Inevitably at the end of every big film festival I go through the same parallel Kubler-Ross process of reconciling all of my new experiences, knowledge and feelings. In one week at Hot Docs, the largest documentary film festival in North America, I've been amazed, infuriated, saddened, shocked and ultimately hopeful when I see the incredible drive, determination and creativity in this business we call show. Even as the odds seem to exponentially mount against our industry, film-makers are finding new methods and frontiers for documentary story-telling. The emotional, intellectual and physical reaches film-makers go to tell new and important stories never ceases to amaze.
One film that keeps coming to mind as I watch the screaming talking heads of cable news is Ian Old's (Occupation: Dreamland) Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi. The film recounts the story of the kidnapping of an Italian news team that ended in the negotiated release of a western journalist and the murder (by decapitation that was then broadcast on the internet) of two Afghans including 24-year-old Naqshbandi. Similar to Werner Herzog's 2005 doc Grizzly Man the film relies heavily on a wealth of informally shot footage by an American journalist who partnered with Naqshbandi six months prior. The story encapsulates the seemingly impossible road to forming a national identity facing the Afghan people.
Documentary film has the unique power to take the viewer places they didn't even know they wanted to go. For instance, this year into the dark psyche of convicted rapist/heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson in James Toback's new film Tyson. Entirely comprised of archive footage and a no-frills, staring straight into the camera interview with its subject, the film is an oddly engaging meditation on masculinity, poverty, violence, misogyny and how the insularity of wealth can worsen mental health issues.
Read the rest of my coverage of Hot Docs 2009 at Doc360.