Hot Docs Film Festival | Day 3

hotdocs 75The adrenaline high of pointing an AK-47 at an adult when you’re only 10 years old is something that can be really difficult for kids to give up.

 

themanor 500 

Shawney Cohen and his younger brother Sammy are dutiful sons working in the family business, bought by their hardworking Jewish parents when Shawney was six. Nothing unusual there, except that the family business is running The Manor, a strip club and motel in Guelph, Ontario. The strip club business has provided the Cohens with an upper-middle-class life style, but Shawney is conflicted about what he believes it’s doing to his family, and that’s the principal subject of The Manor, Cohen’s first feature-length film.

From a technical point of view, The Manor is a well put-together documentary, but it never makes a case for why you should be interested in the Cohens. They mostly have first-world problems—the father is so overweight he needs surgery, the mother is apparently anorexic, Shawney’s not sure what he wants to do with his life—and The Manor is content to remain on the surface, offering no particular insight into anyone’s life. Perhaps more disappointing, it also fails to capitalize on the opportunity to present an insider’s view of what it’s like to run a strip club.

In 2012, women were first allowed to compete in boxing at the Olympics, although of course some women have been training and competing in the sport for years. Last Woman Standing, directed by Lorraine Price and Juliet Lammers, follows two of those women, Ariane Fortin and Mary Spencer, as they prepare to compete for the Olympics. Friends since they traveled together as part of the Canadian national team, they’re both fierce warriors who have always competed in different weight classes—but since the Olympics recognizes only 3 weight classes for women (as opposed to 10 for men), in 2010 they find themselves competing against each other for the same spot on the national team.

Last Woman Standing offers plenty of boxing action, but it also gives you insight into these women’s lives, exploring what it’s like for them to make the change from teammates to rivals. Last Woman Standing also gives you a sense of the psychology of boxing, and of the hard work that goes on outside the ring: Both women are trained by older men who spent most of their careers working with male boxers but are absolutely supportive of these women and their place in the ring.

The testosterone  rush of combat seems to be a theme at Hot Docs this year—first in Which Way is the Front Line from Here?, where it was offered as part of the explanation for why many young find military service to be a formative experience, and then in Fight Like Soldiers Die Like Children, where retired Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire mentions it as part of the problem in helping former child soldiers return to normal lives in society. The adrenaline high of pointing an AK-47 at an adult when you’re only 10 years old, Dallaire notes, is something that can be really difficult for kids to give up. He’s not blaming the kids, of course, but the adults who use them as what he calls “the ultimate low-tech approach to war.”

Fight Like Soldiers Die Like Children is directed by Patrick Reed, who was a researcher and producer on Shake Hands with the Devil, a 2007 documentary about Dallaire’s experiences as Force Commander of the U.N. Peacekeeping Force in Rwanda. Fight Like Soldiers follows Dallaire on his mission to eliminate the exploitation of children as soldiers, and it’s a thoughtful film, exploring the process rather than offering an easy solution to a reality more complex than might be imagined from a safe vantage point in the West.

Finally, I saw The Unbelievers at the Bloor Theatre, one of the few movie theaters in the world dedicated to screening documentaries. Directed by Gus Holwerda, The Unbelievers is part road trip and part philosophical and scientific discussion. It features theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, both distinguished scientists, as well entertaining speakers who have become leading advocates for the value of scientific thought.

They’re also strong and convincing advocates for atheism in a world where religion keeps encroaching into areas where it has no business (science education, for instance). The Unbelievers is thoroughly entertaining and a great bonding experience for those who value rational thought, although I suppose if you’re a strongly religious person you might find it less enjoyable. Its closing thought—there are no scientific authorities, only scientific experts, because anything a scientist says can be proven wrong by better evidence—is the difference between science and faith in a nutshell. The Unbelievers was presented as part of the Scotiabank Big Ideas series, and was followed by a Q&A with Dawkins and Krauss. | Sarah Boslaugh

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