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Hot Docs 2017: ‘Birth of a Family’ and ‘Pecking Order’

Birth of a Family (DIR. Tasha Hubbard)

Birth of a Family follows four siblings, three sisters and a brother, who were taken from their mother and placed in separate families during the “sixties scoop” – a period of three decades in Canada that saw tens of thousands of indigenous children removed from their homes and sent to live with non-indigenous families throughout North America.  Now middle aged, the siblings meet for the first time and attempt to reconnect during a week-long vacation in Banff, Alberta.  While attempting to form new bonds and relationships with their estranged relatives, the siblings also attempt to reconnect with their indigenous culture, language, and customs.

Yet as the audience learns more about their now-deceased mother, Mary Jane, more questions than answers emerge.  It becomes clear that some of the siblings met Mary Jane before her death, and that at least two of the sisters have seen one another before, but no context is provided for this information.

The backdrop of Banff and the Rocky Mountains is breathtaking and the film does offer some strong, quietly emotional moments – particularly as the siblings discuss their heritage and connection to their indigenous identities.  Nonetheless, Birth of a Family is a lost opportunity.

Though the premise promises to be both politically and emotionally charged, Birth of a Family doesn’t manage to get close enough to its subjects to be truly effective.  Besides Hubbard herself, the siblings don’t seem particularly comfortable in front of the camera and the one-on-one interviews do little to address who they are outside of their separation from Mary Jane and one another.  As a result, the film, which is only a little over an hour long, feels drawn out and uncertain of its own direction.

– Shannon Page 

Catch Birth of a Family at Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on:

Wednesday, May 3 at 3:00 p.m. @ Scotiabank Theatre

Saturday, May 6 at 6:00 p.m. @ Innis Town Hall

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Pecking Order (DIR. Slavko Martinov)

Pecking Order is an endearing documentary that, hopefully, will appreciate any reaction it gets from viewers.  The film makes us laugh.  Never at the expense of the people on screen, but usually out of the sheer absurdity around their fascination with “poultry pageantry”.

In and around New Zealand, chicken enthusiasts groom their game and enter them into competition.  While mostly rated on cosmetic appearance, the competing chickens are also graded on their physical shape and health.  Winners are more inclined to partake in bigger competitions where the judging becomes more scrutinizing with tighter competition.

Outside these events, controversy breaks out within the Christchurch Poultry, Bantam, and Pigeon Club when the committee disapproves of their new president, Doug Bain.  Although Bain steals the film with his short fuse whenever he takes umbrage with the club, the real prizes in Pecking Order are the “poultry pageantry” devotees.  Movie goers experience a close-up view of the feathery flock, introducing new beauty and education to an otherwise surreal hobby.

Pecking Order is directed by Slavko Martinov, a filmmaker who previously failed to engage audiences with his nasty and smug mock-doc Propaganda.  Pecking Order, a film filled with insight, happiness, and cute laughs, couldn’t be more different.

– Addison Wylie 

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

Saturday, May 6 at 10:00 a.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

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Click here for more festival details and to buy tickets.

Do You Tweet? Follow These Tweeple:

Shannon Page: @ShannonEvePage

Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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