Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A few final reviews of Hot Docs films. Here are some films worth seeing if they're screened near you.

The Yes Men Fix the World - Sizzling Stunts with a Searing Message

Both hilarious and sad, the Yes Men pulled a number of 'stunts with a point'. They managed to trick the BBC into interviewing Andy Bichlbaum (one of the directors) as a representative of Dow Chemical. Andy proceeded to announce to the world that Dow was taking responsibility for the Bhopal toxic gas leak in India, which left 18,000 dead and over hundred thousand injured. In fact, they were establishing a $12B fund for compensation. This story was widely reported after the interview, and for a few hours, caused Dow`s stock to fall significantly, before the hoax was discovered.

The Yes Men aim to raise consciousness about unconscionable acts through their humour.

They haven't fixed the world yet, though.

Paris 1919

Inspired by the acclaimed book Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, this great movie takes us through the peace process following the First World War. It weaves together fabulous archival footage from that time and very good re-enactments of key characters at the peace conference. We see the idealistic Woodrow Wilson resisting the others of the Big Four: Britain's Lloyd George who is intent on immense reparations far beyond Germany's capability to pay, France's Georges Clemenceau who is intent on maximum revenge, and the territory-hungry Orlando of Italy. We see Wilson's idealism eroded through the process.

We see John Maynard Keynes and his team quantifying the damages caused by Germany - so much for dead livestock, so much for a factory, so much for the earning power of the dead soldiers and civilians - and then comparing that with Germany's capacity to pay, and finding a total mismatch.

We see the cartographers working feverishly to keep up with the pace of borders being redrawn. Those scenes really bring home the avarice of the nations involved in the treaty.

We see Germans who came for the negotiations recoil in horror at the terms they are presented with. In fact, the first team sent to Paris refuse to sign the treaty.


More beautiful aquatic scenery, as we journey through the Great Lakes, documenting the pressures on the ecosystems along the way. This year has been full of alerts to the dangers to our water systems on the earth and this film is excellent in its coverage. The Q&A period raised all sorts of questions that the film didn't have time to cover - the range of problems is so great, and the movie was only 1 hour 49 minutes!

The movie ends with a heartfelt message from a First Nation chief, who states their Natural Law that every individual should guide their actions by considering the effect on six generations forward. Good lesson for us all.


An interesting film exploring the benefits of laughter. The film talked about infectious laughter - and had the audience laughing through much of it.

Nauru, An Island Adrift

Several films at Hot Docs addressed the ravages on the environment caused by greedy exploitation of resources. This film also documented the effects of aggressive exploitation of the phosphate resources of the Pacific island of Nauru. But this film didn't focus on the environmental effects, but on the effects on the people.

One might argue that the island was exploited by colonial powers after the early discovery of phosphate, but since independence, the Nauru people have been in charge of their destiny themselves.

The people of Nauru grew extremely wealthy from phosphate - second richest average income in the world, they proudly proclaim. However, the phosphate will soon run out and the price of phosphate has fallen, leaving Nauru in desperate economic straits. With no other export potential, they continue to mine the phosphate, but for ever lesser returns. The fancy cars, homes, airplanes and other trappings of the rich economic times litter the landscape. The mining has gradually turned the whole island into a devastated moonscape with no vegetation whatsoever; this in turn creates an oven effect which means that water falls all around Nauru, but not on Nauru, leaving them with an impending water crisis. They are beset by very high rates of diabetes because of sudden changes in eating habits.

But the movie zooms in on the response of the people to their situation. Their main attitude is that it was a lot more fun when they were richer. They don't exhibit huge regrets (at least the people interviewed for the film) for the way they exploited the phosphate, without concern for future generations. A metaphor for the planet?

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