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article imageReview: Canada brings a woman’s perspective to Hot Docs Special

By Sarah Gopaul     May 4, 2016 in Entertainment
Two films in Hot Docs’ “Canadian Spectrum” explore women’s participation in war, past and present, voluntary and involuntary.
Even though it boasts an array of globally representative selections, the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival also maintains a programme dedicated to local documentaries. However the subjects of films in the “Canadian Spectrum” are not limited by the country’s borders, often following filmmakers as they tell stories from around the world. We look at two documentaries in this category: The Apology and Gulîstan, Land of Roses.
A scene from  The Apology
A scene from 'The Apology'
Hot Docs
The Apology
The effects of war can long outlast the conflict’s conclusion. Its survivors are forever affected by the memories of their experiences, haunted by the death and destruction that dominated their existence. Although there may not be an escape, there can be opportunities for abatement. In The Apology, women who were enslaved during the Second World War demand contrition.
As the Japanese Imperial Army waged war across Asia, soldiers kidnapped more than 200,000 young girls and women from their villages, imprisoned them and repeatedly raped them. The practice was so common, the victims were given a name: “comfort women.” Now in the 80s and 90s and known as “grandmas,” these women from various countries continue to petition the Japanese government for acknowledgement and an apology. Director Tiffany Hsiung follows survivors from China, Korea and the Philippines as they recount their captivity, the influence it’s had on their lives and their ongoing fight against Japanese officials.
There are three key women from each country that stand as the focus of the documentary: Grandma Adela from the Philippines, Grandma Cao from China and Grandma Gil from South Korea. In spite of her poor health, Grandma Gil is the main protagonist as she goes on tour to educate people about their history and gain support for their request for an apology. The film first introduces audiences to each of the women, allowing them to become familiar with them as people before revealing the horror they endured in their youth. There are many moments for tears as they recount the abuse, the shame and their hopes for the future, and anger as Japanese citizens and officials denounce them and condone the soldiers’ actions. The film is both heartbreaking and inspiring, but also an important step in shining a light on a group ignored by history.
A scene from  Gulîstan  Land of Roses
A scene from 'Gulîstan, Land of Roses'
Hot Docs
Gulîstan, Land of Roses
A lot of attention is given to the Western fight against Daesh (ISIS), but much less is shown of the resistance they encounter in other countries in which they’ve attempted to establish strongholds. In some of these areas, guerilla soldiers have taken up the fight to eradicate this evil from their homeland. However, even less is known about the female militias who fight to free their countries. In Gulîstan, Land of Roses, director Zaynê Akyol documents the life of a woman who’s chosen country above all else.
None of the women in the unit are wives or mothers, each having selected to forego family in favour of living in the mountains and becoming Kurdish guerrillas. They are disciplined and well-trained, performing daily exercises, drills and maintaining their weapon’s skills — and they are all prepared to die in combat. In Sozdar’s first personal video, she talks about the significance of her scars and how she wishes she had an “attractive” one on her face. The female and male fighters work together, sharing information and going on missions together as each value the other’s contributions to their efforts.
Even though people are aware women are also taking up arms in various conflicts, it’s not often they are provided such an intimate portrait of their lives. Sozdar and her comrades are quite candid when speaking about their choices, unsurprisingly sounding like their male counterparts in other films. But in between battle preparations, the women are also shown enjoying each other’s company over meals and sharing tips to care for their still luscious heads of hair. It’s clear Sozdar is eager to share her story, and Akyol and crew provide her a platform on which to do so — and not always from a safe distance.
Showtimes and ticket information can be found on the festival website.
More about hot docs 2016, Documentary, Canadian Spectrum, Hot docs, The Apology
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