Wylie Writes @ Hot Docs 2014: Baring It All and Barely Keeping Quiet

The Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival is fast approaching, which means it’s time to  check out some of the docs that will be playing this year.

The festival has been known to feature a variety of different work capturing all sorts of subjects and world events.  There’s simply no other festival like it, which explains why it’s become the largest film festival for docs in North America.

Hot Docs is one of my favourite festivals to cover and Wylie Writes is honoured to return and offer our audience coverage.

Our first pre-festival reviews share a similar theme of protesting.  Both docs are about unstoppable forces that will go to any length – and even shed clothing – to be heard.

Ukraine Is Not a Brothel (DIR. Kitty Green)


By: Addison Wylie

FEMEN, a protesting organization in the Ukraine made up of topless bombshells, makes for a concentrated topic in Kitty Green’s Ukraine Is Not a Brothel.  The doc not only shows the motivations behind this upfront movement, but also why these people feel the need to express their views while baring their bodies.

Ukraine Is Not a Brothel is questionable at first with a flurry of mixed messages.  The interviewed members of FEMEN talk about how women are seen as being lesser-than in a Ukrainian culture.  They’re enthusiastic to get their message across as to why women shouldn’t be seen as floozies.  Meanwhile, Green’s camera is gawky while capturing their nude protests – making sure their breasts are correctly in the frame.

After addressing the nudity, the filmmaker finds her footing and directs the doc down a path that isn’t afraid to uncover some of FEMEN’s flaws.  Take the group’s image, for instance.  FEMEN seems to only hire a certain type of female, and only breaking the rules when trying to make more of a visual boom.  A heavier set member talks about why this focus on mainstream attractiveness could potentially hurt FEMEN’s credibility in one of Green’s many fascinating interviews.

That’s where Ukraine Is Not a Brothel really shines.  Even though Green sometimes wanders into being too personable with her subjects, she doesn’t stray away from showing the flip side of the coin.  It’s a perfect example of a project that fuels the audience’s interest with each turn of the page.  As Green digs deeper, the doc gets more riveting.

It turns the idea of liberation through fortifying revolt on its ear, and shows us that even beneath the most earnest of intentions can hide something more paradoxical.  Ukraine Is Not a Brothel does to feminism what Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop did to modern art.  Kitty Green’s doc will have you in its grip by the final frame.

Catch Ukraine Is Not a Brothel at Toronto’s Hot Docs International Film Festival on:

Saturday, April 26 at 9:30 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Monday, April 28 at 1:00 p.m. @ Hart House Theatre

Tuesday, April 29 at 12:30 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Click here for more details and to buy tickets.


Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case (DIR. Andreas Johnsen)


By: Addison Wylie

The much talked about artist Ai Weiwei makes another splash on the Hot Docs circuit two years after Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry screened.  Even though I never caught Never SorryAi Weiwei: The Fake Case has the presence of a companion piece.  That could explain why Andreas Johnsen’s doc feels insufficient as its own project.

The Fake Case documents the artist’s life after being arrested and served a house arrest sentence for reasons Ai Weiwei feels are utter bunk.  The doc slowly builds towards Ai Weiwei’s crucial hearing while the controversial artist has a hard time abiding by the requirements he must follow until then.

The documentary is a true testament of how an outspoken soul is affected when caged.  Ai Weiwei is told to keep details quiet, but the thought and act of silencing someone’s freedom over wishy-washy claims infuriates him.  The restrictions don’t stop him from materializing reflective art and speaking to the foreign press about matters that the Chinese government become aggressive about.

Though Johnsen’s film has a passionate subject who freely gives the filmmaker many one-on-ones, most of Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case is spent wandering around Ai Weiwei waiting for something to happen.

The house arrest gives Johnsen an accountable serving of vulnerability and humbleness from his subject to work with.  But, for every clip of interesting intimacy, there’s quadruple the amount of long stretches that meander.  It’s a cinematic stake-out that tries to deter its audience’s boredom with cute snippets of the artist interacting with his caring wife and adorable son.

The closest Johnsen gets with adding substance during the emptiness is when Weiwei speaks with his worried but understanding Mother.  These talks are compelling as we see that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

There isn’t enough here to carry a film of this length.  Johnsen perhaps could’ve gotten away with a 40-minute short form doc, but even that’s up in the air considering how skimpy The Fake Case is.

A final artistic reveal is worth sticking it out until the end, but this documentary is subpar at best and no where near matches the importance Ai Weiwei and his work holds.

Catch Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case at Toronto’s Hot Docs International Film Festival on:

Saturday, April 26 at 4:30 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Sunday, April 27 at 1:00 p.m. @ Hart House Theatre

Friday, May 2 at 6:00 p.m. @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Click here for more details and to buy tickets.

Click here to visit the official Hot Docs webpage!

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