Hot Docs Film Festival ’11 | Day 3

Trump’s bulldozers destroy private property and construct hideous mounds to prevent videotaping of his activities.



Continuing the international theme, today we have documentaries about a comedian running for mayor of Reykjavik, a man from Kansas trying to learn about his origins, a British film about the predations of an American tycoon in Scotland, and a review of attempts to limit the ability of ordinary American citizens to seek redress through our civil court system.

If Jon Stewart ran for president—and got elected—you’d have something like the events chronicled in Gnarr. Director Gankur Ulfarrson’s film chronicles the saga of popular Icelandic comedian Jon Gnarr who, disgusted by the antics of politicians as his country’s financial system collapsed, began performing a series of comic bits based on the conceit that he was the “Best Party” candidate for mayor of Reykjavik. Although his campaign statements were deliberately politically incorrect, referring to “broads” and “proles,” and his campaign promises included free towels at all swimming pools and a polar bear for the zoo, opinion polls showed that many Icelanders took him seriously as a candidate. The humor translates well and a lively rock soundtrack and snappy editing make Gnarr a real treat to watch. The outcome is heartening as well—in 2010 Gnarr was elected mayor of Reykjavik over a number of traditional candidates from established parties.

Open Secret documents NPR producer/reporter Steve Lickteig’s attempts to learn about his origins and, once he finds the information he seeks, to understand why it was kept from him for so long. Growing up on a farm in Kansas, the youngest of nine kids, Lickteig always knew he was adopted, but never the circumstances of that adoption or who his biological parents were. Rather strangely, nearly everyone around him knew more than he did and when he was 18 two of his friends from high school let him in on this “open secret.” Lickteig reveals this information in the first 10 minutes of his film, so Open Secret is not so much about what the secret is as why it was kept from him for so long. In the process of trying to understand this he learns a great deal about his biological and adoptive parents, his siblings, and the contradictions between the customs of small town life where public behavior is governed by “unspoken rituals and laws” and the inherently unruly nature of family dynamics that don’t always conform to tidy expectations.

I’m not sure who keeps giving Donald Trump money, particularly after his casinos (!) went bankrupt; if you can’t be successful when the odds are permanently in your favor, that could be taken as an indication that your business acumen is less than stellar. But somehow he acquired funding to build a luxury golf resort in Aberdeenshire, got the Scottish government to overturn the veto of the local people and the designation of the area as being of special scientific interest, and bought off the local police force as well. You’ve Been Trumped follows the progress of Trump’s monstrosity as documented by filmmaker Anthony Baxter as well as local residents, and it’s a horror show to top anything you’ve ever seen in a Saturday night creature feature. Trump’s bulldozers destroy private property and construct hideous mounds to prevent videotaping of his activities. In a true slumlord move they “accidentally” cut off power and water to houses he wants to buy. Meanwhile Trump appears at press conferences and denounces the home of a local farmer and fisherman as a pigsty and an eyesore when it’s clearly just a normal, working farm that happens to be in the path of his project. At one point the filmmaker himself is roughed up, arrested, and held in a jail cell for four hours before being released without being charged. There’s no resolution to the film—Trump’s construction continues, although he has abandoned attempts to get the homes of local residents condemned—but the postscript about his presidential campaign got a big laugh from this largely Canadian audience.

Everyone knows about the woman who spilled coffee on herself and won a $3 million judgment against McDonalds, but it turns out that most of what everyone knows about this case is wrong. Director Susan Saladoff explores the McDonald’s case and three others. One is a case of medical malpractice that resulted in a severely brain-damaged child, the second involves a moderate judge who was targeted for removal from office by those who felt he wasn’t sufficiently pro-business, and the third is that of an American contractor in Iraq unable to sue her employer (KPR) because her employment contract specifically denied her that right. Formally Hot Coffee is disappointing; it’s basically a combination of talking heads and interviews, organized like a college lecture and ending with a call to action. However, it provides a lot of information about different attempts to limit the ability of citizens to seek redress for damages through the civil court system. Unfortunately, the specific advice in the call to action is lame, passing along useless advice like telling people to research the organizations funding political ads—as if that would somehow counteract their effect. | Sarah Boslaugh




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