become very serious indeed with FBI and other police raids and some heavy jail time. But Anonymous and its supporters worldwide are up for the challenge.

★★★★

wearelegionthedocumentary.com

Call me Kuchu (90 mins)

This doc is set in the gay community of Kampala where filmmakers Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall show how Uganda’s quasi-official campaign of homophobia looks to the city’s besieged yet courageous lesbians and gay men. Community activists open their lives to the camera and show the cultural vitality that has allowed them to resist the onslaught and win many important victories.

The film has touching interviews with veteran activist David Kato who was murdered during the course of production. It shows the struggle of his legacy which followed him literally to his graveside. It also has interviews and footage of the coalition of Christian fundamentalists and self-serving journalists who are the sparkplugs of the anti-gay campaign. Kuchu won the 2012 top international prize at the festival. Well deserved.

★★★★

callmekuchu.com

The Reluctant Revolutionary (70 mins)

In perhaps the best of an excellent crop of documentaries about the Arab Spring, filmmaker Sean McAllister follows 35-year-old tour guide Kais as he tries to make a living in the middle of Yemen’s people’s revolt. The story is completely gripping, providing footage that draws you right into the streets of Sana’a’s Change Square and the confrontation between protesters and military or mercenary snipers. It’s not for the faint-hearted, with images of the dying and critically injured in makeshift street clinics. Kais starts as a political sceptic, but gradually gets drawn into his country’s fight for freedom against the Saleh dictatorship.

★★★★

seanmcallister.com

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry(70 mins)

In a remarkably accomplished first film, director Alison Klayman provides an engaging portrait of China’s best known and most uncompromising visual artist. The irrepressible Ai confronts the official world of corruption and arrogance all too characteristic of official China. He travels the length of the country using his genius for beauty and spectacle to cut to the essence of what troubles Chinese society, be it police brutality or earthquake-prone shoddy construction. Ai takes no prisoners and viewers hold their breath waiting for the moment when officialdom has had enough. In the end, he emerges slightly chastened but no less determined.

★★★★

aiweiweineversorry.com

The Invisible War (93 mins)

Kirby Dick uncovers the shocking story of rape in the ranks of the US military. This sensitively told story reveals the arrogance of power and cover-up as young women (and men too) are raped by their fellow soldiers, often their officers. This crime is almost of epidemic proportions and Dick follows several brave protagonists as they try to seek justice from an unwilling military system that wants them to ‘suck it up’ to avoid unwelcome publicity. In almost all cases the rapists continue in their military careers while the victims are forced out of the ranks. The Invisible War does an excellent job but for some may fall short due to its putting the blame on a few psychopaths rather than a culture of coercive entitlement; and because it fails to deal with the sexual abuse of those around the world who are unfortunate enough to come into contact with US troops policing the Empire.

★★★

invisiblewarmovie.com

Star Rating

★★★★★excellent ★★★★very good ★★★good ★★fair ★poor

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 454 This column was published in the July 2012 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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