2023 DOXA Documentary Film Festival
WHEN & WHERE May 4 - 14, 2023 | VIFF Centre, The Cinematheque & SFU Goldcorp Centre + online
Reviewer John Jane
2023 DOXA Documentary Film Festival Awards
Award for Youth Programming: King Coal
directed by Elaine McMillion Sheldon
Award: Tiny directed by Ritchie Hemphill and Ryan
Documentary Award: Notes on Displacement directed
by Khaled Jarrar
Award: Tiny directed by Ritchie Hemphill and Ryan Haché
Big Fight in Little Chinatown
Canada/USA, 2022, Director Karen Cho, 88 minutes
In English and Cantonese with English subtitles
Chinese-Canadian director Karen Cho’s informative documentary Big Fight in Little Chinatown opens this year’s DOXA, Vancouver's documentary festival. Cho, who was born in Montreal, focuses her lens on four cities with essentially similar problems: Vancouver, Toronto, New York City and her home base Montreal. The film will surely be of interest to Vancouverites and people of Chinese heritage in general across large centres in North America.
As the film’s title may suggest, Chinatowns everywhere are in trouble! Under threat of gentrification, urban renewal and even a misguided prejudice against Chinese communities, denizens are finding that they have to fight back just to preserve a vulnerable status quo. Of course, it’s too simple to say that it’s the fault of municipalities. The once vibrant Vancouver Chinatown was the second largest in North America, (perhaps it still is) but over the years has suffered from its denizens success who have moved to larger homes in the suburbs.
shows protests that illustrate the passion and determination in those
multi-generational citizens in their attempt to persuade not only local
councils, but allies from other ethnic groups to support their cause.
In Montreal we see protesters with placards that read: Le Quartier
Chinoise n’est pas un Musée and Chinatown is not
a Museum in Vancouver.
USA, 2021, Director Rebecca Huntt, 79 minutes
who makes the cover of this year’s DOXA Program Guide, is a proud
born and bred New Yorker. When her nickname is the title of her first
feature documentary, it doesn’t leave much doubt that it’s
an autobiographical work. Except that Huntt goes deeper than what is
typical for a cinematic memoire. The thirty-two year old Afro-Latina
film-maker takes no prisoners in a brutally honest portrait of not only
herself, but her entire family.
Spain/Germany, 2022, Director Paloma Zapata, 95 minutes
In Spanish and German with English subtitles
En busca de La Singla (In search of La Singla), Paloma Zapata’s
fascinating hybrid documentary features the renowned flamenco dancer
Antoñita Singla, who came to be known as simply La Singla.
Much of the film includes archival black and white film footage of when
Singla started dancing as a child in the Barcelona Romani neighbourhood
of Somorrostro. She learned to dance without being able to hear the
music that she danced to. She was born almost totally deaf and used
flamenco as a form of therapy.
We Will Not Fade Away
Ukraine/Poland/France, 2023, Director Alisa Kovalenko, 100 minutes
In Ukrainian with English subtitles
documentary filmmaker Alisa Kovalenko takes a cynical, yet a simultaneously
hopeful look at life in the conflict-ridden Donbas region of Ukraine
in her new documentary We Will Not Fade Away. Kovalenko’s
film was shot three years before the Russian invasion in February 2022.
But even in 2019 there were the ominous signs that the commonplace shelling
and gunfire was a harbinger of worse times ahead.
Columbia/Romania/France/Germany, 2023, Director Theo Montoya, 75 minutes
In Spanish with English subtitles
The curious title is an acronym taken from angel of Hell. It’s also the Instagram moniker of Camilo Najar, the director’s anti-hero in his film within a film – a film that was never completed. Colombian director Theo Montoya has to rethink his film-making strategy when his intended protagonist suddenly dies of a heroin overdose. What Montoya ends up with is a gallimaufry of a dystopian allegory of Medellin’s societal underbelly, and a series of conversations between a group of economically marginalized young men and an unseen interviewer - all interspersed with newsreel footage of recent violent events that actually includes the shooting down of Pablo Escobar on his birthday. All Montoya’s interviewees have two things in common with each other: they’re all part of the Medellin’s gay community and are disenchanted with country to which they belong. Sharlott Zadoma, a transsexual was the second cast member to die before the final completion of the film.
Montoya’s quasi-documentary is certainly dark. It is difficult to see which audience this film would appeal to – perhaps the morbidly curious.
Má Sài Gòn (Mother Saigon)
Canada, 2023, Director Khoa Lê , 100 minutes
In Vietnamese with English subtitles
Paris of the Orient
and Uncle Ho Chi Minh are nicknames afforded to Ho Chi Minh City, but
apparently many of its ten million residents still affectionately call
it Mother Saigon. Montreal-based, American born filmmaker Khoa Lê’s
documentary is not much more than a cinematic love letter to his family’s
Manufacturing the Threat
Canada, 2023, Director Amy Miller, 85 minutes
In English and French with English subtitles
Manufacturing the Threat is Amy Miller’s engaging exposé into the RCMP’s handling of the so-called Project Souvenir and other such clandestine operations that involve targeting individuals and gathering evidence through suspect methods. Miller’s documentary primarily uses the example of radicalized Moslem converts John Nuttall and Amanda Korody and their involvement in a failed attempt to blow up the British Columbia legislature building in Victoria BC on Canada Day, 2013. The media was quick to call it a ‘pressure cooker’ bombing attempt because of the similarity with the Tsarnaev brothers’ scheme at the Boston Marathon earlier the same year. It is now known that John Nuttall and Amanda Korody were not only encouraged, but coerced and perhaps even guided through the plot by undercover law enforcement agents.
Nuttall and Korody, who throughout the film were referred to by their Moslem names, Omar and Ana, were hardly perfect people. Some may have said that they were at least partly to blame for their misadventures with RCMP. Due to their transient lifestyle, the pair presented themselves as easy targets for a sting operation that was intended to justify the RCMP’s demands for greater powers and resources in order to combat domestic terrorism.
Canada, 2023, Directors Robert Mentov & Karl Kai, 20 minutes
In Ukrainian with English subtitles
There are a number
of films making it into the DOXA Film Festival this year that centre
on the ongoing invasion of Russia into Ukraine. Troika (Russian
word meaning threesome) is a short film that is part of an assemblage
of seven films that deal with ‘memories with home’ –
wherever home may be. Vika Koniskhina is living in Canada, safely away
from the war in her homeland, but it doesn’t stop her phoning
her mother everyday urging her to leave Ukraine. Vika, Niko Kargorodtcev
and Ilkin Ujanski play themselves as three young people who find kinship
and solace in a group of people in the same predicament as themselves
and are coming to terms with living in a country that they have no personal
affinity with. Robert Mentov supervises the photography that appears
to be shot with the use of a hand-held camcorder camera as it follows
the friends in a social setting or alone.
Philippines, 2022, Director Karl Malakunas, 94 minutes
In Tagalog and English with English subtitles
Karl Malakunas’ eco-documentary Delikado certainly doesn’t pull any punches as it looks for both heroes and villains in Palawan’s, an archipelagic province in the Philippines, war on illegal logging and fishing. El Nido Mayor Nieves Rosento and local lawyer Bobby Chan and his squad of para-enforcers who go about confiscating chainsaws are very much the heroes. While unlawful gangs of unregistered loggers enabled by corrupt politicians like Palawan governor Jose Alvarez are the villians. Even former president Rodigo Duterte is seen on local television wrongfully calling out Mayor Rosento, and putting her on his “Narcs List.” The film gives much of its runtime to Mayor Rosento’s re-election campaign, where she is running against an alleged corrupt opponent backed by the governor. Malakunas’ central theme in Delikado however, is PNNI’s (Palawan NGO Network Incorporated) brave, but seemingly losing battle to sustain the delicate environment of their province.
© 2023 John Jane