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article imageReview: Hot Docs’ ‘World Showcase’ provides new takes on war & violence Special

By Sarah Gopaul     May 2, 2015 in Entertainment
War and the effects of violence is of particular interest in this year’s Hot Docs “World Showcase” program, ranging from historical accounts to stories related to recent to headlines to a worldwide concern.
The Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival’s “World Showcase” program includes selections that are not only produced outside of Canada, but that also address global issues. There are countless subjects that affect more than one community or country even though filmmakers may be forced to limit their focus. Two key topics highlighted in this section are violence and war. The following three documentaries are based on specific incidences, but the implications of their subjects are much broader.
A scene from  Censored Voices
A scene from 'Censored Voices'
Hot Docs
While there are more diverse voices speaking about war and its effects today, that was not always the case. In 1967, the Six-Day War drastically altered the borders in the Middle East as Israel claimed new territories after defeating armies from Egypt, Syria and Jordan. But at what cost? In the days following the war’s end, authors Amos Oz and Avraham Shapira audio-taped interviews with a number of Israeli soldiers in the kibbutzim. The release of the recordings were heavily censored. The documentary, Censored Voices, is the first time the tapes are played in their entirety and include reactions from many of the original speakers who were only in the 20s or younger at the time of their service. Their feelings ranged from fear to guilt to triumph.
The interviews were completed between 10 and 19 days after the war. The weary soldiers openly contemplate murder in the context of war and wonder if this victory will cause them to always be in a state of conflict. Several of them even state they don’t believe the losses justified recapturing Jerusalem and the Western wall, which was and still is a controversial opinion. The voice recordings are intercut with archival footage, including several reports by an ABC News correspondent stationed in the country, as well as numerous photographs with the odd glimpse of the speaker listening to his own interview decades later. At the movie’s conclusion, filmmakers ask the now elder, former soldiers if they still stand by their statements and their responses are quite thoughtful in some cases.
A scene from  Peace Officer
A scene from 'Peace Officer'
Hot Docs
Police violence is a topic of extreme interest right now with a startling number of cases of unarmed men being killed by law enforcement officers in the United States over the last year. The documentary, Peace Officer, tackles the issue from a slightly different perspective by focusing on deaths at the hands of S.W.A.T. teams across the country. Former county sheriff William “Dub” Lawrence is at the centre of the film. He was the youngest man to be voted into the position and earned the title over time. Now retired, he finds himself independently investigating the murder of his son-in-law, Brian Woods, by the same S.W.A.T. team he established in the region in the ‘70s. While most families don’t have the knowledge to conduct a similar inquiry, it’s astonishing the amount of evidence he gathers after the police have released the scene.
Lawrence also lends his expertise to the families of victims of similar circumstances. One instance involves the death of Matthew Stewart, who was involved in a gunfight with S.W.A.T. after they “broke into” his house in the middle of the night because they suspected he had a marijuana grow-op in his basement. This case is less clear-cut than the primary one, but Lawrence once again uncovers a lot of evidence that point to misconduct. Filmmakers trace the history of S.W.A.T. from its creation in 1965 to its first raid in 1969 to President Richard Nixon’s implementation of the “no knock raid” in 1971 to fight the war on drugs to the astounding exponential increase since the ‘70s. Cops involved in some of the incidents are interviewed as well as a high-ranking officer who insists the militarization of police is a myth. Even without relating the events in the film to any of the current events making headlines, it’s a fascinating exploration of an increasingly aggressive authority.
A scene from  Warriors from the North
A scene from 'Warriors from the North'
Hot Docs
On a more international scale, there is a recruiting and arming of young Somalians from the Western world, convinced martyrdom is a worthy death. Warriors from the North focuses on the enlistment of young men by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab from European and Scandinavian countries, such as Denmark, England, Finland and Switzerland. Though most of the interviewees conceal their identities, they provide illuminating insights into the recruitment process and reasons for joining the terrorist group. One of the key speakers is an anonymous man who says he was not as brave as his friends and therefore chose not to follow them to war. Via shadowy re-enactments, he illustrates the camaraderie he experienced by finding others with similar backgrounds and how their bonding inspired self-assurance. He also expresses how he lacked confidence and felt like an outcast prior to their meeting, describing the perfect prey for a cult. The other main narrative is of a father trying to track down his son who fled to join al-Shabab in an attempt to bring him home. His segments are more emotional and depict the turmoil these families experience when their sons and daughters make these frequently fatal decisions.
The focus of the documentary is deeply-seated in the first-hand experiences of Somalians touched by al-Shabab. There are no pundits attempting to explain the increasing phenomenon of Western children returning to fight a war their parents escaped, but rather personal accounts of those who have confronted the choice. Short interviews with men who are presently soldiers of al-Shabab demonstrate their dedication to the cause and unwillingness to return home, and a training video outlines some of their teachings. One of the film’s most enlightening speakers is introduced in the latter half of the movie, having recently deserted from al-Shabab. He describes the cult-like methods of the group and its expectations once enlisted, as well as his fear of discovery. All of the young men are very articulate when relating their stories, regardless of their decision. Other than sharing these personal perspectives of the situation, filmmakers also make a point of showing not all Muslims share the views of extremists regarding the West and suicide bombs as several of them condemn the actions of friends and family.
Ticket and screening information are available on the Hot Docs website.
More about hot docs 2015, peace officer, Warriors from the North, Censored Voices, Documentary
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