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article imageReview: Hot Docs wears a maple leaf on its sleeve in ‘Canadian Spectrum’ Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Apr 24, 2014 in Entertainment
Hot Docs Film Festival showcases its homegrown talent in the “Canadian Spectrum” programme. We look at three selections: ‘Everything Will Be,’ ‘Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story’ and ‘The Theory of Happiness’.
When building a line-up of 197 films, it’s only fitting that at least some of the festival’s selections showcase movie’s from its home country and promote the local talent as well as international. “Canadian Spectrum” is a competitive programme at the Hot Docs Film Festival, featuring compelling national stories and perspectives. Three of the programme’s 18 films are highlighted below. One explores a vanishing community, another examines the devastation effects of food waste, and the final documentary infiltrates a collective looking for happiness in the all the wrong places.
A scene from  Everything Will Be
A scene from 'Everything Will Be'
Hot Docs
Everything Will Be
Director: Julia Kwan
Gentrification is a big word taking over a lot of niche neighbourhoods and consequently pushing out small businesses. Ethnic villages within large cities generally thrive on the interconnectedness of its community, which consists of locals and those that travel to enjoy the area’s unique offerings and sense of belonging. In Everything Will Be, filmmakers explore the changing landscape of Vancouver's Chinatown and how it’s affecting the community.
Every big city has one and often walking down the street it's difficult to tell one from another. The shop owners go back at least two generations and have personal relationships with many of their customers and neighbours. But it is the generic trait that makes this documentary so accessible because the same characters and issues can be found in cities across North America. One of the more intriguing people interviewed is an investor who insists he doesn't want to change the area but rather upgrade it. His actions seem to agree with his words, but only time will hold the truth.
Often guided by the district’s long-time security guard, audiences meet the men and women who make up the area's business community. The second and third generation shop owners reminisce about the bustle that used to fill the streets and fuel their businesses. Young entrepreneurs represent the evolution of modernism, opening hip businesses such as apothecary bars that host burlesque shows and art galleries.
Touring this neighbourhood causes the audience to reflect on their own local niche areas and whether they’re willing to let it fade away.
A bin of discarded hummus discovered during  Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story
A bin of discarded hummus discovered during 'Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story'
Hot Docs
Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story
Director: Grant Baldwin
When it comes to issues regarding the environment, top concerns tend to be emissions, recycling and energy sources. However there is a problem widely affecting the industrialized world that is not being addressed by any of the key organizations in global prevention and preservation: food waste. In Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story, filmmakers Grant Baldwin and Jen Rustemeyer stop grocery shopping and pledge to only consume food that would have otherwise been discarded for six months. They are never hungry during this period and are often overwhelmed by the amount of food they've rescued and that which is still sent to the landfill.
In addition to documenting their own journey, they speak to other activists who are advocating about the issue and confirming that in fact billions of dollars in good food is thrown out annually just in North America. Tracing the line of production from farm to retail to kitchen, the waste that occurs is astonishing. Without being accusatory, this documentary subtly turns the tables on its audience. It confronts them with the obscene amounts of food being allowed to expire in our homes and the exponential amount that never even makes it there. It forces them to question their buying habits, explains the evolution and consequences of squandering. Combining these elements, the film reveals the core of a seemingly insignificant issue that is having devastating effects around the world.
Though some of what they uncover is disheartening, it's also compelling and inspiring. So while the current state is bleak, awareness is halfway to a solution.
A scene from  The Theory of Happiness
A scene from 'The Theory of Happiness'
Hot Docs
The Theory of Happiness
Director: Gregory Gan
Communes are built on a foundation of belonging and the notion that establishing a new society around certain ideals will create a better environment in which to live. It's not surprising that a collective born out of the collapse of the USSR would have a strict structure of rules and punishment. However, the class system to which the group prescribes is quite segregating and designed to ensure only an elite few achieve the top level. The Theory of Happiness explores these concepts from within as director Gregory Gan adopts a gonzo-style of documentary filmmaking that has him join the organization and immerse himself in their lifestyle.
Though the goal of the collective is supposedly supreme bliss, the custodians of this way of life don't appear to be the cheeriest of folk. Gan even comments at one point during his involvement that for a group focused on happiness, one sees very few smiles. They are intolerant of lifestyles outside of the one they prescribe and mimic certain religions in their attempts to force people to yield to their dogma.
By the end of the documentary, the leaders' callousness is exposed via the ordinary development of a new recruit and shirking of acceptable standards of treatment for any advisor. In addition, an unforeseen accident puts the collective under a harsh light and provides the ultimate perspective of their priorities. Gan’s immersion within the group provides a unique viewpoint, but it is ultimately their own actions and convictions that shape the narrative.
Showtimes and ticket information can be found on the festival website.
More about Hot Docs Film Festival, Canadian Spectrum, Everything Will Be, Just Eat It A Food Waste Story, The Theory of Happiness
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