Northwestfest; Edmonton’s annual documentary and media arts festival.
From May 5-14th, movie goers previewed ground breaking and entertaining documentaries from around the world. This year presented the theme of Resistance is the Only Option, showcasing documentaries focusing on some form of resistance, whether it’s hockey star Theo Fluery lobbying for stricter laws against child molesters (Victor Walk) or Jane Jacobs’ battle for the soul of New York City (Citizen Jane). This festival even has a trilogy of documentaries centering around a Scottish homeowner’s battle against Donald Trump (You’ve Been Trumped, You’ve Been Trumped Too and A Dangerous Game). While not all the films follow this theme, it does serve a common theme.
After watching these films, I’ve decided to write a countdown of the 5 films I’d recommend the most.
 Among them the Academy Award Nominated Life, Animated.
5) TOKYO IDOLS
Examining the teen pop idol phenomenon in Japan, Tokyo Idols strips the glamour to reveal the unsettling side of the fanbase. With ages ranging from 12-19, A select few girls don Lolita attire and sing pop songs. Many gain a major cult following, with some performing on stadiums. It seems like no different than your other teen pop stars. At least in North America, the fan base are around the same age as the singer. In Japan, however, the fanbase consists of grown ass men ranging from aged twenty to middle aged.
Their obsession puts Bieber’s fans to shame. Many follow their favourite idols across the country, worshiping their idol like she was Venus. Then they wait in line for autographs and photo ops. Hell, they even pay just for a handshake. You don’t know whether to regard this as sad or horrifying, especially when you see a middle aged man cover his walls with photos of Idols.
But we begin to see their humanity through Koji, a 43 year old fan who leads the “Brothers”, a fanbase of idol RiRi. With a large fanbase at his domain, he leads a campaign to elevate Riri from an Idol to a serious artist. Through his one on one interviews, Koji becomes the modern tragic figure, an awkward, depressed man for whom this fanbase is his sole place of belonging and where a paid handshake is his only means of communicating with women. Admitting to having no personal life, Koji would have been heartbreaking if his life wasn’t so creepy. What makes this complicated is that RiRi is actually a brilliant young entrepreneur who knows how to manage her career. Now turning 19, Riri now wants to be taken seriously as a singer, throwing off the Idol label.
Director Kyoko Miyake uses the Idol phenomenon to condemn Japan’s sexualization of young girls. As one analyst states, Japan seems to be determined to protect male sexual fantasies, which would explain how you see middle aged men gazing at a 12-year-old Idol. It also depicts people’s disconnection with each other, most notable the disconnection between men and women.
It should be noted that some people will find this film too creepy to watch and I don’t blame you.
4) OUT OF THIN AIR
Aka Iceland’s Making a Murderer.
Let me present the scenario; In December 1975, 2 men mysteriously disappeared, sparking a national crisis in a small country not used to disappearances. After a tough search, six young people confessed to the murder of the two missing folks, bringing the investigation to an end. That is, until you take a second look at the evidence.
The case doesn’t seem so cut and dry when the confessions start to contradict each other, further emphasized by re-enactments. Soon, it becomes clear the suspects were subjected to questionable interrogations and extended periods of solitary confinement. What we get is an unflinching depiction of the consequences of a justice system that cares more about making arrests than serving justice.
It also brings up some uncomfortable questions about memories. Not understanding their rights, the suspects were placed under such severe pressure that they start internalizing the accusations. Soon they start distorting their own memories until they believe themselves guilty. In a heartbreaking interview, one suspect finds herself with no faith in her own memories. Add the fact that she may have lost decades of her life for a crime she didn’t commit.
When it comes to entertainment documentaries, it’s always a challenge to prove the best one. This year includes a showcase of movie scores (Score: A Film Music Documentary), a look at Robbie Knievel (Chasing Evel: The Robbie Knievel Story) and celebration of a literary LBGT icon (The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin). I decided to go with 78/52, an examination of the immortal shower scene from Psycho.
Well, it’s more accurate to say the film’s both an analysis of the whole movie and an examination of the legacy. With detailed journey and interviews from the likes of Eli Roth, Guillermo del Toro and Peter Bogdanovich, behind the scenes of the film, this is a must see for fans. But when it gets to the shower scene, we are given a glimpse to the minutia of intention that goes into every shot. And we do go into a lot of details from finding the right fruit to create a stabbing sound effect to how to hide Mrs. Bates’ face during the shower scene. You’ll come to understand why it took seven days for a one minute scene.
What makes this film unique is the delivery. The interviews were show in black and white, shot in a Bates Motel room. Surprisingly, this adds to the mood of the documentary.
2) SHADOW WORLD
“The thing about politicians is that they’re very much like prostitutes. But only more expensive.”
From the mouth of an arms dealer, these words summarize the theme of this vicious takedown of the Global Arms Trade.
Based on the book by Andrew Feinstein, Shadow World examines the history of arms lobbyists and its roles in wars and conflicts. The film goes into too much detail to go into.
At its core, the film focuses on the Western Governments arms deals with Saudi Arabia. From there, we see world leaders from both ends of the spectrum being in the pockets of the Arabic prince and various arms industries including BAE Systems and Red Diamond. We see how this has lead to the manufacturing of war, undermining diplomacy. Not to mention the United States having a higher arms budget most 1st world countries put together.
I’d recommend watching also watching Do Not Resist, where you see how the arms budget led to the over militarization of police.
Sometimes the bravest thing a soldier can do is lay down his/her arms, as the ex soldiers of Israel and ex-freedom fighters of Palestine prove in this captivating and hopeful documentary. Born in a land of conflict, these people witnessed tragedy at the hands of the other side. They joined forces on their sides to defeat their enemy. But somewhere along the way, they were reminded of the “others” humanity. Thus, begins a series of events that lead them to come together to form an activist group determined to break the cycle of atrocities and begin the first step to peace.
Directors Stephen Apkon and Andrew Young presents their lives with sincere empathy. Each activist brings us into his/her childhood tragedies, one Israeli ex-solder recalling having to take refuge in a bomb shelter and a Palestinian ex-freedom fighter watching his little brother gunned down by Israeli soldiers. From these moments, they are seduced into different ideologies. Then comes the epiphany moments for all of them, when they start seeing the humanity of the other side. This leads to them meeting each other, truly seeing each other as human beings, and eventually friends. They eventually stand hand in hand in a series of sit ins, demanding peace between their nations.
But as this film proves this is not an easy feat. First, they had to get past their own prejudices, with the Israeli thinking the Palestinians were setting them up for a trap. But then they face the very ideologies they once followed. Israeli activists constantly face their screaming, extremist neighbours accusing them of treason for quitting the army. In a film’s best moment, one Palestinian activist debates his non-violent methods to his wife, who remembers the atrocities the Israeli solders committed against her neighbours. Still, they stand around the walls, calling for the soldiers to lay down their arms and join their brothers.
 Among them the Academy Award Nominated Life, Animated.