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Hot Docs 2017: ’Mermaids’ and ‘Step’

Mermaids (DIR. Ali Weinstein)

Mermaids takes on real-life issues and shows the beneficial qualities of becoming a real-life mermaid.

The documentary follows four different real-life mermaids.  Real-life mermaids describe themselves as women who feel more at home when around water, and they make fins and tails – or buy them – to further become these aquatic creatures.  In this doc, audiences also learn more about mermaid culture, including things these women do and their personal connections.

You also learn a lot about Weeki Wachee, a state park based out of Spring Hill, Florida – a park where the mermaids live.  Opening in 1947, this park has been one of the biggest attractions around that area for years.  Movie goers also learn more about this theme park, which is where the doc becomes problematic.

Mermaids tries very hard to be a serious film about this particular activity, but it comes up short.  While there were moments throughout the film that were genuine, the content is overpowered by the presence of Weeki Wachee.  Director Ali Weinstein spends too much time dwelling on the history of the park instead of focusing on the interesting details the park inhabits, including the positive effects this hobby can have on an individual and how it has brought people out of some dark times.  The audience receives bits of this potential, but not nearly enough.

Mermaids is a fun watch, but it leaves unfinished business.

– Nick Ferwerda

Catch Mermaids at Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on:

Friday, April 28 at 9:30 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Saturday, April 29 at 2:30 p.m. @ Isabel Bader Theatre

Monday, May 1 at 10:30 a.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Friday, May 5 at 12:00 p.m. @ Scotiabank Theatre

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Step (DIR. Amanda Lipitz)

Set against the streets of inner-city Baltimore, Step is a tightly focused film that is both emotionally and politically charged.  The film showcases the dance moves and determination of the Lethal Ladies of The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, the senior step-dance team of the all girls’ charter school.  The dancers are charismatic in their passion, motivation, and determination to forge a better future not only for themselves but for their families and their community.

This is director Amanda Lipitz’s debut documentary, and she has certainly established herself as a force to be reckoned with.  Step is well-paced and features intimate interviews with students, guidance councillors, and parents – offering a well-rounded view of the challenges that these young women face.

As someone that works within the North American college and university system, I found Step’s reluctance to offer an explicit critique of the United States flawed post-secondary model difficult to overlook.  Many of the students in the film are forced to choose their college or university based on financial factors rather than programing, location, quality of instruction, or resources.  The issue that remains unexamined in Step is that this kind of business approach to education makes it nearly impossible for low-income and marginalized students to access higher education.

The young women at the center of the film are certainly driven– but what makes them most inspiring is their hope and resilience in the face of a system that is rigged against them from the start.

– Shannon Page

Catch Step at Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on:

Friday, April 28 at 8:45 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Sunday, April 30 at 3:30 p.m. @ Hart House Theatre

Sunday, May 7 at 5:45 p.m. @ Aga Khan Museum

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Click here for more festival details and to buy tickets.

Do You Tweet? Follow These Tweeple:

Nick Ferwerda: @NickFerwerda

Shannon Page: @ShannonEvePage

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