Hot Docs Roundup: International Spectrum Edition
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Hot Docs Roundup: International Spectrum Edition

A look at some of the comedy-centric films in this year's Hot Docs festival roster, and whether or not they deliver.

We’re watching our way through the Hot Docs festival roster and telling you which films to see and which you might want to pass on. Today, we round up some of the fest’s most exciting international selections.

Drawing the Tiger
Directed by Amy Benson, Ramyata Limbu, and Scott Squire
stars 3andahalf9

16-year-old Shanta (photo) is hope of the impoverished Darnal family in the village of Bahunchhura, Nepal.

Shot over seven years in the Nepalese mountains outside of Katmandu, Drawing the Tiger follows members of the Darnal family as they try desperately to stay afloat by “subsistence farming” (currently how eight of ten families in Nepal make their earnings). Their reality is stark: they’re deep in debt with relatives, their eldest son has a job in the city while the smaller children attend a poorly managed school in the village, the mother cooks for the whole family while doing all the hard labour on the farm too, while the father travels between the households of his two wives. Their hopes are entirely squared on the pretty shoulders of teenage Shanta, the smartest girl the village has ever had—smart enough to get a scholarship to a private school in Katmandu, where she lives with her brother, sister-in-law, and infant niece. But if you’re in the mood for an up-lifting, feel-good story, this may not be the one. A devastating twist hits the family and forever changes the future they hoped for, and a ripple effect proves just how impossible it is for a family in that kind of society to change their status economically, mentally, or emotionally. It especially focuses on the pressures of the women in the family, who live under precarious expectations: obey, but be strict with others. Be ambitious, but not too ambitious. Be a breadwinner, and also raise a family. In another way, those kinds of conflicts can be found in Canada as well, albeit with much lower stakes.

The Circus Dynasty
Directed by Anders Riis-Hansen
4 Stars

The Casselly family from The Circus Dynasty by Anders Riis Hansen

The Casselly family from The Circus Dynasty by Anders Riis-Hansen.

TIFF Bell Lightbox 3–Sat, Apr 25, 6:30 p.m.

Isabel Bader Theatre–Sun, Apr 26, 1:00 p.m.

Isabel Bader Theatre–Fri, May 1, 4:00 p.m.

Modern “Big Top” circuses are in rough shape: new laws are prohibiting their use of live animals in their acts, and they’re quickly declining in popularity in North America. Even in Europe there’s the new trend of Cirque Nouveau, which takes a much more artistic and conceptual approach to traditional circus skills. But the acrobatic Casselly’s and the business-minded Berdino’s are two of the last powerful circus families in Europe, and the romance between the two eldest children, Merrylu and Patrick, contains all of their professional and personal hopes. But, being 21 years old, they don’t turn out to be the solid bet their parents counted on, and the future of the circus and the families’ friendship is thrown off-balance. The Circus Dynasty is first and foremost an in-depth look at a very foreign lifestyle for most Torontonians—one that’s constantly on the road in giant mobile homes, where entertainment is provided by racial stereotypes and trained animal acts, and where show elephants can act as a kind of dowry. The film never really goes into how much trouble the business is in financially, it’s hinted at by the pressure put on Merrylu and especially Patrick (as the next Ringleader), but the picture drawn here is never that dire. Only when an American colleague arrives to dole out offers do you see the strain in patriarch René Casselly’s face. Also, the doomed love affair between Merrylu and Patrick is sweet and sad, and entirely relatable.

The Amina Profile
Directed by Sophie Deraspe

A still from The Amina Profile, directed by Sophie Deraspe

A still from The Amina Profile, directed by Sophie Deraspe.

In another mind-blowing case of secret identity (in the vein of The Cult of JT LeRoy, reviewed previously), The Amina Profile deals with a misrepresented persona and the very damaging, widespread repercussions that followed. When Syrian blogger Amina Arraf, known for her popular anti-regime website A Gay Girl in Damascus, was reportedly abducted, it set the whole world in motion to free her—especially determined was her online girlfriend, Montreal resident Sandra Bagaria. But when no one can find a trace of Amina, efforts turn from trying to free her to investigating who she really is, and the results are a staggering sequence of discoveries that director Sophie Deraspe dramatically follows in the film. But even if you’ve already heard the story, The Amina Profile reveals another powerful voice to the story, that of Bagaria herself. Putting her in the interviewer’s seat, Bagaria takes control of the story that, at one point, placed her in the role of the culprit. Watching Bagaria’s strength build as she talks and learns with others involved in Amina’s lies is fascinating, leading to an electric final fifteen minutes. Deraspe’s documentary is a thrilling look into one woman’s personal betrayal, but also doesn’t let another go by without consequence— the betrayal of the international media for letting a salacious scandal override reporting on actual injustices in Syria.

Directed by Tonje Hessen Schei

A military drone operator training session in Drone

A military drone operator training session in Drone.

Last week, Barack Obama admitted that drone strikes in Pakistan killed two Western hostages, an American and an Italian. But the countless local residents and children of the areas frequently hit by drone strikes get far less attention, according to this jarring documentary by Norwegian director Tonje Hessen Schei. In fact, she argues that the United States’s drone warfare is actually crossing the line into war crimes, implicating all levels of government, and permanently changing the rules of engagement around the world. By now, the world is vaguely aware of the blurred moral boundaries of unmanned drone strikes and the possible mental repercussions impacting operators at home. But Hessen Schei spends a lot of time on the ground in Pakistan and Waziristan, interviewing victims to whom drone strikes have become a part of daily life, offering a much more visceral aspect of the reality of this new technology. After watching Drone, you might hope the only use for drones is the new Amazon delivery service, but it’s probably far too late.