It’s no secret that most film festivals around the world are going virtual. The next regional one in British Columbia is the Doxa Documentary Film Festival taking place June 18-26. This Vancouver-based event is presented by the Documentary Media Society (incorporated 1998) and they curate an impressive selection of works which explores the human condition. They want us as a society to think more about the world around us.
This fact also includes making the wise choice to still stay at home until the pandemic is in control or perhaps getting informed with the films to be presented. The following are my picks. They range from examining gender roles to where A.I. may fit in as the future.
Please note that some of these works are approved for screening only in this province, and the synopsis are from Doxa’s website. The tickets purchased give a code to viewing it online anytime during the event dates.
Korean director Areum Parkkang throws a few punches at gender roles in this honest and charming look at her own marriage. Newlyweds Areum and Seongman leave Korea, so that Areum can pursue her long-planned dream to study film in France. Once there, the former chef and progressive party activist Seongman has to adjust to his new life as a stay-at-home husband, while Areum focuses on her studies and their financial responsibilities.
Their adventure into married life in an unfamiliar country takes another turn when Areum becomes pregnant and, following the birth of their daughter, heated discussions continue over household chores and parenting duties. Through diary-like scenes and delightful animations filled with both existential dread and humour, the filmmaker turns the camera onto herself and wonders, can she manage both her life and her film? -MS
This observational study of a sheep farmer, named Ulfar, takes us to his isolated home on a misty cape of Iceland’s outermost Arctic reaches. This autumn is significant; it’s the last time the community will drive their sheep down the hillside, and Ulfar’s grandchildren are coming from Reykjavik to witness the passing of this lively ancient custom. Ulfar, his wife Oddney, and their sheepdog Loppa embrace quietude, although we do occasionally hear their radio solemnly announcing deaths and funerals.
Shot entirely on 16mm film, there are two sequences of exquisite monotone imagery—water, mountains, and cloudy skies—accompanied by portentous cello and a mournfully voiced poem about the gaping abyss that precedes genesis. Yrsa Roca Fannberg’s film is a restrained, sensitive elegy to disappearing rituals of old. -MB
Alysia Nahmias’s film explores the school’s revolutionary legacy through the life of its founder, László Moholy-Nagy. As a professor at the “Original Bauhaus School” in Weimar-era Germany, Moholy-Nagy developed a reputation for integrating technology and media, resulting in works that had profound and lasting influence. Amidst political instability in Europe, he relocated to Chicago, where the “New Bauhaus” was born. A struggle between art and commerce ensued, causing the professor and his students to fuse outsider instincts with everyday industrial design in ways that still influence our lives today. In the spirit of its subject, The New Bauhaus is a film that delights in surprises and visual feasts (where even an everyday bar of soap takes on a new, stylish light under filmmaker Nahmia’s lens). An inspiration for designers, artists, and the creative iconoclast within us all. -CP
Eddy’s Kingdom recounts the story of businessman Eddy Haymour, and the extreme methods he used to construct a Middle Eastern-themed amusement park in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. In 1955, Haymour immigrated to Edmonton, Alberta from Lebanon, and promptly started a chain of popular barber shops. On the tail of his success, in the early 1970s, he bought Rattlesnake Island, a piece of land resting in Lake Okanagan. Much to the dismay of many nearby residents, he dreamt of transforming it into an amusement park, complete with underwater submarines and a camel-shaped ice cream stand.
Several obstacles prevented Eddy from reaching his dream, and a stranger-than-fiction string of events ensued, including a week-long hostage situation at the Canadian Embassy in Beirut.
Spoken almost entirely in Chinuk Wawa, a near-extinct Indigenous language, małni – towards the ocean, towards the shore is an experimental documentary rooted in the origin-of-death myth from the Chinookan people in the Pacific Northwest. Lush landscape imagery and an immersive soundscape are poetically intertwined, evoking a dream-like state as we get to know Sweetwater Sahme, an expecting mother, and Jordan Mercier, a fluent chinuk wawa speaker. As they wander throughout their natural surroundings, Sahme and Mercier each reflect on their experiences, identities, and families; contemplating the phases of life, death, and rebirth.
Similar to the feeling of learning a new language, there is a mysterious and associative quality to małni. Recently awarded the 2020 Media Arts Guggenheim Fellowship, filmmaker and curator Sky Hopinka’s debut feature-length film is a quiet, earthly meditation on language, place, and eternity.
This documentary follows director Lulu Wei and fellow members of her community, as they are gradually expelled from their central Toronto neighbourhood by Vancouver-based developer Westbank, which recently began building 800 rental units on the site of legendary bargain department store, Honest Ed’s.
Neighbourhood residents of all types—artists, activists, academics, business owners, and politicians—try to come to terms with a changing city, in which much-loved local spaces can no longer survive. The parallels to Vancouver’s housing crisis are obvious as a Toronto city councillor asks the most pertinent question: “Are we building a neighbourhood, or are we just building buildings?” -PC
There are no custom-suited business types on these antiquated elektrychka commuter trains, just average folks off to work or school, hawking newspapers and foot powders to jaded fellow passengers, sharing grievances whilst waiting for the next train to Kyiv.
Director Oksana Karpovych shows us a slice of Ukranian life by focusing on random passenger vignettes and everyday interactions: kids wrestling over video game devices, young soldiers working through puzzle books, bored commuters napping in uncomfortable seats, or seniors off to shop and sell their wares at train stations. The trains have seen better days and the passengers themselves wish for brighter horizons (or at least that the train windows will open during stifling summer commutes). The faces and stories have Ukranian roots, but they will feel familiar to us all; a fine lesson in listening and humanity. -KE
After living in France most of her life, director Bojina Panayotova returns home to Bulgaria as a young woman suspicious of her family’s past; she speculates whether her family had been collaborating with the Communist regime throughout her childhood. Using archival footage, home videos, and interviews, Panayotova crafts a family drama that’s one part spy movie and one part tragicomic odyssey. A personal, yet entertaining look behind the Iron Curtain, I See Red People is both an investigation of the complicated legacy of communism in Bulgaria and a fascinating study of the parent-child relationship. -TG
For more than a decade, Phil Demers worked his dream job as an animal trainer at Marineland, the world-famous amusement park in Niagara Falls. While there, Demers garnered international media attention and an early social media following, thanks to his unique bond with Smooshi the Walrus. But over time his dream job turned into a nightmare; in 2012 he, along with several other co-workers, quit in protest against the organization’s treatment of the animals, citing negligence.
“Humans want to think they’re special,” says Emily in Who Made You? An astute observation, given that Emily is an android. While artificial Intelligence is already a part of our daily lives—Apple’s Siri and Google’s Alexa assist our every whim, robots guide senior citizens in their daily exercises, and sex dolls ease loneliness—new deep learning algorithms draw this relationship to the next level. Director Iiris Härmä approaches the subject with curiosity and openness, but doesn’t shy away from difficult questions. While people are voluntarily being implanted with enhancement chips, arguably becoming “cyborgs” themselves, what is the consequence of embracing technology without fully understanding it?
Through interviews with a range of ethicists, inventors, and citizens from around the world, Who Made You? reveals contemporary AI developments on a global level. The result is a startling glimpse into our not so distant future, where the definitions of “robot” and “human” become blurred; ultimately asking the question, will we eventually become “clowns in the circus we built”?