Hot Docs 2016: ‘No Man Is an Island’ and ‘Where is Rocky II?’

No Man Is an Island (DIR. Tim De Keersmaecker)

By: Addison Wylie

I imagine Tim De Keersmaecker’s outline for No Man Is an Island looked good on paper: make a first-hand view at how African refugees perceive life while living in the unknown territory of Lampedusa.  Unfortunately, the documentary is another victim of poor fly-on-the-wall filmmaking.

The documentarian lets his cameras roll to capture conversations and tasks in their natural essence.  However, not much is revealed.  No Man Is an Island follows two men – Adam and Omar – as they try to adapt, but the doc lacks context by not having proper established explanations – the audience is usually dropped into a scene without much of a lead-in.  Slipshod pacing and a couple of dirty edits also add to the tedious disconnect the audience may be feeling.

Confessional interviews towards the end of the film offer movie goers a thread of emotional connection, but it’s too late.  By the time we’re invested, the credits are rolling and the house lights are up.

Catch No Man Is an Island at Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on:

Tuesday, May 3 at 4:00 p.m. @ Scotiabank Theatre

Saturday, May 7 at 1:00 p.m. @ Isabel Bader Theatre


Where is Rocky II? (DIR. Pierre Bismuth)

By: Shahbaz Khayambashi

“‘Hollywood’ is a verb” and “you can ‘Hollywood’ anything”: these are two propositions on Hollywood from artist Ed Ruscha.  Any time it is suggested that anything can be “insert verb or adjective”, artists should – and often do – take it as a challenge.  As such, Where is Rocky II? takes this position and uses it to “Hollywood” an absurd yet strangely mundane story: Ruscha created a fake yet realistic rock in the 1970s and placed it in an out-of-the-way section of the Mojave Desert.  This veritable needle in a haystack, a “Hollywood” rock, is sought out by another individual who looks for it while ignoring the suggestions of others that this rock may not be findable.  This search is, in turn, turned into a “Hollywood” object with the film taking heavy liberties with tropes from detective, mystery and action films.

Where is Rocky II? is a good example of a film that uses style to cover up its lack of substance – it’s mostly successful.  If this doc was simplified, the story would fit into five minutes (an artist made a fake rock and refused to tell people where exactly it was and the documentarian is looking for it).  Instead, it is stylized to the gills and every encounter is gorgeously shot in a beautiful locale accompanied with the occasional ambient music or dramatic simulation.  This is an important detail: this documentary seems to be about as “fake” as Rocky II with many simulated sequences that do not push the assumed plot of the doc, but rather the actual experiment behind the film.

This simple story is made “Hollywood” and while I would have preferred to see a straight-forward study of unfindable art and a less tiring conceit, Where is Rocky II? is a decent consolation prize.

Catch Where is Rocky II? at Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on:

Sunday, May 8 at 6:30 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox


Click here for more festival details and to buy tickets.

Do You Tweet? Follow These Tweeple:

Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

Shahbaz Khayambashi: @Shakhayam

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