Hot Docs 2016: ‘Hotel Coolgardie’ and ‘Urmila: My Memory Is My Power’

Hotel Coolgardie (DIR. Pete Gleeson)

By: Addison Wylie

I find myself with Hot Docs déjà vu.  I liked a movie – at least, I think I did – but I feel sick to my stomach.  A similar love/hate set of emotions I felt towards last year’s The Wolfpack.

Hotel Coolgardie follows two avid travellers (Lina and Steph) as they acknowledge their financial woes.  In order to earn some cash to continue their trip, they agree to bartend at The Denver City Hotel in Coolgardie, Australia for a minimum of three months.  The job ,which is pitched to the women as a gig with minor strings attached, is foreboding from the start.  Their manager Peter is a shaming loudmouth, and the customers are mostly foul men who aren’t afraid to get grabby with the help.  Even a local barfly named “The Canman” who seems harmlessly friendly can’t be trusted either.

Hotel Coolgardie, an observational and occasionally loaded documentary from Pete Gleeson, has fulfilled its goals of capturing horrendous sexual harassment at large.  In fact, it’s so authentic that I started to feel ill about 15-minutes into the film.  The audience is in a defenceless position: we watch Lina and Steph’s discomfort as the community drools over them.  We want to help them or intervene.  Especially when the notoriously boozy and unpredictable Pikey starts clamouring about violence, and then later winds up in the girls’ room unexpectedly.  The agitating doc addresses sensitive issues, but it does no favours for anyone featured in the movie.

Hotel Coolgardie has all the tension of any horror movie – it’s an unforgettable piece of work.  What’s the opposite of a glowing travelogue?  Whatever it is, Hotel Coolgardie is that too.

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

Saturday, May 7 at 9:45 p.m. @ Scotiabank Theatre


Urmila: My Memory Is My Power (DIR. Susan Gluth)

By: Shahbaz Khayambashi

As much as we would all love to believe that we live in a just world and that the evils of the past remain in the past, it is an uncomfortable truth that slavery still exists in many parts of the world and many governments are either unable – or unwilling – to do anything about it.

One such slave was a woman by the name of Urmila, whose sale into – and eventual escape and struggle against – slavery are documented in Urmila: My Memory Is My Power.  The documentary follows Urmila as she educates others and advocates for stricter laws to fight against this Nepalese style of slavery, all the while working towards completing the education that she was denied in her twelve years of slavery in her quest to become a lawyer.

The story is horrifying and Urmila is an unquestionably likeable protagonist.  However, Susan Gluth’s documentary refuses to take any risks.  Just like dozens of other docs at this festival, it is simply content to point-and-shoot, wasting so many opportunities at experimentation: there are some sequences of Urmila performing her story in a play in front of a local audience, but nothing comes of them.  There are also many questions that are glossed over, like how she could ever forgive her family after being sold by them, which would have conflicted with the film’s feel-good tone.

At the end of the day, Urmila: My Memory Is My Power is worth a look for the subject matter alone.  If you are searching for something beyond a simple documentary, search elsewhere.

Catch Urmila: My Memory is My Power at Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on:

Sunday, May 8 at 4:00 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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