Hot Docs 2018: ‘1999’ and ‘What Walaa Wants’

1999 (DIR. Samara Grace Chadwick)

A hauntingly dreamlike style of documentary and exploration of memory, Samara Grace Chadwick’s 1999 is artistically-conceived though low on information.

Around the late 1990s, a string of teen suicides sends a Moncton, New Brunswick high school into emotional turmoil, devastating the students, teachers, and community.  The problem gets so bad that École Mathieu-Martin is eventually referred to as “Suicide High”, and nearly 20 years later there’s still no answers or insights as to what caused this epidemic.

Stories and memories and versions of events are shared by the filmmakers’ former classmates, in the form of diary entries read aloud and dialogue and narration.  Serendipitously, a generous amount of video footage taken by a student around that time period still survives and is put to great use in this film.

As a viewer, one of the hardest notions to grapple with is the lack of facts and specifics presented by the film.  We don’t get many names or dates, or even a precise number as far as how many suicides actually occurred;  which is part of the film’s overall conceit – the subjectivity of remembrance, the way trauma manifests itself in memory in ways both specific and vague.

1999 is more a collection of narrated archives than a coherent arc, but is beautiful in its approach to the relationships between youth, heartbreak, and survival.

– Jessica Goddard

Catch 1999 at Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on:

Friday, May 4 at 4:00 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox


What Walaa Wants (DIR. Christy Garland)

A wholehearted coming-of-age story, What Walaa Wants tracks one Palestinian teenage girl’s transition from rowdy tomboy to disciplined, dedicated officer of the law.  Christy Garland’s documentary is a winning combination of tension, banter, and compelling narrative, with a charismatic character for its subject.

The film opens with the release of Walaa’s mother from an Israeli prison, and is based initially in the Balata Refugee Camp on the West Bank before moving to the training centre of the Palestinian Security Forces.  From the time Walaa Tanji is an ambitious young teen with a dream to her first day at a grown-up job with a salary, we’re given a headstrong, energetic, and (theoretically) motivated young adult to root for.

Despite opposition from members of her immediate family, Walaa pursues a career with the police, where her tendency to be a troublemaker and evident lack of self-discipline makes her unpopular.

The documentary begins a little slow as far as pacing, and by the end it’s disappointing we’re not given access to (what would be) some of the film’s most engaging conflicts.  But, the fly-on-the-wall style of filmmaking works really well for this story, and the film rewards patience by providing decent payoff for those who emotionally invest in Walaa’s potential.

– Jessica Goddard 

Catch What Walaa Wants at Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on:

Friday, May 4 at 3:00 p.m. @ Hart House Theatre


Click here for more festival details and to buy tickets.

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