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article imageReview: Control is a major theme at Hot Docs 2016 Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Apr 28, 2016 in Entertainment
“Command + Control” is an intriguing programme at Hot Docs that includes in-depth investigations, which explore the effects of various forms of domination.
In addition to the standard programmes, the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival always includes a few unique categories that group films with similar themes. This year, “Command + Control” is a collection of documentaries that deal with people and countries who exert control over others, as well as the protagonists and filmmakers who attempt to investigate and provide some command over the situation. We’ve looked at four films from this programme: Credit for Murder, Holy Hell, Tickled and Under the Sun.
A scene from  Credit for Murder
A scene from 'Credit for Murder'
Hot Docs
Credit for Murder
In 2007, two immigrants were executed by members of a Russian neo-Nazi group. The gruesome video was viewed countless times on YouTube with other users even recording their reactions to watching the slaying, but the killers were never apprehended. Credit for Murder is Israeli director Vladi Antonevicz’s attempt to identify the culprits as well as the overarching motive for the crime.
The documentary traces his investigation from beginning to end, including perilous scenes in which he goes undercover as a white supremacist in order to interview leaders of the country’s three key hate groups — one of them even worryingly invites him into the woods and shoots at him. Doing the legwork the apathetic police force failed to do, Antonevicz and his Russian partner, Gabriel Romanov, are able to draw many logical connections between the murders and members of the organizations, establishing an incriminating timeline that establishes both motive and suspects.
It’s chilling and sad to hear these people’s views on diversity and aggression. However as the film is structured to follow Antonevicz’s process, there’s a lot of repetition of facts and interviews as he tries to connect the dots based on the information he’s gathered. In addition to chronicling their specific inquiry, the documentary also serves as a general overview of the influence of neo-Nazism in Russia and the violence that overtook the country in the months following the video’s release as hate groups embraced the footage as a catalyst to launch a civil war against immigrants and Muslims.
A scene from  Holy Hell
A scene from 'Holy Hell'
Hot Docs
Holy Hell
Movies about cults are often created by outsiders fascinated by the group dynamics or someone not directly involved but affected by its existence. However Holy Hell is a documentary by a man who spent half his life in the Buddhafield, which began as a tightknit spiritual group led by Michel and devolved into a self-serving centre of pain and abuse.
Director Will Allen was Michel’s official documentarian and personal assistant. He recorded the group’s various activities that often involved just bonding amongst nature, as well as produced more artistic videos that articulated their message of self-improvement and enlightenment. However, he also admits to turning the camera off when Michel became verbally aggressive towards other members. With an abundance of archival footage and new interviews with his Buddhafield brothers and sisters —which includes his two actual sisters — Allen chronicles more than 20 years of absolute devotion… and brainwashing.
When Allen and other former members discuss their participation in the group, it’s still clear they believed in its initial purpose and value the friendships that developed via their involvement. However, at the same time and now in hindsight, there were warning signs that Michel was not the trusted New Age spiritualist he claimed. As an outsider watching their story unfold and already aware their experiences soured, it’s simple to be suspicious of the various approaches employed; conversely, one also gains a better understanding of how these people were indoctrinated. However, nothing can prepare audiences for the truths revealed later in the documentary.
A scene from  Tickled
A scene from 'Tickled'
Hot Docs
A journalist’s curiosity is naturally raised when they come across strange third-party content; they immediately begin wondering about the who, what, when, where, why and how. This is what occurred when David Farrier came across a bizarre video for a sport called "competitive endurance tickling." Although he didn’t originally plan on producing the documentary Tickled, initial inquiries led him to believe there may be reason to record further investigation.
The mystery of the tickle video becomes increasingly fascinating as the film progresses. Lawsuits, intimidation tactics, fraud and years of misrepresentation are just some of the things Farrier encounters. Never without a camera, he records every communication related to the film whether by phone, email, letter or in-person. The people he speaks to range from regretful to irate and, in some cases, experience both emotions in the same conversation. As Farrier travels far-and-wide seeking the truth, much of the footage is shot in cars or airports throughout their extended search.
The very nature of the video is intriguing due to its peculiarity, but the film is absolutely captivating. With every new discovery, Farrier grows closer to solving a mystery that sounds as if it was lifted from a fictitious pulp novel. However, real people are involved in this story and several of those who agree to participate are taking significant risks. But it all comes together to create a gripping documentary.
A scene from  Under the Sun
A scene from 'Under the Sun'
Hot Docs
Under the Sun
It’s notoriously difficult to capture authentic footage of life in North Korea as the government maintains strict control of all communications. However when a foreign camera crew is permitted to film a “documentary” in the country, they take the opportunity to shoot more than just the staged production dictated by the propagandists. Under the Sun is a compilation of footage secretly recorded during this time.
The crew is meant to chronicle a week in the life of a young girl’s family who has been accepted into the Korean Union for Children, an important step towards active citizenship. But rather than the expected fly-on-the-wall style of filmmaking, director Vitaly Mansky is provided with around-the-clock handlers who stage and direct every scene. Although the subjects are not actors, they dutifully attempt to recite the scripts conveyed by staff. But Mansky defiantly leaves the camera rolling as instructions are provided, capturing a perspective from behind the propaganda machine.
Mansky and his team appear to only be present to operate the equipment as everything else is taken out of their control. Taking more of a Warhol approach, he stands back as the uncensored camera records “real life.” Possibly unavoidably, there are several sections that are dull and drawn-out; yet, as the film progresses the level of manipulation grows more intriguing.
Showtimes and ticket information can be found on the festival website.
More about Hot docs, Command control, Documentary, Review, Credit for Murder
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