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article imageReview: Hot Docs doesn’t want anyone left in the dark on these issues Special

By Sarah Gopaul     May 4, 2018 in Entertainment
Hot Docs knows the importance of documentary-filmmaking and activism, so they’re highlighting a few important issues at this year’s festival.
While not all documentary cinema needs to be serious or enlightening, these films certainly have an important place in the genre. Following the old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” a movie can only further illustrate issues not easily explained or provide evidence of an overarching problem. At Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, the “silence breakers” programme features films in which its subjects are drawing attention to topics that require our consideration and demonstrating that there are people trying to instil change. And in a slightly different context, a different political commentary was slipped into the “artscapes” category this year.
A scene from  Crime + Punishment
A scene from 'Crime + Punishment'
Hot Docs
Crime + Punishment
Police officers are supposed to “serve and protect,” but one more frequently begins to question for who are they working and guarding. While the majority of officers may be honourable arms of the law, the number of “bad apples” in the barrel appears to be spreading — or just becoming more visible. If cops cannot be relied on to do the right thing and support the communities in which they operate, how can they be trusted? Crime + Punishment helps put the spotlight on an in-house issue with disregarded, and in some cases irreversible, consequences for its targets.
Arrest quotas were banned in 2010, yet arrests and summonses still account for more than $900 million of the city's annual budget. Consequently and not surprisingly, quotas weren’t eliminated — they were just concealed. In response, 12 Black and Latino New York cops filed a class-action lawsuit against the city. They have irrefutable evidence demonstrating their superiors pressure officers into making a minimum of one arrest per day regardless of whether or not a crime has been committed; moreover, they’re directed to target predominantly coloured neighborhoods, often arresting the same 15-25-year-old, jeopardizing their jobs or scholarships, only to have the cases dismissed each time.
Of the police officers taking the stand, there are three at the centre of the film: Sandy Gonzales, who is being publicly humiliated by his colleagues; Edwin Raymond, who can't get promoted in spite of his impeccable record; and a pregnant Felicia Whitely, who is bullied into pre-term labour. On the other side of the arrests, director Stephen Maing follows a private detective attempting to help those wrongly charged get justice… or in at least one instance, avoid a prison term. Amongst other things, this film demonstrates unprovoked shootings caught on video is just one facet of a systemic problem with racism and culture that needs to be addressed before any improvements will be seen.
A scene from  Slut or Nut: The Diary of a Rape Trial
A scene from 'Slut or Nut: The Diary of a Rape Trial'
Hot Docs
Slut or Nut: The Diary of a Rape Trial
Although “rape culture” is not a new phenomenon, it’s finally getting its due attention on account of a number of horrific and high-profile sexual assault cases. For decades, the responsibility for preventing rape has been placed on the would-be target rather than the perpetrator – slut-shaming and victim-blaming are just some of the things women encounter daily. Girls are fed a series of “don’ts” from a young age in order to supposedly protect them from being attacked; meanwhile boys aren’t taught anything about consent. This is gradually changing, but there are many who can’t comprehend the flaw in this logic. These are just some of the obstacles the plaintiff encounters in the documentary, Slut or Nut: The Diary of a Rape Trial.
When Mandi Gray was a PhD student at York University, she was raped by a fellow student with whom she’d gone on a couple of dates. While that experience was traumatizing, her scars would be scored more deeply by the process of trying to convict her rapist. From a school administration that failed to provide recourse to police officers that refused to believe her to limited access to a sexual assault nurse to attempts to discredit her at trial, Gray perseveres with the support of her friends and family — but that doesn’t make her experience any less jarring.
For those already informed about the issue, this documentary doesn’t necessarily contribute anything new to the perception of rape victims. Instead, it provides an enlightening look at the never-ending challenges faced by those who want there to be consequences for their attackers. “Implied consent” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, while Gray’s rapist isn’t even mentioned in most of the news stories that dubbed her “the face of rape on campus.” Rather than proposing solutions, director Kelly Showker uses Gray’s case, expert interviews and the reflections of Jane Doe (who is represented by an animated fox) to deliver a detailed account of filing rape charges in Canada.
A scene from  Yours in Sisterhood
A scene from 'Yours in Sisterhood'
Hot Docs
Yours in Sisterhood
Feminism has been defined and redefined for decades. There are still disputes on what it means to be a feminist, though fairly general and inclusive definitions seem to be the current prevailing versions. In some circles it’s considered a dirty word, while in others it’s deemed a requirement of civil society. Over the years, there have been movements, protests and publications dedicated to feminism and its advancement… and now we live in a world once again being awakened to these issues. So how much has changed? Yours in Sisterhood explores this question through a collection of never-before-shared letters to the editor.
In the ‘70s, Ms. magazine was America's first mainstream feminist publication. In addition to reading it religiously, it’s readers contributed to the conversation via letters written about their personal experiences and struggles with inequality and independence. But of the correspondence received, only a select few were ever published, leaving the remaining voices tucked away in archival boxes never to be heard. However, filmmaker Irene Lusztig is attempting to remedy that for at least some of the writers by reading their words on camera in her performative, participatory documentary.
Each letter is read by someone in similar circumstances as the original contributor — and in a few cases, the author themselves. Shot in 32 states, participants from across the spectrum of sexual orientation, religious and racial backgrounds, physical ability and political viewpoint read the letters aloud into the camera, then compare their experiences to that of the person who composed the letter 40 years ago in the same location. What becomes fairly obvious is not a lot has changed through the decades and a lot of work still needs to be done. This is a thought-provoking approach to this subject and an effective way of engaging people in conversation about these still relevant topics.
A scene from  Mr. Fish: Cartooning from the Deep End
A scene from 'Mr. Fish: Cartooning from the Deep End'
Hot Docs
Mr. Fish: Cartooning from the Deep End
While laughter will always be a necessity of a healthy life, its source varies widely. People’s sense of humour is subjective and what is side-splitting to one person may be obnoxious to another. Therefore, making a living in comedy can be a difficult, particularly if you have a unique sense of humour that isn’t widely shared. However, in addition to the more visible stand-up comedian or the more standard comedy screenwriter, there are illustrators whose bread-and-butter relies on selling their funny or satirical artwork. Mr. Fish: Cartooning from the Deep End is about such an artist who’s finding it difficult to survive doing what he loves.
Fish began drawing at a young age and the subjects of his work quickly took on a commentary element. Using his talent to question, oppose or simply ruffle some feathers came naturally to Fish… although his style of humour may not appeal to everyone. His cartoons tend to be vulgar and even offensive to some, though they do achieve the impact he desires. Unfortunately, the decline of print media has left fewer paying jobs for a political cartoonist and he’s grappling against a need to support his family vs. not accepting work he finds unfulfilling.
Via interviews with Fish and his family and friends, director Pablo Bryant paints an intimate portrait of a struggling artist whose talent is needed more than ever even though there are fewer places to display his work. Time spent observing Fish’s wife and their conversations are the most revealing, as she both understands and supports his passion but grows tired of money issues caused by his unstable employment. As Fish’s artwork scrolls across the screen, his skills and style are evident… as is the constrained market in which he must try to stay afloat.
Showtimes and ticket information can be found on the festival website.
More about Hot Docs 2018, Documentary, Slut or Nut The Diary of a Rape Trial, Crime Punishment, Yours in Sisterhood
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