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article imageReview: Hot Docs provides new perspectives on familiar subjects Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Apr 30, 2016 in Entertainment
Werner Herzog returns to Hot Docs with a 10-part reflection on the internet, which will screen next to the latest explorations of scientology and abortion law in the U.S.
Anyone looking for a film festival’s top offerings need to look no further than its “Special Presentations” section. At the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, organizers collect all the films with high profile directors and/or subjects here with 34 selections this year. From celebrities from all walks of life to controversial issues to prolific documentary filmmakers, this programme has it all. We look at three films from this category: Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, My Scientology Movie and Trapped.
A scene from  Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World
A scene from 'Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World'
Hot Docs
Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World
In its current state, the possibilities of technology and the internet are infinite. Each new development lights another step forward along the path to even greater advancement. But while many are very enthused about this progress, there is another cohort that is suspicious or even fearful of the future these innovations will create. In Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, director Werner Herzog takes an unsurprisingly less traditional look at technology.
Divided into 10 chapters, the documentary examines the internet from perspectives most people have probably never considered while also reflecting on more mainstream topics. With titles such as “The Glory of the Net,” “The Dark Side” and “Internet on Mars,” Herzog thoroughly explores the advantages and disadvantages of living in a society so highly connected and dependent on technology. Beginning at the computer that started it all by sending the first message across the internet, he speaks to a number of experts and scientists in the field getting answers to questions no one generally asks, such as “Does the internet dream of itself?”
As the achievements and potential of the future is already widely publicized, the more interesting sections of the film address lesser advertised consequences and risks. Herzog interviews people who live in seclusion because they suffer from wireless radiation poisoning; counsellors who help internet and gaming addicts; scientists who believe a large solar flare would have catastrophic effects; and hackers and security analysts who reiterate how vulnerable all this information is to breaches. As usual, Herzog finds a way to look at a familiar with subject with a fresh perspective.
A scene from  My Scientology Movie
A scene from 'My Scientology Movie'
Hot Docs
My Scientology Movie
Last year, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief was one of the most talked about documentaries due to the involvement of celebrity former religious members. Director John Dower and on-screen personality Louis Theroux’s documentary, My Scientology Movie, can’t boast the same connections, so why should anyone be interested in a film that tackles the same subject only a year later? The answer is their record of the organization in action.
While Dower and Theroux don’t have access to big names, from an intelligence perspective they get one better: former senior Church official Marty Rathbun, who up until his exit after more than 25 years of membership was leader David Miscavige’s go-to guy. With his help and that of other former long-term members, Theroux hires actors to play key players such as Miscavige and Tom Cruise in recreations that demonstrate various aspects of the organization, including widespread reports of abuse. However, equally interesting is Theroux’s run-ins with the Church as they attempt to thwart his ability to shoot the movie as well as harass everyone involved.
While confirming everything in the previous film, this documentary goes further in demonstrating the inner workings and secrets of the Church. Although the recreations are somewhat silly, in some cases they do illustrate some of the more extreme occurrences that may have been less comprehensible if simply described. Rathbun is also a fascinating character as he struggles with the duality of being a whistleblower of sorts regarding the Church’s misdeeds, but is unable to come to terms with the fact that he was also a propagator of the same offences.
A scene from  Trapped
A scene from 'Trapped'
Hot Docs
Even though the right to choose is legally defined in the U.S., anti-choice advocates have found ways to undermine the law and close abortion clinics across the country. The statistics are staggering as 250 laws have passed since 2010 that restrict the ability of clinics and doctors to operate, including mandates regarding the width of hallways. Lawyer-turned-filmmaker Dawn Porter documents the struggle of these providers and their patients in Trapped.
Focusing on clinics and doctors in Alabama, Georgia and Texas, the documentary captures their dedication to their work as well as the effects of the daily opposition they face to provide safe medical care to women seeking their services. The struggles include millions of dollars spent to comply with unwarranted requirements; the decrease in state clinics from dozens to a handful or less; the increasing lack of accessibility as the nearest provider is now too far for many women; and the stories of patients who decided abortion was their best option.
Porter does an excellent job weaving these stories together to produce a comprehensive assessment of the situation in the South. Although the film is often depressing, these feelings are the result of the facts presented rather than a calculated attempt to manipulate audiences. All of those involved are passionate and determined not to close, but in some cases the strain of their commitment is growing more challenging. However, this film is just a snapshot of the ongoing efforts to maintain this right in the United States with a Supreme Court decision on Texas’ challenge due in June 2016.
Showtimes and ticket information can be found on the festival website.
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