Hot Docs 2016: ‘A Dog’s Life’ and ‘Hotel Dallas’

A Dog’s Life (DIR. Hélène Choquette)

By: Shahbaz Khayambashi

Research has shown time and time again that pets are beneficial to homeless individuals, as they provide love, support and companionship to a marginalized, frequently ignored population.  A Dog’s Life is a study of the benefits and hardships that come along with being homeless with a dog, discovered through interviews with several people in this particular situation.  What follows are anecdotes about a variety of topics including how people became homeless, why they have hounds, and how they deal with their pet’s necessities for living (food, housing).

Hélène Choquette’s documentary does a good job humanizing the individuals therein, but there is not much else to the film.  The stories seem like they are attempting to answer questions, but no such thing occurs.  Furthermore, the individuals are fairly homogenous, as if all homeless people come from a similar background (all of the characters are white, all – but one – are men [two other women are present, but they are partners of the established subjects], and a large number of them are people who went from comfortable home lives to homelessness due to sudden circumstances). Choquette has also included too many subjects.  In its 67-minute runtime, each interviewee has a limited span of time to discuss the subject at hand, resulting in many underdeveloped stories.

Homelessness and the search for happiness and companionship are certainly subjects that needs to be studied, but A Dog’s Life would’ve been aided by a longer runtime, fewer subjects, and a greater sense of diversity.

Catch A Dog’s Life at Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on:

Wednesday, May 4 at 6:45 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Thursday, May 5 at 10:15 a.m. @ Isabel Bader Theatre

Saturday, May 7 at 1:30 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox


Hotel Dallas (DIR. Livia Ungur, Sherng-Lee Huang)

By: Addison Wylie

I was watching Hotel Dallas and I caught myself spacing out during its genre-bending shenanigans.  Since it was late, I decided to start fresh the next day.  This time, I wasn’t nodding off, but I was experiencing the same disorientation and disinterest.  I was second guessing what filmmakers Livia Ungur and Sherng-Lee Huang were slinging towards me, causing me to wonder why the doc’s fragmented narrative was necessary.

Hotel Dallas, while admirably ambitious, is hard to keep up with.  From my understanding, it’s slightly autobiographical from Ungur’s perspective, and a legitimate documentation about how the TV show Dallas was a capitalist vessel for communist Romania in the 1980s.  The doc shows us that Dallas wasn’t just a show, it could be perceived as a way of life.  However, Ungur and Huang noodle around with so many different presentations (including musical sequences, reenactments, and the inclusion of archival footage), the audience becomes conflicted with how they should be feeling and the legitimacy behind the project.  A piece of work like Hotel Dallas should have the audience reflecting – not mind reading.

Viewers who remember Dallas may get a kick out of certain things (most notably the voiceover role by Patrick Duffy, who gives the film its only allure), and outsiders will be happy to stare at the film’s interpretive imagery and tracking shots.  The “endless column” is particularly trippy.

However, we’re still left with a question: how do you classify Hotel Dallas?  Is it a documentary or experimental art?  Can it be both?  Is this a negative review or a recommendation for curious movie goers who are looking for something “different”?  How fitting: a waffly review for an indecisive movie.

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

Saturday, April 30 at 6:30 p.m. @ Scotiabank Theatre

Sunday, May 1 at 2:00 p.m. @ Scotiabank Theatre

Friday, May 6 at 8:45 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox


Click here for more festival details and to buy tickets.

Do You Tweet? Follow These Tweeple:

Shahbaz Khayambashi: @ShaKhayam

Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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