By Brian D. Johnson - Monday, April 29, 2013 - 0 Comments
Canadian doc ‘Unclaimed’, premiering this week at Hot Docs, finds a lost American soldier with almost no memory of his past
John Hartley Robertson was a ghost of history, an American soldier who vanished in a war that was not supposed to exist. And for 44 years, neither did he. Robertson was shot down over Laos on May 20, 1968, as part of a mission by a special forces unit waging a secret war beyond the borders of Vietnam. The U.S. military listed him as MIA, then in 1976, presumed dead. But a Canadian filmmaker and a Vietnam vet tracked down a man living in a remote Vietnamese village who claims to be Robertson, though he has virtually no memory of his former life, has lost his ability to speak English—and is now married to a Vietnamese woman who rescued him, gave him the identity of her husband, a slain South Vietnamese soldier, and bore him four children.
With Unclaimed, an astonishing documentary that premieres this week at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival, Emmy-winning Alberta director Michael Jorgensen follows a bizarre trail into a modern-day heart of darkness, guided by Michigan’s Tom Faunce, a traumatized Vietnam War vet obsessed with leaving no man behind, even decades after the war. It climaxes—spoiler alert—as the self-proclaimed MIA is flown to Edmonton for a rendezvous with the sole survivor of Robertson’s four siblings, Alabama’s Jean Robertson-Holley. (He was unable to enter the U.S.) She instantly confirms he’s her brother in a cathartic, tearful reunion.
By Daniel Barna - Friday, November 30, 2012 at 5:04 PM - 0 Comments
The filmmakers of ‘The Fruit Hunters’ on getting their project made in the Great White North
When it was announced earlier this year that Canadian documentary funding was to undergo radical cuts, with Telefilm slashing 50 per cent of its $1 million allotment to the Theatrical Documentary Program, doc filmmakers around the country– who’ve been dependent on government cheese since the National Film Board’s inception 70 years ago–began a collective sweat. With glaring cutbacks to the CBC and NFB as well, a fertile artistic community was at risk of drying out.
Fortunately, the team behind the new government-funded feature-length documentary The Fruit Hunters, already had their financing secured. “I definitely had an ‘Indiana Jones-sliding-under-the-closing-tomb-door-and-grabbing-his-hat’ feeling at the time,” says Mark Slutsky, who co-wrote the film alongside its director, Montreal’s Yung Chang. Inspired by Adam Leith Gollner’s eponymous 2008 novel, The Fruit Hunters is a kaleidoscopic peek into the subterranean world of exotic fruits, and the off-kilter cast of characters that collect, cultivate, chase, eat, and obsess over them.
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, April 27, 2012 at 11:41 AM - 0 Comments
A slew of new films at Hot Docs focus on pushing the boundaries of the creative process
We’re in the ivy-walled Beijing studio of Ai Weiwei, China’s most famous artist and activist. He’s huddled with his colleagues around a model of a bamboo installation proposed for London’s Tate Modern gallery when a ginger cat ambles across the table and casually destroys it. The artist just lets it happen, as if amused by the cat’s verdict. That’s the opening scene of Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, a stunning new documentary by 27-year-old American director Alison Klayman. What we don’t see is Ai walking into another room, where he contemplates a two-metre-high pile of ceramic sunflower seeds made for a previous exhibit. “He was just wordlessly staring at them,” Klayman recalls. “Finally he said, ‘I really like this. How many could we make? Do we have enough time?’ ”
That eureka moment was the spark for an extraordinary project that took almost two years to complete. Later, the film shows the Tate’s vast Turbine Hall carpeted with 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds—roughly one for every 13 inhabitants of China—hand-painted by 1,600 artisans in Jingdezhen, the country’s porcelain capital. No two were the same. The exhibit could be seen as a statement about collective labour, famine and individual freedom. But Ai is not one to reduce art to crude propaganda. This, after all, is the guy who helped design the inspired Bird’s Nest stadium for Beijing’s Olympics, then denounced it and the Games as propaganda vehicles for a totalitarian state.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry will be screened this week at the opening gala of Toronto’s Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary festival. It leads a program that’s unusually rich with films about artists on the edge—from painters and puppeteers to musicians and ﬁlmmakers. “It’s really interesting to see where people have to go to make art,” says Hot Docs programming director Charlotte Cook. “We had a huge influx of films about the artistic process.”