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The 13th Annual Hot Docs Film Festival

Directed by Roy Westler

Shadya is an intriguing yet undeniably frustrating documentary revolving around Shadya Zoabi, a fiercely independent teenager whose passion for karate has been primarily met with intolerance (particularly among her bigoted, sexist brothers). Complicating matters is her status as a Muslim living in Israel, a dichotomy that seems to manifest itself in controversial ways (ie after winning a pivotal bout, she drapes herself in the Palestinian flag - much to the horror of her teammates). Filmmaker Roy Westler, having followed Shadya's exploits for over two years, does a nice job of portraying both her youthful enthusiasm and the pragmatism that starts to emerge as she gets older. Though Shadya initially insists that she'll never give in to the rigid demands of her society, we watch as she's left with no choice but to marry the man to whom she's been betrothed - forced to become precisely the sort of placid housewife she's spent her youth decrying (think The Stepford Wives, except without the robots). On that level, as an eye-opening look at an astoundingly backwards culture, Shadya undoubtedly succeeds - though one can't help but wish things had turned out differently for Shadya (the film's final shot, whether it was intended to be or not, is heartbreaking).

out of

All Aboard! Rosie's Family Cruise
Directed by Shari Cookson

All Aboard! Rosie's Family Cruise follows Rosie and Kelli O'Donnell as they host a cruise aboard a luxury liner exclusively for homosexual couples and their families. Filmmaker Shari Cookson focuses on the individual stories of several passengers, including a lesbian couple awaiting the results of a pregnancy test and former pro-football player Esera Tuaolo (who came out of the closet after retiring from the NFL). Although there are are a number of genuinely engaging and moving sequences within All Aboard! Rosie's Family Cruise, it becomes increasingly difficult to overlook the uneven vibe with which Cookson has infused the film. Having said that, there are enough individually intriguing moments here to warrant a recommendation - including a sequence featuring a frank discussion by the children of several homosexual couples. Likewise, an encounter with a group of protestors in the Bahamas lends the movie a much-appreciated burst of drama (however brief it may be). In the end, All Aboard! Rosie's Family Cruise primarily comes off as a glorified home video - which isn't necessarily a bad thing, though there's no denying that the film lacks the kind of impact O'Donnell was likely aiming for.

out of

Our Own Private Bin Laden
Directed by Samira Goetschel

Incredibly pointless and thoroughly pretentious, Our Own Private Bin Laden follows documentary filmmaker Samira Goetschel as she attempts to understand the rise of Islamic fundamentalism by interviewing a series of key figures within the world of politics (including ex-CIA director Stansfield Turner and former Pakistani president Benazir Bhutto). Goetschel's use of wooden, extremely self-conscious voiceover narration lends the film a distinctly amateurish feel, while her inability to extract interesting answer from her various subjects cements her ineptness as a documentary filmmaker. As a result, the movie is about as thrilling as an episode of 60 Minutes - though even that's not really a fair comparison, as Goetschel doesn't possess an ounce of Ed Bradley or Mike Wallace's talent or charisma. And although the film is temporarily elevated by an expectedly fascinating appearance by Noam Chomsky, Our Own Private Bin Laden has little to offer all but the most ardent foreign policy enthusiast (ie this movie simply is not accessible to the average viewer at all).

out of

Directed by Lauren Greenfield

Four women attempt to conquer their respective eating disorders at a Florida-based recovery center in Thin, a distinctly uneven documentary that's generally effective (if overlong by at least a half hour). Director Lauren Greenfield offers up an unflinching look at the slow, frustrating road to recovery for these women, all of whom seem to have been afflicted with this psychological ailment since childhood (one mentions that she was told by her pediatrician to start dieting at the age of seven). And although one can't help but marvel at the sort of access that Greenfield has been granted - the level of comfort between the filmmaker and her subjects is clearly extremely high - Greenfield's tendency to focus on the more sensationalist aspects of their individual stories becomes more and more pronounced as the film progresses (ie there's a lengthy digression involving a woman whose rebellious activities eventually get her kicked out). Still, there are more than enough genuinely moving sequences here to warrant a mild recommendation - though there's no denying that the erratic pace ultimately damages the film's overall effectiveness.

out of

So Much So Fast
Directed by Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan

Stephen Heywood discovered that he was afflicted with ALS (better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease) when he was just 29, though this didn't stop him from getting married and having a child. So Much So Fast tracks the progression of Stephen's deterioration over the space of about five years, while also following the efforts of his brother, Jamie, to track down a cure. Jamie, unwilling to trust his sibling's fate to faceless scientists, started a foundation devoted to finding a cure by any means necessary, and went from being a small operation run out of his basement to a multi-million dollar facility within the space of a couple of years. Filmmakers Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan - who themselves have lost a loved one to ALS - offer up an undeniably wrenching and heartbreaking piece of work, something that's exemplified by Stephen's transformation from an active, healthy family man to a completely dependent invalid. And although some of the sequences revolving around Jamie's efforts aren't quite as enthralling as Ascher and Jordan seem to think they are, there's absolutely no denying the overall effectiveness of So Much So Fast (particularly when it remains focused on Stephen's plight).

out of

Directed by Steve Anderson

Much like Paul Provenza's hit documentary The Aristocrats, Fuck features a wide assortment of well-known (and not-so-well known) figures espousing their views on a fairly notorious subject (a bawdy joke in The Aristocrats and the eponymous word in Fuck). But, as was the case with Provenza's film, Fuck suffers from a distinctly uneven pace and an overall vibe of pointlessness. This is largely due to the talking-head format employed by filmmaker Steve Anderson, who offers up a series of quick sound bites from the various participants - with the end result a film that primarily consists of filler, though there are a few intriguing bits here and there (ie Kevin Smith's anecdote about the first time he saw Scarface). Anderson's efforts to liven things up by employing some decidedly creative editing techniques generally fall flat, particularly his use of a trick that makes it seem as though two speakers are arguing with one another. In the end, Fuck is only sporadically effective/informative and it's certainly never a good sign when the clips within a documentary are more entertaining than the documentary itself.

out of

© David Nusair