Hot Docs is an annual Canadian international documentary festival that just celebrated its 20th year. It featured over 200 films for your viewing pleasure and this year a friend and I attended for our first time. The biggest challenge we faced was trying to decide what to watch. The only way we settled on one was due to an overlap in our list of selections!
We settled on “Gaza Calling“: “For over six years, two Palestinian families are split between the West Bank and Gaza; mothers and sons are forbidden from travelling the one-hour road that separates them. Witness the personal cost of an intractable political conflict.” The tickets were reasonably priced at $14.60 + tax. There was also a $2 service charge, although we were picking up the tickets which I guess meant they were still trying to make a profit since they’re around for only a 2-week period.
All the films were being featured at more than one location on a few different dates, and for our selection we went with the day it showed at the ROM Theatre. We were really surprised when we walked into the basement theatre, because it was a fairly decent size, even bigger than some movie theatres. Before the film started, we had someone do a small presentation explaining that neither directors were present that evening. My friend and I looked at each other like :”We’re seeing two films!”. If we had booked the tickets through the second film we’d have seen that note, but it was not mentioned while booking through our first choice. A bonus!
The other film was titled “Captive Radio“: “tells the stories of three families for whom The Voices of Kidnapping, a weekly radio broadcast, is the only way of staying in touch with their loved ones. Although the last of the military and police hostages were released in 2012, hundreds of civilians are still missing. “We’ll be here until the last hostage is free,” says the radio announcer. “We’ll move heaven and earth until you are free.”
The two films were excellent.
“Captive Radio“, set in Colombia, was shown first. It featured families that had been trying to survive through the kidnapping of their loved ones. They relied on the weekly radio program (The Voices of Kidnapping) because they could go on air to send messages to their loved ones, as there was a chance they’d be listening. There were also the occasions where the captives appeared on a tv program and were able to reassure their loved ones they were holding on. It was absolutely heart-wrenching to say the least to learn that until 2012 over 3,700 people had gone missing each year in Colombia after being kidnapped by the guerilla for either ransom or political reasons; some never to be seen again while others reappear after numerous years without any sign of them. Of the families that were being featured, one had their son return to them while the other has yet to see any sign of their missing son/brother. As there has been no indication that he had died, they continued to hold on to the hope that they would one day reunite.
Then “Gaza Calling“ started and it seemed like the tone had lightened as it started with a young man’s graduation. However within the first five minutes of watching, you realized he was at his graduation alone. This was because his family wasn’t allowed to cross the border though both sides resided in Palestinian territories (West Bank and Gaza). Like the first, this film also featured two families and their struggle to reunite. In this case they had the “wrong” papers though they were trying to return to the city where the papers originated. We watched mothers do everything in their power to bring their sons home to them, only to be told it most likely would never happen. Essentially, once you’d left even if it was for a short time, you often were not permitted to return. Eventually we saw one of the sons give up all he had accomplished because he wanted desperately to return home to his family. As we watched the emotional reunion between parents and son at the border (and him meeting his young sister for the first time because he was already away when she was born), we couldn’t help but be moved by the entire scene. The other young man has yet to see his family again, if ever.
I can not wait until next year when Hot Docs returns, and maybe we will have more time to be able to take in a few of the films. The only down side (and I’m sure many would agree) is the short time period it is around! But really, if you love watching documentaries then this isn’t a film festival to miss.
Have you ever taken in any films at Hot Docs? Share your experience!