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Hot Docs reviews [Pt.1]

Reviews for The Invisible War, Brooklyn Castle and The Imposter are below. Check out all our Hot Docs coverage here.


The Invisible War - ★★★★

Kirby Dick has made a name for himself by rallying for the under-dog against “the man”. Whether it was his exposition of American politics’ anti-gay agenda in 2010’s Outrage, sexual abuse victims and the Catholic church in 2004’s Twist of Faith or independent film-makers and critics fed up with the MPAA’s often inexplicable rating choices in 2008’s This Film Is Not Yet Rated.

In The Invisible War, he goes after one of the most domineering institutions around – the U.S. military. One in five women will experience rape, sexual assault or sexual harassment while serving their country. Because this is the military, you can’t get yourself together and head down to the police station and file a report. The investigation must be handled internally by your direct superior, who is unlikely to want to reprimand or court-martial one of his own soldiers. Even worse, what happens when your direct superior is the one who perpetrated the sex crime against you?

The facts are truly staggering and even in the hands of a lesser film-maker, could probably still have made for a solid documentary. But through a series of compelling interviews we encounter a selection of brave, but ultimately emotionally broken women. These are intelligent and capable women who chose to dedicate the formative years of their lives to their idealistic visions of what the U.S. military should be. Instead they end up in a big “boy’s club” where in many quarters women are simply treated like pieces of meat. The military’s primary response to this epidemic rape crisis is an ad campaign pushing the idea that the problem rests with the women. They advocate a buddy system for when you’re walking around base late and night and laughably say to male soldiers – “Don’t risk it. Ask her when she’s sober!”

The subject matter pre-determines that this is not going to feature a lot of laughs or light moments, but Dick and his producer Amy Ziering have crafted a powerful film that shows the bravery of the victims (some of them male it should be noted) in getting on with their lives and pushing for change in attitudes and military culture.

USA  /  International Premiere  /  Directed By: Kirby Dick
99min  /  Documentary


Brooklyn Castle - ★★★★

A year ago, the release of Bobby Fischer Against the World, Liz Garbus’s look at the USA’s solitary world chess champion made chess kind of cool. Fischer was a unique and enigmatic character but without chess he would have just been a crazy, misunderstood man. While Garbus’s film delved into the mental toil and pressure of professional chess, Katie Dellamaggiore’s Brooklyn Castle is all about the joy and achievement that the game can bring to school-kids.

I.S. 318, an inner-city public school in Brooklyn is one of the top chess schools in North America. The school teaches teenagers from the local neighbourhood and allows children from across New York’s other boroughs to study there too. Their secret weapon is an energetic vice-principal John Galvin and full time chess coach Elizabeth Vicary. Unfortunately the big bad wolf (Mayor Bloomberg) sees fit to start cutting after-school programs in the New York state budget, these budget adjustments will threaten the school’s chess program and challenge for the national championships.

If you’ve seen Undefeated, Waiting for Superman or Spellbound, then you’ll know what sort of tone we’re dealing with here. Gifted children spurred on by enigmatic and driven teachers. It’s light-hearted fare but it’s the human stories of the children and their families that shape the film that allow it to stand out from the crowd. Dellamaggiore’s film won the SXSW audience award and remake rights have already been acquired by Sony Pictures and producer Scott Rudin. It’s impossible not to finish the film without a smile on your face.

USA  /  International Premiere  /  Directed By: Katie Dellamaggiore
100min  /  Documentary


The Imposter - ★★★★★

The Imposter is one of those films that is best enjoyed the less you know about it going in. If you’ve managed to escape the story of 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay’s missing persons case, then do your best not to google things between now and the film’s general release in the autumn. In a story that you wouldn’t believe if it were fiction, “Barclay” who went missing from his home in Texas in 1994, shows up four years later in Spain. I’m not ruining anything by using those little inverted commas as the title of the film tells you everything may not be as it seems.

Through interviews with Barclay’s family and the key parties involved at the FBI and in Europe, we piece together a truly mind-boggling story. Add input from a private investigator straight out of Natural Born Killers and a shady family history of drug addiction and questionable motives and you get a feel for what we’re dealing with here.

The Imposter has an atmosphere much like some scenes in James Marsh’s stunning Man on Wire as the film is propelled along by re-staged scenes and commentary coming from an enigmatic French voice.

To put it bluntly, first time feature director Englishman Bart Layton has crafted one of the most compelling documentaries you will see this year. The less you know about this one, the better.

UK  /  Canadian Premiere  /  Directed By: Bart Layton
95min  /  Documentary