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Claus Mueller


Claus Mueller is filmfestivals.com  Senior New York Correspondent

New York City based Claus Mueller reviews film festivals and related issues and serves as a  senior editor for Society and Diplomatic Review.

As a professor emeritus he covered at Hunter College / CUNY social and media research and is an accredited member of the US State Department's Foreign Press Center.

 


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HotDocs 2023

With respect to the number of productions selected, the size of its audience, and global concerns, the Toronto based Canadian International Documentary Festival, better known as HotDocs, has retained its position as the largest documentary festival, conference, and market in North America. HotDocs celebrated its 30th anniversary this April 27 to May 9. A record number of 2,848 productions were submitted of which 214 were selected for the 13 HotDocs sections. They originated from 72 countries and included 70 world and 33 international premiers. The HotDocs at home program streamed more than 100 official selections nationwide in Canada during the final week of the festival. There were numerous special anniversary events and industry programs including the new Hot Docs Podcast festival showcasing five of today’s hottest podcasts.

 

Most sections of the festival included issue oriented socio-political themes. The Special Presentation’s included WE ARE THE GUARDIANS about the protection of the Brazilian rainforest and THE RISE OF WAGNER which mirrored the devastation the Wagner mercenaries caused in the Ukraine and what they had done in other countries. In the Canadian Spectrum, CYNARA presented a critical analysis of the Canadian justice system. The competitive International Spectrum featured THE LAST RELIC in an exploration of Putin’s “modern” Russia recorded over four years and PURE UNKNOWN portraying medical scientists trying to identify deceased refugees. Made In Ukraine showcased the work of filmmakers from that country in the time since the Russian invasion. The World Showcase offered global revealing stories. Artscapes centered on shorts exploring the creative mind while Night vision took the path of ghostly horror shorts. Ten global genre defining films were selected for Markers while the Deep Dive section presented long-form episodic series. Human Kind is a new HotDocs program highlighting the themes of kindness and collaboration.

 

The 2023 Outstanding Achievement Award was bestowed on the New York based Chinese American filmmaker Christine Choy (Chai Ming Huei)., Her documentaries were presented during this HotDocs edition including the FROM SPIKES TO SPINDLES production. Choy directed this acclaimed film fifty years ago about the issues faced by the residents of New York’s Chinatown.

Among the numerous outstanding documentaries was the LYNX MAN directed by the Finnish filmmaker Juha Suonpaeae. It was part of the World Showcase section premiering in North America and provided an appealing portrait of Hannu who lives by himself on his isolated small farm in western Finland. His only close companions are Eurasian lynx that he has been studying closely. Hannu has become an expert on their behavior and protects them against outsider who hunt lynx, though in Finland they are a protected species. He transforms his small farm into a safe area and installs more than 20 small, disguised cameras. They are triggered by motion and even when it is dark illuminate the space an animal has entered. The lynxes have become used to the cameras and inspect them as recorded closeups reveal. For Hannu, the lynxes have become his family though he never disturbs them. Instead. he establishes through the recorded images and his observations a perfect lynx record. He has a name for each lynx, identifies their genders, and tracks their cubs. One, ‘grumpy girl’, has five cubs. Hannu shows concern when a lynx seems to be missing, and is even able to note if they get sick and tries to identify their ailment. Hannu’s embrace of the lynx seems all-encompassing. The images taken by his cameras are recorded throughout the seasons, day and night. As an observer, Hannu does not interfere with the behavior of the lynxes thus helps to retain their natural state. LYNX MAN impresses with authentic images of nature and its diverse animal world. Equally important is the perspective that our environment can only be sustained if we learn how to live in a harmonious way with nature and play a supportive role as Hannu demonstrates.

 

The Brazilian community-oriented documentary REJEITO (I Reject) by Pedro de Filippis shows how unrestrained turbocapitalist developments in Brazil have killed many people and destroyed vast stretches of nature and land. In his first feature documentary, Filippis shows the causes behind the catastrophic collapses of dams, the relative powerlessness of communities battling giant distant corporations, and the failure of governmental agencies to act beyond rhetoric. As in other developing countries and often revealed in documentaries, the factual basis of impeding environmental catastrophes is well known. REJEITO demonstrates how millions of Brazilians are threatened by the collapse of poorly designed and maintained dams. There is no protection for the communities living in the villages or individual housing below these dams if they break. These tailings dams are filled with heavily contaminated metal from the excavation of iron and their ruptures contaminate the environment. Operating mining companies are unable or unwilling to repair the unstable dams nor forced by the authorities to do so. Thus, relocation of affected communities is offered as an answer for areas with unstable dams and sometimes implemented. However, some major corporations planning major mining projects try to dispossess communities living in the prospective mining area by forcing them to live elsewhere. A future dam collapse would still destroy the environment even if it does not kill anyone from a dispossessed community.

There have been several dam disasters. The 2015 Mariana dam disaster caused 19 fatalities and massive heavy metal contamination of the Foce Reiver, impacting the water supply in downstream settlements and cities. The Samarco mining site was closed and compensation of $1.5 billion (USD) was paid.  Research by the operating companies including the Vale conglomerate showed that construction and design flaws of the dam caused the disaster.  In 2019, the Brumadinho dam collapse killed 270 people and created environmental havoc, releasing 3 billion gallons of red iron ore mine waste which flooded the town of Brumadinho. Vale agreed in 2021 to pay $7 billion (USD) to the Brumadinho victims. 16 Vale officials, including the CEO, were subsequently charged with manslaughter. An investigation revealed in 2020 that Vale had falsified the safety reports for ten of its tailing dams for which Vale received a fine of $55 million (USD). BBC News reported in 2019 that the alarm system Vale had installed to warn residents of Brumadinho of any dam risks had not worked. Vale is a Brazilian multinational metal and mining corporation and the largest global producer of iron ore and nickel with an estimated market value in 2021 of 111 billion dollars (USD) making it the most valuable Latin American company. In January 2012 Vale received the Public Eye award as the world’s corporation with  the “most contempt for the environment and human rights”. Under the new Brazilian president L.I. Lula Da Silva, who took office in January 2023, protection of the environment will be enhanced and more stringent control of industrial and mining economic growth may be introduced. Rejeito’s demonstration of the power disparity between giant corporations and their victims leaves viewers of this outstanding documentary skeptical about major curative change.

 

 

Claus Mueller. New York

filmexchange@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

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