Hot Docs 2014: The Overnighters, Watchers of the Sky, The Creator of the Jungle
Now that I’ve seen over a dozen of Hot Docs’ selections so far, I can see patterns begin to emerge between films. The three films profiled in today’s piece, all of which are the best documentaries I’ve seen so far at the festival, share a common narrative. The subjects in The Overnighters, Watchers of the Sky and The Creator of the Jungle are all people wanting to do what’s right for them or others, and despite constant resistance from everyone else they never stop fighting. These narratives form in different ways; a pastor tries to “love thy neighbour,” even if it destroys his life; a group of people try to prevent genocide, and bring those responsible to justice; and one man refuses to give up his childlike sense of imagination and creativity even as outside forces give him no choice.
Three different stories, all of them containing a fundamentally strong narrative. These are the kinds of films deserving a bigger audience, and the reason why festivals like Hot Docs exist. To learn more about the three films, including how to get tickets, go to www.hotdocs.ca.
“I don’t say ‘no’ very well…so it’s easier to say ‘yes’ and live with the consequences.”
Virtue is a burden in Jesse Moss’ The Overnighters. Taking place in Williston, North Dakota, Moss begins his film by exploring the town’s increase in popularity as oil companies in the area hand out high-paying jobs to anyone willing to work. This leads to an influx of people from all over America, arriving with the hope of getting a job. Pastor Jay Reinke starts allowing dozens of new arrivals to sleep in his church (or in their cars in the church’s parking lot) until they can get back on their feet. Moss then shifts the focus of his film to Reinke’s battle with the town, as their hostility to the out-of-towners (fueled in part by the murder of a local teacher) begins a campaign to shut down Reinke’s program.
Moss clearly has one hell of a story to tell, and watching Reinke’s world fall apart as he stubbornly continues to help new arrivals is riveting. Sometimes The Overnighters feels like Moss is forcing what he has into fitting the narrative he wants to tell (some moments feel rehearsed or set-up, giving a reality TV vibe), but for the most part Moss does an excellent job weaving his footage into a gripping drama. And if the insanity Moss captures from Reinke’s battle with his town isn’t enough, a devastating last-minute revelation ends up redefining everything that came before it. The Overnighters is a roller coaster, and will most likely end up being one of the best documentaries this year.
Watchers of the Sky
Raphael Lemkin was a Polish lawyer who spent his life trying to make the crime of genocide punishable by law. Lemkin actually coined the term genocide, and his own experiences (deportation in WWI, losing his entire family to the Nazis in WWII) fueled his desire to see that people responsible for mass killings would face justice for their actions.
Director Edet Belzberg uses Lemkin’s story to examine how society still remains apathetic to acts of genocide occurring around the world, using a narrow focus to address a topic of such a large scale. US Ambassador Samantha Power (whose book inspired the doc) tells Lemkin’s life story while detailing recent examples of atrocities; Rwandan Emmanuel Uwurukundo tries to help refugees in the current genocide occurring in Darfur; Ben Ferencz tries to continue Lemkin’s legacy, lobbying the UN to consider war-making a crime against humanity; and Luis Moreno Ocampo, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
Belzberg uses her four subjects well, with Power covering history/context and the other three showing their difficult battles to continue in Lemkin’s footsteps. The result is a beautiful tale of people fighting valiantly for what they know is right, even if they might never live to see any results. The film’s moving ending (and one of my favourite moments of the year), where Fenecz explains the title’s meaning, is a perfect summation of the grueling hopefulness these four people put themselves through. All these people can do is hope that, if they don’t succeed, their work will make it easier for the person who does.
The Creator of the Jungle
The Creator of the Jungle is the kind of story that needs to be seen. Garrell has spent 45 years of his life building his own world in a forest near his house, only to see it repeatedly attacked by others. The documentary chronicles over 2 decades of Garrell’s life, as he continues destroying and rebuilding his creations just so he can keep playing on his own. It’s a can’t miss title at Hot Docs, and one of the more delightful films of the year so far.
Read our full-length review of The Creator of the Jungle HERE and stay tuned for an interview with director Jordi Morató.