Wednesday, 15 April 2015


Greg Klymkiw presents his HOT DOCS 2015 HOT PICKS #4

For the next fourteen days I will only review movies I liked, loved or that totally blew me away during the 2015 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto, Canada. Life is short. I won't bother reviewing movies that were godawful, mediocre or just plain okay. Note my picks, mark your calendars and save some precious hours, days and weeks of your life on planet Earth. Instead, spend it travelling the world via one of cinema's most vital genres.

Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World (2015)
Dir. Charles Wilkinson
Prd. Tina Schliessler

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Some of the most important environmental documentaries being made in the world include the work of Canadian director Charles Wilkinson who knocked us on our collective butts with his powerful energy-consumption doc Peace Out and his potent, strangely uplifting Oil Sands Karaoke, that focused upon the face of humanity amidst the horrific environmental exploitation in the Alberta Tar Sands. His new film, Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World, comprises the third of what feels like an unofficial trilogy (which one hopes will continue well beyond its current trinity).

On one hand, the current picture essentially supersedes Wilkinson's previous work with the film's delicate blend of cold, hard facts which, we should all be actively concerned about and, on the other paw, a very gentle (deceptively so) tone poem to one of the greatest natural treasures of the world. Officially known as the Queen Charlotte islands, this gorgeous archipelago in northern British Columbia (BC) comprises about 150 islands and is home to a varied and important population of flora and fauna - vital to the area itself, but also to the world at large.

The Haida Gwaii, which literally translates as "Islands of the Haida people" was traditionally the domain of this great aboriginal nation who prospered here for over 10,000 years until Colonialism decimated the population through both disease and, of course, Canada's uniquely polite form of genocide (both literal and cultural, the latter of which has always been the big stick Whitey calls "assimilation"). Today, however, the dominant population of the Haida Gwaii are the indigenous people of the island and surely they have the right to self-determination. In fact, they do have that right, only it is continually ignored and/or bamboozled by Canadian government bureaucracy.

Treaties in particular continue to be broken and/or ignored under the aegis of Canada's belief that all lands, even if they belong to Aboriginal Nations, are Crown Lands and as such, can be dealt with in any cavalier fashion the government chooses - dispensing, willy-nilly, all manner of dispensation to corporate rapists of the environment. One of Canada's more appalling back-handed acknowledgments of Aboriginal Rights in the Haida Gwaii has been to convert a huge chunk of land not destroyed by clearcut logging and other crimes against the environment into a massive national park. Yes, this protects the land (supposedly in perpetuity) but the park is essentially "owned" and administered by the "Crown" as opposed to those who really own it, the Haida Nation. It's the Government of Canada's God-like assumption that with one hand it giveth and with the other taketh, all in the schizophrenic snow job to make it seem like they respect the First Nations (and by extension, the environment), when in reality, it's to feather the nests of Big Money (and by extension, the on-the-take pockets of politicians).

Ownership of these lands seems almost preposterous to one of the film's subjects. Allan Wilson, the Haida hereditary Chief makes the astute observation: "We care for the land here, but we don't own the Animal Kingdom, it's a part of us, it's family. I kinda think that's the way it is because everything has its part and every part has its value and every value contributes to our life."

Ownership of these lands seems almost preposterous to one of the film's subjects. Allan Wilson, the Haida hereditary Chief makes the astute observation: "We care for the land here, but we don't own the Animal Kingdom, it's a part of us, it's family. I kinda think that's the way it is because everything has its part and every part has its value and every value contributes to our life."

The Government of Canada, however, has no values save for those which fill the pockets of politicians' rich friends, and of course, themselves.

Wilkinson's film contains a plethora of alarming facts with respect to this. Two thirds of the Haida Gwaii's forests have been decimated by illegal logging and billions of dollars of profits from this has been dispersed into the pockets of the very few. Yes, Haida people had jobs in logging, but not to the tune of billions of dollars. Besides, in recent years, the jobs issue is a public relations smokescreen since mechanization in the logging industry has swallowed up most of the available jobs. Land and resources are sucked dry, but nothing comes back to the Haida.

Even more sickening is that Canada's Federal Nazi Party (aka The Conservatives), in cahoots with corporate oil interests and the Fascist Party of BC (aka The Liberal Party of BC, aka Really Not Much Different Than The Conservatives Party) are all threatening to upset the natural balance of life in this paradise on Earth with the current desire to plough through the Tar Sands seaway to Asia. The powers-that-be want us to believe it's all about jobs (BC Premier Christy Lemire's spurious excuse for all her dubious decisions), but in reality, the short-term gain of this smokescreen will potentially wreak havoc that can only yield long-term environmental pain.

What the world needs to know, what it needs to wake up to is that First Nations people all over the world have lived with a sustainable relationship to the environment for millennia. This is certainly the case with the Haida. Not that Herr Harper and his cronies at the federal and provincial level care. They and their rich buddies don't need to care. The government has forgotten that it is the People - all people. Still, the rape of the Haida Gwaii is ongoing. At one point, it's revealed that in addition to pipelines, there are plans afoot for huge tanker ships to traverse along the shorelines which are in extremely rough, rocky waters. (Way to go Government and Big Business! Morons!) Even the slightest spill - clearly an inevitability - will contaminate a huge part of the ecosystem and result in both people and animals eating poison food. Then again, why should Harper and his gang of Nazis and Fascists care?

Wilkinson's film cannily places the anger of the Haida Nation over Canada's flagrant violation of Aboriginal Rights within the context of a people who are not only trying to live as traditionally as possible, but in many cases are working towards a reclamation of traditional cultural values which were under Colonial attack for so long. Wilkinson introduces us to Haida elders, activists and even the youth who all provide us with an important perspective - that the people and land are one; they're inextricably linked to the degree that any violation of this connection is not only an infringement upon the Haida, but by extension, all Canadians and frankly, the world. In fairness, Whitey is not only represented as the faceless corporate/governmental evil; Wilkinson also introduces us to those of the pale-skinned persuasion who are equal partners with the Haida in protesting the pillage of this paradise.

The poetic qualities of the film are what ultimately create a love and appreciation for what is both sacred and in need of protection. We are lulled, not into complacency, but the sheer magic these islands provide and the greatest impetus for Canadians and the world at large to reject the illegal, immoral use of these lands to ultimately benefit the very few.

Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World might well provide the most persuasive aesthetic argument to save these islands at all costs by placing us into frame of mind which is ultimately the next best thing to actually being there. By the end of the film, we're consumed with deep emotional ties to the land, but most importantly, we're firmly placed in the corner of those who possess the best chance to save our world, those indigenous First Nations who have been able to thrive in spite of the deadly roadblocks placed in front of their right to live freely in their own cultural and environmental milieu.

The Haida are fighters, but their greatest weapon is the land itself. Hats off to Wilkinson for crafting a film which walks tall, yet softly and carries the big stick of our ultimate salvation, the environment itself and, of course, its people, the Haida.


Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World enjoys its World Premier at Hot Docs 2015. For tickets and info, visit the festival's website by clicking HERE.

Fractured Land (2015)
Dir. Damien Gillis, Fiona Rayher

Review By Greg Klymkiw

It's the stuff good movies are made of; WITNESS: a young, handsome, rugged, Mohawk-pated Aboriginal man of the Dene Nation in northeastern British Columbia with a penchant for hunting, trapping and expert tomahawk-throwing is also an impeccably groomed "monkey-suited" lawyer entering his articling year with a desire to focus on Native land rights and environmental issues. He's split between the town and the country - a kind of Clark-Kent-Superman figure who is already on the cusp of shaking up the world of evil corporate and government exploitation.

Oh, and he has a physical "defect", a cleft-palate which is the result of environmental poisoning in his family's gene pool. It's a defect which, like all great movie heroes, causes him considerable and painful rumination upon his childhood and how this "defect" has affected him, but also how it empowers him. Joaquin Phoenix is a natural for the role if it's ever turned into a feature length drama (hopefully directed by Paul Thomas Anderson) or an HBO limited series.

For now, though, it's ALL documentary and ALL real. The aforementioned young man, one Caleb Behn, is the primary subject of Fractured Land by co-directors Damien Gillis and Fiona Rayher and they've deftly focused their interviewing techniques and cameras to capture the kind of complex, charismatic character that screenwriters and directors toil to bring to life on both the page and screen of feature narrative. They allow us to follow Behn in both the wilderness and the city, buffeting his compelling tale with a solid variety of interview subjects - friends, family, locals, elders, big oil honchos and, among others, fellow land claims and environmental activists.

We're privy to the cold, hard facts of the environmental devastation that has already taken place in northeastern BC as well as what's happening now and will, indeed, happen in the future if something is not done. It's a given that the right side of the war will be populated by many Native Canadians, but the film's thematic subtext reveals the overwhelming sense of fractures - not just in the fracked/clearcut and formerly pristine land, but in those Aboriginal people who are direct beneficiaries of the jobs on offer and the economic benefits of environmental exploitation. Even Caleb Behn knows that his opportunities to receive a post secondary education are rooted in the employment his own parents benefitted from.

BC's Liberal Premier, the sickening Christy Lemire with her continually smiling oh-so perky, chirpy cheerleader stance of "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs" is currently leading the way for more environmental abuses and playing right into the hands of Canada's psycho Nazi Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Government and Big Money also have deep pockets to fight any challenges to their blatant theft from Canada's First Nations.

Worse yet is the fact - once again - that any benefits of pillaging, raping and murdering the environment are strictly ephemeral. The future, however, could be very bleak for everyone and this is where Caleb Behn could make a difference. In the midst of his gruelling work as an articling lawyer/student, he is a much-sought-after public speaker on environmental/Aboriginal issues and he simply can't seem to say "No" to any invitation for him to publicly denounce the evils of fracking, clear cutting and all other manner of "legal" criminal actions against the Earth's potential for survival.

A very powerful sequence has Caleb visiting New Zealand and meeting with Maori leaders who discuss and then show him first-hand the devastating effects of tracking upon their land. It's potent and empowering, but also deeply moving. Caleb seems even more energized to fight the good fight in Canada.

It's a cool movie that way. Caleb Behn is going to become one of the country's important leaders (if not the world's) and here we get a ground-floor glimpse at the beginnings of what will be a stellar ascension. Looking forward to sequels will, in fact, be looking forward to Planet Earth's health and longevity with Behn leading the charge.

I can hardly wait.


Fractured Land enjoys its World Premier at Hot Docs 2015. For tickets and info, visit the festival's website by clicking HERE.

Chameleon (2014)
Dir. Ryan Mullins

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Anas Aremeyaw Anas not only seeks to fight crime, he wants to expose it publicly, shame it and then create enough evidence for the evil-doers to be tossed into prison for a good long time. Anas will go to seemingly absurd lengths to "get his man". He's a master of disguise - so much so, that most people, even some who are close to him, don't even really know what he looks like.

Chameleon, indeed!

Oh, and he's not a cop.

Anas Aremeyaw Anas is Ghana's most popular tabloid investigative journalist. Working closely with the police, Anas pursues those who have eluded incarceration. He's not only fighting crime, he's getting the story first-hand for his readers.

The film entertainingly follows Anas at every step of the way during his detailed investigation into a notorious human trafficking ring. We get to see him behind the scenes, his collaboration with trusted members of law enforcement and even his speech (in disguise, of course) to a whole whack of admiring kids (which provides a ton of great tidbits about his past successes).

The movie offers a lovely appetizer case; an abominably deviant abortionist coerces women into having sex with him before he performs the fetal extraction. He claims that his highly skilled prodigious schwance-pronging will open up a woman's passageways in a natural fashion prior to the doc diving in and ripping the blob of living flesh from the abortion-seeker. The guy is a total dirt-bag and seeing him taken out is very pleasurable, but the lead-up to his capture is also nail-bitingly suspenseful due to Anas' "bait", a colleague placed in clear danger to help make the bust.

Though the film provides a tiny bit of tut-tutting about journalistic ethics, this (thankfully) takes a decided backseat to Anas' derring-do. The human trafficking case is especially suspenseful, but director Ryan Mullins captures the bust's aftermath superbly; giving us a very real, telling and melancholy exposure to the conflicted feelings of the traffickers' victims.

This is yet another doc that has feature film drama and/or dramatic TV series potential splashed all over it. I don't think this is a bad thing at all. It'll be fun to see if Chameleon becomes a franchise tentpole.


Chameleon will have its World Premiere at HOT DOCS 2015. For schedule and tickets, visit the Hot Docs website HERE.

Milk (2015)
Dir. Noemi Weis

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I have to admit that Milk was a huge eye-opener for this fella and might well have a similar effect upon millions upon millions of people. On the surface, the film seems like a fairly standard, straightforward look at motherhood - most notably in the area of breast-feeding. As the film progresses, it is so much more. The picture touches upon areas like midwifery versus traditional medical birth methods, but in many ways this is the springboard needed to jettison us into the shocking and sickening misuse and abuse of women's bodies and by extension, those of their newborn babies.

Once again, corporate interests are promoting extremely unhealthy practises all in the name of profits. What I personally learned was the extent to which the commercial baby food industry held sway over women worldwide - especially in the area of promoting milk supplements instead of good, old fashioned breast milk. Frankly, I just assumed all babies were breast-fed except in rare instances where milk supplements were the only route to take.

Unfortunately the marketing and lobby of corporate pigs is so strong, that kids are being fed powdery packets of poison and chemicals because safety and convenience play such a huge part in the selling of said supplements. One of the more appalling examples of the lengths to which infant formula manufacturers will go to are presented by their purported altruism wherein they donate their product in far-flung reaches of the planet which have been decimated by natural disasters or war. Mothers and their babies get hooked on the crap, and then, the companies having not provided enough donations of formula, force families to pay for more of it in the supermarkets. Some families are so destitute they seek alternate forms of powdered food which end up being much cheaper.

And you know what? As the jingle goes, "Coffee Mate, tastes great, Coffee Mate makes your cup of coffee taste GREAT!"

The last time I checked, synthetic coffee cream powders are not food, but are fed to babies anyway. The marketing of said product does little to dispel the notion that it can be used successfully.

Milk goes well beyond its TV doc roots and delivers a powerful, insightful look at this detestable exploitation and does so across five continents. The scope is wide; as it should be in the case of children and what they're (force) fed during their earliest years.


Milk will have its World Premiere at HOT DOCS 2015. For schedule and tickets, visit the Hot Docs website HERE.