Hot Docs 2004 - UPDATE #4
Directed by John Kastner
Though it's often tremendously depressing, Gert's Secret is nevertheless an engaging little documentary that provides an eye-opening look at at life within a nursing home. The Gert of the title is Gert Stevenson, a 101-year-old nursing home resident who's in remarkably good health (her scrappy demeanor and generally positive outlook belies her centenarian status). The film follows Gert on her day-to-day escapades, mostly involving the inherent problems that arise from living amongst so many frail and dying folks. Though she's given the freedom to leave the home on occasion (ie a trip to the horse races), Gert must contend with dementia-afflicted residents and the indignities one generally associates with such an establishment. We also meet a few other inhabitants of the home, including a proud ex-naval officer forced to move in after suffering from a stroke, along with several surprisingly perky employees. Director John Kastner deftly manages to offer up a revealing look at Gert's life without ever crossing the line into intrusiveness; he keeps an appropriate amount of distance while refusing to shy away from the harsher aspects of the rigors of life within a nursing home. In the end, though, it's all about Gert; though her condition deteriorates during the SARS crises (residents are not allowed to leave the building for several weeks), the film ends on an optimistic note with Gert celebrating her 103rd Birthday. Oddly enough, we never do learn Gert's secret...
Directed by David Ofek
No. 17 follows director David Ofek's investigation of a 2002 suicide bombing that left 17 Israelis dead, with the 17th victim's body left in such bad shape that identification was impossible. Ofek began looking into the matter, and throughout the film's 76 minutes, we watch as he tracks down various clues. It's a premise that allows for many riveting sequences, such as when two witnesses attempt to accurately describe the dead man for a sketch artist, but Ofek inexplicably includes just as many sequences that are completely irrelevant. During the course of his investigation, Ofek naturally pursues several promising leads that wind up going nowhere. The problem emerges when Ofek forces us to spend time with some of these dead ends, including an arthritic woman who may know something about the victim. Ofek allows the woman to offer up a condensed version of her life history, in a sequence that's utterly pointless (and not to mention dull). But when No. 17 works, it's far more exciting than your average episode of CSI primarily because there's something tangible at stake here.