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article imageReview: Hot Docs provides vivid reminders of the world’s darker affairs Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Apr 29, 2014 in Entertainment
High-profile subjects are generally included in Hot Docs Film Festival’s “Special Presentations” programme. We look at ‘Concerning Violence’; ‘Silenced’; and ‘Watchers of the Sky.’
Many documentaries have political subjects as the medium is considered one of the most accessible and consequently one of the best ways to disseminate information to a mass audience. These important issues qualify for inclusion in Hot Docs Film Festival’s “Special Presentations” programme. One film is a mash-up protesting colonization; another is a profile of three of America’s most important and persecuted whistleblowers; and the final film traces the fight against genocide in the international arena.
A scene from   Concerning Violence
A scene from ' Concerning Violence'
Hot Docs
Concerning Violence
Director: Göran Olsson
The title of the documentary is taken from the name of the first chapter in Frantz Fanon's psychiatric and psychological analysis of the dehumanising effects of colonization, The Wretched of the Earth. The text is used as a guide for Concerning Violence's astounding footage uncovered in the Swedish television archives depicting young rebel leader and future president of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe as he and other South Africans fight their Portuguese colonizers.
Director Göran Olsson structures the film in nine chapters, narrated by activist and artist Lauryn Hill. As she reads from Fanon's book, powerful corresponding images from a subsequent conflict illustrate the meaning of his words. Rebel fighters second his sentiments on the dehumanizing effects of colonization and subordination. A wealthy white man being interviewed scolds a servant for incorrectly serving drinks before echoing the worst sentiments of wanting to squash the uprising to avoid losing a cheap and obedient labour force.
The content and delivery is very dense. To assist in the viewer's comprehension of the film, the words that Hill reads is also displayed visually on the screen over various images. This is an excellent strategy to make the text more accessible, though the background footage can sometimes be distracting. Fanon's writing is a thought-provoking analysis of a problem that persists today with little alteration, validating its importance and the anger that permeates the project.
A scene from  Silenced
A scene from 'Silenced'
Hot Docs
Director: James Spione
Children are taught if they see someone breaking the rules they should tell an adult. Conversely, the rule breaker simply tries not to get caught. However, as they grow older the rules become laws and the lines between right and wrong become blurred. Now calling out wrongdoings is controversial. Silenced tells the stories of three national security whistleblowers who were condemned and charged for speaking out against the unethical behavior they witnessed while working in government positions.
These narratives are three of the most significant incidents of truth-telling that exposed the U.S. government’s secrecy and abuse of power post-9/11. Former CIA officer John Kiriakou participated in a news interview in which he discussed and denounced the use of water boarding by American forces – a hot button issue already being scrutinized in the media. He was accused of revealing classified information. Former Justice Department lawyer Jesselyn Radack refused to be complicit in concealing the unauthorized and illegal torture of a U.S. citizen found fighting alongside the Taliban, and brought the cover-up to the world's attention. Former senior National Security Agency official Thomas Drake revealed the existence of documents that contained information that could have circumvented the events of 9/11 during a congressional hearing. He was one of the few Americans to be charged under the country's archaic Espionage Act.
These stories are so compelling, they don't require any fancy techniques to keep the viewer engaged. Nonetheless, award-winning director James Spione intercuts the talking heads with shadowed recreations of conversations and other significant events as they are described.
A scene from  Watchers of the Sky
A scene from 'Watchers of the Sky'
Hot Docs
Watchers of the Sky
Director: Edet Belzberg
“Genocide” is a word most people are afraid to utter because it carries with it certain political and social responsibilities. While most nations were quick to say, "Never again" after World War II, they are far more hesitant to take the steps required to stop an extermination in progress. The title, Watchers of the Sky, is taken from a touching story shared by one of the documentary's key subjects at the end of the film, which movingly puts the whole struggle into context.
The film follows the efforts of select advocates attempting to convince the international community to stand up against the systematic slaughter of entire populations. Raphael Lemkin coined the term genocide after witnessing the human destruction of the Nazi occupation and determining that in his capacity as a lawyer he must do everything in his power to prevent history from once again repeating itself. He petitioned every member of the United Nations to make genocide against the law in the international community. The next hurdle was to make it illegal during peace time so such acts carried out within one's own borders would still be punishable by law.
This is a comprehensive examination of the history of genocide in a historical and political context. The helplessness of those who want to help the most is consistently highlighted by the road blocks they encounter when seeking support. To ground the story in a contemporary context, it is framed around the violence in Darfur and the resulting refugee camps along Sudan's border. The camp's director is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, which acts as another reminder of the frequency of these atrocities. The idea is that perpetrators should be tried for their crimes in a court of law. But the reluctance of the international community to provide the resources for such a recourse means citizens feel forced to take up arms and prevent their own extinction. The advocates in this film hope that one day they won't have to.
Showtimes and ticket information can be found on the festival website.
More about Hot docs, Concerning Violence, silenced, Watchers of the Sky, special presentations
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