Ancestral Threads | Hot Docs

Citizen Minutes 2 Review: Quick Bites of Democracy

Hot Docs 2023

4 mins read

Hot Docs’ second Citizen Minutes program of seven shorts shows how filmmaking can amplify diverse voices, spotlight hidden talents and empower marginalized people. All these films have merit, although some are technically more complex.

In Mind Check 1-2,1-2, Ian Keteku uses interview, performance and animation to focus on rapper Akintoye, whose mental health struggles made it hard for him to leave his house. When he began posting some of his skilled compositions online, he was able to connect with others who wonder where are the songs for people who don’t want to go outside? This a short but meaningful film about empowerment.

Young Muslim women take to the diamond in Sisterhood Softball by Farhiya Ahmed, but the journey is not smooth. Parents resisted the idea of girls in headscarves playing baseball but by making informed choices, the budding athletes bring their community on board. They choose to play in low-traffic areas, for example, and discourage male spectators to reduce their unease, nevertheless smashing Muslim stereotypes.

The Quebec entry Rising from the Ashes, by Sara Ben-Saud, tracks a remarkable community effort to create a meeting place so people feeling isolated can connect. Two decades ago, founders took over a convenience store and the centre, where volunteers, including a skilled chef, welcomed people into a warm environment changed many lives. The doc’s form is conventional but the content is inspiring.

Cat Mills takes on the sounds of the city with  Do You Hear What I Hear, which highlights how noise pollution can be deleterious to people’s health. Despite the evidence that it can contribute to heart disease, diabetes and strokes, Toronto City Council keeps postponing a review of the city’s noise bylaws. The doc’s format is straightforward but it conveys its message well.

Loud &  Hear, by Josiane Blanc, testifies to the determination of female high schoolers combatting sexual violence in their school. It turns out minors make up 62% of sexual assault survivors although they make up only 20% of the population. Watch how the 20 articulate, diverse activists of La Voix des Jeunes Compte take their demands for changes in sex education, functioning cameras and trained staff to their school boards and beyond.

The best of the lot are two entries from Indigenous filmmakers. Janelle Niles: Inconvenient, by Kelly Zemnickis and Cass Gardiner, spotlights First Nations stand-up comics, with a focus on the very funny and charismatic Janelle Niles, who calls herself a “resbian.” She’s organized the Got Land show which gives the mic time to stand-ups whose humour is designed, as they say, to make white people uncomfortable. It works – and it’s hilarious.

Ancestral Threads, by Sean Stiller,  tracks an edition of Vancouver’s Indigenous Fashion Week. We hear from the designers, including, among others, Corey Bulpitt, who fashions dramatic masks, D’arcy Moses, who works with moosehide and Debra Sparrow, who takes garments worn before contact and transforms them. The work is gorgeous and the artists exhibit it in a wholly non-competitive environment.

Thanks to their excellent artists and their political edge, both these films – or at least their themes – could easily be expanded into full-length features.

Citizen Minutes screens at Hot Docs 2023.

Get more coverage from this year’s festival here.

Update (16/10/2023): The shorts stream on Hot Docs at Home and CBC Gem beginning Oct. 18.

Susan G. Cole is a playwright, broadcaster, feminist commentator and the Books and Entertainment editor at NOW Magazine, where she writes about film. She is the author of two books on pornography and violence against women: Power Surge and Pornography and the Sex Crisis (both Second Story books), and the play A Fertile Imagination. She is the the editor of Outspoken (Playwrights Canada Press), a collection of lesbian monologues from Canadian plays. Hear her every Thursday morning at 9 AM on Talk Radio 640’s Media and the Message panel or look for her monthly on CHTV’s Square Off debate.

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