A Little Extra: Top Picks from Hot Docs 19
Push (2019, d. Fredrik Gertten)
The first film I saw this festival and I was knocked sideways from the start. Push looks at the global housing crisis and follows the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha, as she visits cities around the world and investigates why no one can afford to live there anymore. As someone who’s moved from expensive city to expensive city over the past five years, this was an eye-opening look at a problem that is far more widespread than I had realised and with much more complex roots than I could have imagined.
Midnight Traveler (2019, d. Hassan Fazili)
Midnight Traveler follows director Hassan Fazili and his family as they are forced to seek refuge from Afghanistan after the Taliban places a bounty on his head. Shot entirely on phones by Fazili and his wife, also a filmmaker, this is a brutally honest account of a family on the run, the challenging and often dangerous journey taking them west into Europe. It’s a refugee story but it’s unlike anything else I’ve seen in this vein: the harsh realities of it are no surprise, from the illegal border crossings to the convoluted bureaucracy when they eventually make it to Europe, but the touching family moments bring a uniqueness to this piece. They show a family that is like any other, living through extraordinarily difficult circumstances. The unshakeable optimism of their two young daughters and the harmless bickering of a husband and wife are a beautiful reminder of the universality of family. There is much to take from a film like this in destroying the “us and them” mentality that is often applied to refugees and causes so much harm in its wake.
Cold Case Hammarskjöld (2019, d. Mads Brügger)
It’s hard to know what to say about this film – I’m at as much of a loss for words now as I was when I left the cinema almost two weeks ago. Cold Case Hammarskjöld begins as an investigation of the death of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld in 1961 but becomes something else entirely. From the start, you know you’re in for a journey, as Brügger himself stands, clad all in white, addressing a secretary tapping dutifully at a typewriter. Through a six year investigation and numerous dead-ends, Brügger and associates uncover a secret military organisation in South Africa, responsible, if claims are to be believed, not just for Hammarskjöld’s assassination but for an array of other crimes of varying degrees of horror. This isn’t just the most insane documentary I’ve ever seen but probably the most insane film I’ve ever seen, full stop. Brügger’s style is quirky and likely not for everyone but this surprisingly funny and often shocking documentary handled its twists and turns with a clear narrative thread that kept me hooked right to the end.
Hi, AI (2019, d. Isa Willinger)
Robots are invading your homes! yells every apocalyptic warning for the future, ever. But Hi, AI takes a very different approach to looking at how robot technology will, and already is, playing a role in people’s lives, in a very human kind of way. From entirely automated receptionists to childlike companions for the elderly, this is a beautifully shot and thought-provoking look at the future of this technology. One filmmaker recommended this to me, describing it as “close to a masterpiece” – I’d have to agree.
A complete list of films I saw at Hot Docs 19:
Cold Case Hammarskjöld
Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World
Assholes: A Theory
There Are No Fakes