By Sean Boelman
The Hot Docs Film Festival is one of the biggest markets for documentary filmmaking in the world, and this year, there are plenty of great films that appeared in the lineup. We at disappointment media got the opportunity to see some of the films that screened there, and here are our thoughts:
There is no denying that finance is one of the most confusing industries there is, and Daniel Edelstyn and Hilary Powell’s documentary Bank Job makes that abundantly clear. Following a community who sets out to defeat predatory economic institutions, the film explores how the success of our society is fundamentally tied to the concept of debt. However, there’s something really inspiring about seeing people come together to support their community like this. It’s a really interesting watch, even if it fails to make these principles make any more sense to the average person.
Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest
One wouldn’t normally think of watching a man stand at an arcade cabinet for hours upon hours as riveting cinema, but Mads Hedegaard’s documentary Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest is surprisingly compelling. Following a professional gamer who sets out to play a record-breaking one-hundred-hour session on his favorite game, this is an ode to everyone who has set their eyes on a dream and won’t give up. And in exploring the friendship that exists between the subject and his best friends, the audience will endear the audience to the story with an unexpected authenticity.
The Gig Is Up
In the past decade, the gig economy has been booming significantly, but few people recognize the extent to which we rely on gig workers for many aspects of our lives. Generally, we think of gig workers as the delivery and rideshare drivers or odd job workers from services we commonly utilize, but Shannon Walsh’s documentary The Gig Is Up shows just how much bigger it is. It’s an eye-opening film that explores how both the system and consumers are exploiting this form of labor, with some very emotional interviews that bring home the urgency of this issue.
Playing with Sharks
Acquired by National Geographic out of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, Playing with Sharks is the type of documentary that seems destined to have quite the following when it makes its broadcast debut. Telling the story of scuba diver Valerie Taylor, the film offers an interesting examination of the relationship that people have with sharks. It offers a little bit for everyone, with some gorgeous underwater footage for animal lovers and some interesting behind-the-scenes Jaws facts for cinephiles. It’s an all-around crowd-pleaser, and we need more nonfiction films like that.
Rockfield: The Studio on the Farm
Rockfield: The Studio on the Farm is yet another music documentary that promises to offer the untold stories behind some of your favorite songs. And while there is no denying of the importance of Rockfield as an institution, fans will ultimately be familiar with many of these stories. As a result, this is basically a music history lesson for people who are already versed in music history. A few interesting interviews aside, there’s really nothing to make this stand out from all of the other similar documentaries that have come out like this in the past.
Luciana Kaplan’s documentary The Spokeswoman tells the story of an amazing woman whose story needs to be heard. Following the first Indigenous woman to pursue the office of President of Mexico, this isn’t your typical rags-to-riches tale. Instead, it’s about someone who has embarked on a mission of advocacy that is nothing short of extraordinary. Admittedly, the storytelling here is pretty simple, but the film is just so powerful that viewers will be drawn in nevertheless.
The 2021 Hot Docs Film Festival ran virtually April 29 through May 9.
The Snake Hole
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