Hot Docs 2017: ‘Do Donkeys Act?’ and ‘Flames’

Do Donkeys Act? (DIR. David Redmon, Ashley Sabin)

Do Donkeys Act? takes an animal that is not usually afforded much dignity – the donkey – and gives movie goers an opportunity to let the animals speak for themselves (without speaking). The film takes its audience to visit various donkey sanctuaries around the world, where donkeys that have been subjected to abuse or neglect are cared for, healed, and allowed to relax and retire.

Do Donkeys Act? is less of a standard documentary, as there are no interviews, no narratives, and no particular angles or agendas. In that sense, it’s definitely more of a highbrow artistic film, especially in that it features almost no talking, other than the half-poetry, half-narration of Willem Dafoe. The script for that narration is beautiful, and probably the best part of the movie.

This film is not for the impatient, and there is one scene that is not for the squeamish. The doc really captures the reality of its subjects – so much so that you sometimes wonder if the donkey caretakers are being as gentle and sensitive as they could be, before you remember that this is what they’ve chosen to dedicate their lives to.

But this film will appeal to a specific audience – engaged animal lovers, for one, but also those who don’t mind something more contemplative. If you have the patience to sit through the documentary – which is not lengthy – you will be rewarded with some truly tender moments of payoff.

You may be tempted to take a first date to see this film if you want to appear thoughtful, and artistically literate, and sophisticated – don’t. See this film with the spouse you’ve been married to for 30 years.

– Jessica Goddard 

Catch Do Donkeys Act? at Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on:

Sunday, May 7 at 8:30 p.m. @ Scotiabank Theatre

UPDATE: Do Donkeys Act? will receive a theatrical run at Toronto’s Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema! The film opens on Friday, September 29.


Flames (DIR. Josephine Decker, Zefrey Throwell)

Flames is a nesting doll of performance art.  That should already tell you if this documentary is up your alley.

Directors Josephine Decker and Zefrey Throwell videotape their romantic relationship for five years – the ups, the downs, the sex (the up-down-up-down?) – while also pursuing thought-provoking public displays of art.  Decker and Throwell are very open in front of the camera, giving the audience raw insight into their romance and spontaneity.  Their art, while interesting for passing onlookers, are only multi-layered for the viewer watching this doc.  For example, the filmmakers meet up with fellow artists to play strip poker in a windowed room where people can look in.  When Josephine starts showing signs of awkward discomfort from the gawkers outside, this display soon transforms into a piece about voyeurism where she acknowledges the ogling eyes.

The documentary is obnoxious, hyper, and envisioned through an unconventional style, but I still enjoyed Flames because Decker and Throwell are amusing;  even when the fly-on-the-wall perspective was a supremely uncovered experience – literally.  The problem with Flames is that the film can’t be trusted.  The filmmakers overload their doc with so many layers, that it becomes detrimental to their credibility as storytellers.  When they openly break the fourth wall and discuss the conception of this movie – and their relationship – as a possible art project, the film had locked me out.

Sure, I could be taking this all too literally.  But, I mean, Zefrey is wearing a shirt with Andy Kaufman’s face on it when he’s discussing the documentary with Josephine.  C’mon!

– Addison Wylie 


Click here for more festival details and to buy tickets.

Do You Tweet? Follow These Tweeple:

Jessica Goddard:  @TheJGod

Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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