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article imageReview: 'Canadian Spectrum' is Hot Docs’ salute to home Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Apr 22, 2015 in Entertainment
Hot Docs shines a spotlight on homegrown documentaries in its “Canadian Spectrum” program, which’s subjects extend beyond the country’s borders.
Every worldly festival also pays homage to its home nation, showcasing the best local creators have to offer. The “Canadian Spectrum” program at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival features stories produced by Canadians, though many of the subjects reach beyond the country’s borders. Within this year’s selections, filmmakers examine a betrayal of trust on a personal and global scale, one man’s status as both savior and abuser, and the latest industry to covertly attack the world’s population.
A scene from  The Amina Profile
A scene from 'The Amina Profile'
Hot Docs
In 2011, the world turned their attention to Syria where a civil uprising known as Arab Spring was occupying the country. One of the key components of the movement was its utilization of social media not only to communicate with citizens, but also to build awareness outside their borders. During this time a blog titled “A Gay Girl in Damascus” was launched and gained international attention when its writer, Amina Arraf, was reportedly kidnapped. The Amina Profile chronicles the frantic search for the activist and the ultimate revelation that she did not exist. Director Sophie Deraspe has a personal stake in the matter as she was the fictional blogger’s Montreal girlfriend.
The film begins with a sensual striptease followed by the text of sexy online chat, immediately exposing the nature of their relationship and the severity of the deception. The elaborate hoax was orchestrated by American Tom MacMaster, who created the Amina persona as well as several other personalities to authenticate her existence. In addition to sharing her own fragment of the story, Deraspe interviews journalists and activists from Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and the United States who were also duped by MacMaster, exposing a lack of due diligence by reporters who took Amina’s “first-person account” as verification enough. Gradually the focus of the narrative shifts from the unrest in Syria to the details of the hoax and the harm it caused. Throughout the narrative, a woman representing Amina is followed by a camera through nameless streets until her demise. Deraspe bravely puts herself under the microscope in the context of the story, with the final confrontation being more personal than an attempt to seek justice on any scale.
A scene from  Deprogrammed
A scene from 'Deprogrammed'
Hot Docs
Cult prevalence peaked in the ‘70s with a perceptible increase in recruitment numbers. Deprogrammed examines this phenomenon and its “cure,” touted by professional deprogrammer Ted Patrick. The documentary begins by exploring the attraction of these sects, demonstrating their use of counter culture to lure people in before somewhat ironically introducing them to their authoritarian-style society. Former cult members who belonged to a variety of groups discuss their experiences in interviews, such as why they enlisted, what membership consisted of and how they felt when Patrick attempted to dissuade them. “Surrender is a powerful experience,” says one former member.
Director Mia Donovan’s way into the story is her step-brother’s encounter with Patrick in the ‘80s when metal music became (erroneously) synonymous with Satan worship and his parents called upon Patrick to rescue their misguided son. Patrick’s techniques included kidnapping, sleep deprivation, reasoning, repetition and seclusion. He built the foundations for deprogramming, the fundamentals of which remain unchanged; but this recognition is sometimes paired with disapproval for many of his devices. Though there was widespread panic about cults, it was not until the Jonestown massacre that people truly took note. Nonetheless, Patrick’s “clients” reflect on their confrontations with the street-wise specialist with mixed opinions on the effectiveness of his methods.
A scene from  Sugar Coated
A scene from 'Sugar Coated'
Hot Docs
Sugar Coated tackles a fairly large and seemingly urgent health matter. Using a mix of interviews with doctors and scientists, and statistics, filmmakers outline the effects increased sugar consumption has had on the world’s population. As added sugar can now be found in 80 per cent of foods available in supermarkets, people’s consumption of the sweetener has doubled in 30 years. But one doctor has publicly come out to say, “Sugar is a toxin.” Expert research cited throughout the film indicates a correlation between increased sugar intake, and diabetes and obesity. A startling figure compares the recommended daily consumption (6 tsp/day) to the actual averages in Europe and the United States (18 to 22 tsp/day), which nearly doubles for teens (30 to 41 tsp/day).
Even more disconcerting is the conspiracy the film uncovers, showing similarities between the sugar industry’s lobbying of government and efforts to conceal the negative health effects of sweeteners, and the tobacco industry’s comparable endeavours in the ‘60s onward. Scenes from Sugar Trap, a documentary produced in 1980 about related concerns, prove the situation has only worsened since then. In fact, Okinawa, Japan, which formerly boasted the world’s leanest citizens, is now suffering from an exponential increase in diabetes and obesity. However, rather than just point the finger and demonize the industry, the documentary also offers multiple solutions for curtailing the situation. One of its targets include Heart and Stroke Foundation’s “Health Check” program, which it argues is deceiving consumers as much as the sugar industry.
Ticket and screening information are available on the Hot Docs website.
More about hot docs 2015, Canadian Spectrum, the amina profile, deprogrammed, Sugar Coated
 
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