FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead
• Spring is here and with it a new batch of top-notch, international documentaries at the DOXA Festival (www.doxafestival.ca), the west coast counterpart to Toronto’s world renowned Hot Docs.
DOXA opens with Virunga, at the Playhouse on May 2. The documentary depicts the heroics of rangers protecting Africa’s oldest national park in Eastern Congo – and, in particular, the rare gorilla population – from poaching and war. Just last month, the park’s chief warden was shot four times in an assassination attempt, showing how dangerous this conservation work is. Judging from the dramatic trailer, this is going to be a powerful and moving one to watch.
DOXA director of programming Dorothy Woodend has gathered a wide-ranging festival of 90 films in 78 screenings. Pop culture gets pride of place with a profile of Star Trek’s Mr. Sulu and septuagenarian, gay rights activist George Takei in To Be Takei. The festival closer on May 11, A Brony Tale, looks at the frankly bizarre phenomenon of male fans of My Little Pony. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s serious political intrigue in Plot for Peace, in which a French businessman engineered the release of Nelson Mandela from prison; and Johanna Hamilton’s 1971, an expose of the dirty tricks of Hoover’s FBI. In fact, Woodend has devoted a whole strand of documentaries to subterfuge in a spotlight entitled “Secrets & Lies.”
DOXA also has a good selection of environmental docs. DamNation is particularly impressive and pertinent given the BC government’s plans to build the Site C mega-dam. Focusing on “how the conversation has changed” with regard to US hydro power, it’s beautifully shot and put together with cheeky humour and fascinating insights into the US’s legacy of dams. Ultimately, it captures the raw emotion and pure wonder we feel about wild rivers and salmon, particularly after a dam has been demolished.
Microtopia, which profiles small dwelling spaces, is also enjoyable. The homes range from the outlandish to damn cute: there’s a floating island of recycled plastic, a pod hanging out of a tree and a shrunken wooden chalet where every inch has been fastidiously built for optimum use. Living space is treated almost as a living art project and it leaves us mindful of how easily clutter creeps into our day-to-day lives.
On the music side, Jeremy Xido’s Death Metal Angola is a revelatory portrait of how kids at an orphanage in war-torn Huambo are finding a kind of catharsis in a very western brand of hardcore metal. There is also a screening of Robert Elfstrom’s 1972 documentary Pete Seeger: A Song and a Stone.
Beyond DOXA, it’s good to see a big-bucks series such as Showtime’s Years of Living Dangerously (www.yearsoflivingdangerously.com) tackling the vexed issue of climate change. Harrison Ford and Don Cheadle are among the stars trying to get to the heart of the matter in the first episode (free online).
Robert Alstead is making the documentary Running on Climate. Crowd-funding campaign donations are welcome at www.fund.runningonclimate.com