Fantasia docs prove challenging to one weak-kneed reviewer
If one happens to be even slightly emotionally off kilter, heed the following warning when considering which Fantasia documentaries to see: They are a rather grim bunch. Each unearths in its own special way the ugly, most sinister aspects of humanity. And I mean sinister. (To put it in perspective, the least visually arresting of the bunch I saw, Zoo, is a film about a guy who dies doing it with a horse. More on that next week.)
Let’s start with Your Mommy Kills Animals. If you think those images of nuked elephants and skinned puppies are tough to take, you will no doubt need an effective cinematic blinder system – I prefer plugging ears and closing eyes – to make it through this exposé of horrific animal rights abuses and the passionate (sometimes crazy) people out trying to save our beastly brethren.
Of course, when you get to the meat and bones of the matter, it’s a very compelling topic for a documentary, and director Curt Johnson explores a range of topics with a rather sympathetic eye: the emergence of the animal rights and animal welfare movements in America, the infighting between big activist groups, Hollywood’s fetishistic interest in pets and the recent move by the U.S. government to label animal rights activists America’s number one domestic terrorist threat. Despite plenty of interesting factoids, shocking scenes and entertaining momentum, only a few talking heads are articulate, and sometimes the doc itself suffers, as does the animal rights movement itself, from a lack of clear direction.
Even more puzzling, controversial and deeply disturbing is S&Man, a doc that flails in a dark, nihilistic pool and made me want to poke out my eyes. S&Man digs deep to unearth the motivations (of usually geeky, twisted men) to make underground horror – and liberally shows segments from torture, humiliation, rape and fetish films, which almost exclusively feature female victims. Director J.T. Petty hits rock bottom of the underground horror biz in his doc that, not unlike its topic, takes sinister delight in blurring the lines between reality and fiction. You’ll get to hear the opinions of academics, delusional "scream queens" (actresses) and the ever-potentially-unstable makers and buyers of these gruesome films. Some might argue S&Man is a highly intelligent, if twisted, thriller-cum-stalker-cum-murder-mystery doc, but in my opinion, its attempt to lay bare the soul of an already twisted biz seems somehow pointless. Here’s hoping that Petty himself will be on hand at Fantasia to answer your questions and dodge tomatoes, as his blog suggests he might.
Being in a ruthless Haitian gang never looked so sexy. Fightclub meets MTV in Ghosts of Cité Soleil, a dark and highly stylized portrait of former president Aristide’s loyal supporters: charismatic gang leaders who live large, love hard and die young in the destitute slum of Cité Soleil. Directors Asger Leth and Milos Loncarevic have created an aesthetically stunning and compelling, even if sensentionalized, look into the everyday realities of these men who live like kings.
For those interested in more cock fighting, there’s Loco Fighters, which takes you into the world of luchadors in Mexico. The film fails to focus on one or two wrestlers, instead detailing all the rock’em sock’em style and crush ‘n’ shave politics of the sport in all its gory – and kitschy – detail. Broken necks are just one of many trials these men face as their manhood is gained and lost in the ring.
Lastly, try on some punk culture in Beijing Bubbles, a doc about punk rock hipsters forging their own musical path in Beijing. This is the lightest film of the bunch, and may be a worthwhile respite.