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Movie Monthly: DOXA Documentary Film Festival 2013 Preview

By RA - Posted on 02 May 2013

This year’s DOXA Documentary Film Festival, Vancouver's version of Hot Docs, bristles with ideas and provocations over its 10 days in May. If the five films I’ve seen are representative of the whole program, expect some intelligent and well-crafted documentaries coming your way, along with lively Q&As and discussions with filmmakers and other audience members.

The festival opens with Corey Ogilvie’s Occupy: The Movie, a thorough and at times poetic look at the US “spring” in the fall of 2011. Ogilvie primarily focuses on Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park, looking at how casino banking and bailouts created conditions for the popular upsurge. As well as a host of occupiers talking about the emotional roller-coaster of the Occupation as it swelled and then dispersed, there are some astute observations from the likes of Aaron Black, Chris Hedges and Adbusters editor Kalle Lasn on tactics (“reformers” vs. “revolutionaries”) and how such a popular, social movement can sustain itself.

Another DOXA highlight is Mike Freedman’s ambitious, future-looking Critical Mass, which extrapolates theories about human over-population and resource depletion based on renowned ethologist John Calhoun’s ‘60s and ‘70s mice colony experiments. In a documentary brimming with sustainability thinkers such as ecological footprint inventors professor Bill Rees and Mathis Wackernagel (and others from the Ecological Footprint Network), Freedman paints a dystopian trajectory for the human species as it explodes by the billions. I found it difficult to accept some of the conclusions, but with its nifty info-graphics, it makes for stimulating viewing. One to watch with a crowd.

Where did our urban rivers go? Many of them are beneath you, under the concrete, as Lost Rivers reveals as it follows “drainers” down the manhole to re-discover ancient rivers and tributaries around the world, from Brescia in Italy to London in the UK. Caroline Bâcle’s visually attractive film illustrates the revitalizing qualities of daylighting covered-over rivers and plots a culture shift in urban design toward working with, rather than fighting, nature – although apparently too late to prevent old-style industrial storm water solutions for Garrison Creek in Toronto.

The globe-trotting Google and the World Brain platforms the debate around the Big G’s practices, in particular its opaque dealings with libraries and authors over its giant global library, apparently part of a plan to create an all-encompassing artificial intelligence. High-tech evangelism crashes against digital-age angst as the doc explores issues around copyright (“archaic and unproductive” or a way of remembering the efforts of authors?), privacy, commercialization of knowledge and quality control (Google Book Search is likened to a “meat grinder”).

Political junkies will relish Our Nixon, a sympathetic and intimate behind-the-scenes look at the staff close to the former president, caught on scratchy newsreel footage and the warm glow of Super-8 home movies. Mashed together with famously redacted secret audio tapes from the White House and a swinging soundtrack, it’s a unique and fascinating – if somewhat elliptical – insider account of the ill-fated presidency.

Aside from DOXA, there’s Michael McGowan’s tender and gently humorous romance Still Mine, set in a bucolic-like New Brunswick. Great performances by James Cromwell as a cantankerous old man whose projects are beset by red tape and Geneviève Bujold as the love of his life bring a rare dignity and spirited-ness to the ageing process.

DOXA Festival runs May 3-12 in Vancouver