The second screening of DocNow, Ryerson University’s Masters in Documentary Media graduate festival, offered a diverse and wide-ranging programme. Just as in the previous screening, the programme consisted of two parts. Read more on DocNow’s first screening here.
The first section comprised three documentaries: What Appears to be the Problem?, Speechwriters and Me and Myself. The films touched upon the police interaction with drug abusers in Eastside Vancouver, the specificity of speechwriting for the Canadian government and a cinematic chronicle of an Iranian Canadian filmmaker. Given that the films didn’t overlap thematically or stylistically, the first programme appeared quite arbitrary.
The second group of films, which included No Fats, No Femmes, No Asians and a documentary on “lady wrestlers,” was, by contrast, a conceptually precise programme . The documentaries exposed the concerns of the Asian Canadian LGBTQ community and depicted a pulsating life of Canadian female wrestlers. Both documentaries opened a dialogue around unconventional identities and sexualities and confronted the notions of conformity and normalcy.
Unlike the first DocNow screening, the Day 2 programme wasn’t as thoroughly curated. However, due to its lack of thematic unity, it offered a wider range of topics, dispositions and even humour. This variety enlivened the programme.
What Appears to be the Problem? by Lindsay Fitzgerald commenced the first section of the Day 2 programme. The documentary sheds light on the ODD squad, a group of police officers, who fight against widespread drug addiction in East Vancouver. For decades, these policemen have been filming drug abusers in the city’s most problematic neighbourhood. They routinely show this footage to youths for educational purposes. Many have questioned the ethics and productivity of their method. The squad is often criticized for filming vulnerable people without their consent, turning one’s anguish into a spectacle. The experts lament that the ODD Squad overlooks the main cause of addiction, emotional and psychological trauma.
Offering a wide range of conflicting ideas and dispositions, the documentary is striking in its ability to be simultaneously objective and critical. Fitzgerald’s film features the accounts of the police officers, substance abuse experts and addicts. The filmmaker also references an award winning NFB documentary Through a Blue Lens (1999), which depicts the interactions between the police officers and drug abusers in Eastside Vancouver in a way that is clearly 100% pro-law enforcement. By contrast, Fitzgerald manages to humanise the addicts and the police officers, and yet constructively questions the squad’s adequacy.
Speechwriters by Andrew Bateman is a short documentary that offers an insight into the art of writing for Canadian politicians. Bateman interviews several writers, who talk about working for the federal government and read their speeches out loud in front of the camera. The filmmaker then juxtaposes their reading with the actual footage of the politicians reciting the same speeches in Parliament. This crossover is both ironic and curious. Bateman accentuates that “politics is performative,” and draws comparisons between playwriting and speechwriting. The documentary also explores the power of language and sincerity. The film opens a dialogue around the speechwriters’ role in Canadian politics and questions the nature of the politicians’ input. The low production quality of Bateman’s documentary is definitely visible. The filmmaker, however, occasionally manages to draw our attention from the amateur filmmaking to an abundance of humour.
In Me and Myself, Mehrdad Ahmadpour reflects upon and contemplates his filmmaking and identity. Having recently emigrated from Iran, Ahmadpour has been struggling to make a film about his home country, which wouldn’t misrepresent his beliefs. His final and successful attempt, Me and Myself, offers a chronological summary of Ahmadpour’s unfinished films. The documentary consists of four parts, and each section explains why the filmmaker had to stop his project. The first part, for instance, centers on Ahmadpour’s incomplete film about an Iranian blogger, who has had problems with the Iranian authorities since his controversial trip to Israel. Ahmadpour hesitated to proceed the filming due to potential clashes with Iran’s government. His other subjects include Toronto’s Persian community, a gay Iranian woman and Persian pop music culture in LA. Me and Myself is an astoundingly introspective, self-critical and intimate project, which indicates the filmmaker’s bravery and aptitude. However, Ahmadpour might have been overly ambitious. While the film’s sub narratives seem salient, the overall documentary appears sporadic and desultory. Ahmadpour captures the essence of his artistic challenge but it’s ambivalent about what he wants to deliver through his self-exploration.
No Fats, No Femmes, No Asians by Vince Ha is an intimate and reflective documentary, which communicates the problems and visions of queer Asian Canadians. The film revolves around three persons, whose identities are often misrepresented or ignored by the LGBTQ community due to racial and gender prejudices. The documentary confronts toxic beauty standards that torment gay and transgender people. It also demonstrates the intergenerational misunderstanding between queer Asians and their parents, and opens a dialogue around trans identity and gender transition. In his work, the filmmaker asks, what it’s like to live in the society that constantly politicizes your identity?
Ha explores this question by experimenting with screen formats. He often uses split screen, while interviewing his subjects and places them into a cell-phone ratio. According to Ha, queer Asian identities are often “boxed,” marginalized and limited to the stereotypical representations. The split screen and narrow ratio create a figurative language that help articulate these restraints. Finally, the filmmaker shows the practices that help his subjects navigate and cope with the dominant ideology entrenched in their communities. Ha verbalizes and visualizes the external and inner issues of queer Asian Canadians, producing a touching and spirited short.
Please visit DocNow.ca for more information on this year’s festival including encore screenings.