Hot Docs 2014 Preview: The Case Against 8, 112 Weddings, Doc of the Dead
Hot Docs 2014 kicks off next Thursday, and Way Too Indie has already been getting sneak peeks of some of the many, many (197 to be exact) documentaries that will play from April 24 – May 4. One of the benefits of Hot Docs is how some of the low-profile documentaries from other film festivals get a chance to be seen here. Golden Lion winner Sacro GRA will screen this year, along with Sundance winners The Overnighters (stay tuned for a review in the coming days) and Rich Hill. Other highlights include SXSW winner The Great Invisible and IDFA winners Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case and Ne Me Quitte Pas.
To give a sampling of some of the titles that will play in the coming weeks, here are our thoughts on The Case Against 8, 112 Weddings, and Doc of the Dead. Be sure to stay tuned for more Hot Docs 2014 coverage, and if you’d like to see some of the films playing or learn more go to www.hotdocs.ca.
The Case Against 8
The problem with big ‘issue’ docs like The Case Against 8 is how hard it is to drum up interest in something that already has a lot of public exposure. Credit goes to directors Ben Cotner and Ryan White, then, for taking the legal battle over California’s Proposition 8 and creating such an involving documentary. As the title says, the doc focuses on the side arguing Prop 8’s ban on same-sex marriages as unconstitutional. Attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies, among many other lawyers and interested parties, let Cotner and White’s cameras in on their vetting process for plaintiffs, gathering of evidence and every other small detail as they prepare to make their case in court.
Cotner and White smartly frame their film as a legal procedural, and footage of mock trials along with attempts to snag one key witness make for surprisingly exciting viewing. The indulgent 110 minute length is offset by the film’s subjects, all of whom turn out to be perfect representations of what Cotner/White are trying to say. The strongest example is Olson and Boies’ partnership on the case; both lawyers come from opposite sides of the political spectrum, and actually worked against each other in Bush v. Gore back in 2000. The fact that Olson, a staunch conservative, and Boies, a former lawyer for Al Gore, can come together on this case shows how this case is a human rights issue at its core, transcending partisanship.
The personal lives of the plaintiffs, two same sex couples, are also shown, and the ordinary nature of their lives is enough evidence to show how their sexual orientation is irrelevant to them (“I really don’t think about it,” one of the plaintiffs says at one point. “It seems so secondary to everything else.”). The Case Against 8 may feel like a 2-hour victory lap at times, but it’s undeniably good filmmaking.
For the last 20 years, Doug Block (51 Birch Street, The Kids Grow Up) has been working on and off as a wedding videographer. These videos are the subject of 112 Weddings, as Block begins contacting his former clients to interview them and find out what has happened to them since their wedding day.
The results are, expectedly, mixed. Some couples are still together, while others have divorced or faced plenty of struggles over the years. Block’s choices can range from the clichéd (he profiles a couple about to be married in between footage of the older couples) to the manipulative (contrasting divorced couples’ tearful testimonies with happy footage from their wedding).
What ends up making 112 Weddings fascinating is the candor of its subjects. Some couples talk openly about their struggles with different issues, while others avoid the harder topics altogether. “When things are going good, you don’t wanna sit and think about when they were going bad,” one wife says. One of the doc’s best moments comes when a woman glosses over her daughter’s battle with a terminal illness, leading her husband to call her out on avoiding an issue that appears to have defined their marriage.
Those kinds of scenes, along with the jarring cuts from old wedding videos to present day, emphasize how much of an impact time has on a marriage. When Block explores these kinds of ideas, 112 Weddings makes for a fascinating watch, but his thesis can be boiled down to “Weddings are easy. Marriage is hard.” That kind of simplistic approach ends up making 112 Weddings pleasant but ineffective viewing.
Doc of the Dead
Zombies have taken over the mainstream, so it comes as no surprise that someone has gone out and tried to make the definitive zombie documentary. Alexandre O. Philippe, uses a variety of classic horror icons (George A. Romero, Tom Savini, Sig Haid, Bruce Campbell and Simon Pegg are a few talking heads that show up) and zombie experts to explain the history of zombies and why they’re so popular.
Doc of the Dead is a bit of a messy film, but endearingly so. Philippe zips through as many topics as he can in the scant 80 minute runtime, from the word’s Haitian origins to its cinematic development. Facts about the origin of the word can be quite interesting, like how a zombie was originally a voodoo slave with no cannibal instincts (Romero is the one responsible for defining the modern-day zombie). Much of Doc of the Dead‘s first half is spent discussing the staples of the subgenre, along with how adaptable zombies can be as a metaphor.
Philippe and the various interview subjects thankfully approach the topic with a sense of humour, since zombies aren’t a topic that shouldn’t be taken seriously. Doc of the Dead’s second half isn’t as strong as its first, mainly because the focus is put on how popular zombie merchandising has become over the years. There is something funny and bizarre about seeing just how much zombie-related material is out there (knives for fighting zombies! zombie dummies for shooting ranges! zombie survival kits!) but it quickly gets stale.
The doc’s presentation and fast pace are luckily good enough to make the duller moments pass by with ease. Doc of the Dead will obviously appeal to fans of the undead, but the doc is still plenty of fun for people unfamiliar with zombies. It’s lighthearted, breezy and overall a fun piece of pop trivia.