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Wolfville, Nova Scotia
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35th Atlantic Film Festival Feature Documentaries

Chris Campbell

While the highest-profile films at the Atlantic Film Festival are the feature dramas, it's the documentaries and shorts that are the real hidden gems. Dealing with timely topics, fascinating characters, and with a wide range of talents from the region and around the world, the documentaries can give you a range of perspectives and are always food for thought.

Feature Documentaries

The first documentary of the festival on Friday, September 18 is Frame by Frame, co-directed by Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli. The film follows four photojournalists in Afghanistan who are documenting thier world after the Taliban banned photography and the foreign press and soldiers now leave. Shot in a verite style by the co-directors, it's a must-see that has already won several audience choice awards at other film festivals.

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Friday night has a documentary that I've been wanting to see for a while with Donna Davies' Fanarchy. Davies looks at fan culture and how those who love film and tv shows and take control of what Hollywood has made by producing their own content. It should be an insightful and fun look at this cultural phenomenon and the complicated legal issues that surround remix culture.

Welcome to this House: A Film on Elizabeth Bishop is screening at 1pm on Saturday, September 19th. Writer / Director Barbara Hammer takes a look at poet Elizabeth Bishop through the homes where she lived and those she loved along with her poetry accompanied by original music.

Avi Lewis directs the adapatation of Naomi Klein's recent bestseller This Changes Everything which is showing on Saturday night. The film is about the changes demanded by facing the climate crisis through those who are on the front lines of the political struggle to make the world better.

On Sunday, September 20th things get started at noon with what promises to a be a wry and elliptical documentary about The New Yorker cartoons with Very Semi-Serious directed by Leah Wolchok. Through interviews with the creators of the unique and idiosyncratic cartoons from The New Yorker she brings the cartoons to life while providing perspective on the people who write and draw them.

The history of Greenpeace is the subject of How to Change the World at 3:45 on Sunday in a film directed by Jerry Rothwell. The documentary uses archival footage to tell the story of the activist organization from the 1970s that laid the foundation for the modern environmental movement.

Kent Martin's latest documentary, Wayne's Deer, is screening Sunday at 4pm. Martin follows Wayne Bruhm as he hunts deer along the LaHave River over four seasons. The story of a man who shoots one deer every Fall for meat, it's about living with nature.

You can see the legendary Albert Maysles' final film, Iris, on the big screen on Monday, September 21 at 4pm. Maysles trains his gentle eye on Iris Apfel, the octogenarian starlet and fashion icon who became a celebrity late in life.

Brian D. Johnson's documentary Al Purdy Was Here is playing at 4:15 on Monday and it looks at the life of the poet and the efforts to restore his cabin as a writers retreat. Purdy's poetry and life are recalled by a range of Canadian icons including Margaret Atwood, Gordon Pinsent, Leonard Cohen, Sarah Harmer, Gord Downey, and Michael Ondaatje.

Meru won the Audience Award for U.S. Documentary at the recent Sundance Film Festival and the mountaineering film is screening on Monday at 6:45pm. Co-directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi it's about climbing one of the most challenging Himalayan big walls of Mount Maru.

Tuesday has two feature documentaries about powerful and inspirational women with She's Beautiful When She's Angry at 4pm and Mavis! at 9pm. Directed by Mary Dore, She's Beautiful When She's Angry explores the history of the activists of the women's rights movement through a combination of interviews and archival footage. Jessica Davis' Mavis! is about musical legend Mavis Staples at 75 who continues to sing and inspire through music and fighting for civil rights.

As part of the ViewFinders program, the documentary T-Rex is playing at 10:15 on Wednesday morning. Co-directed by Zackary Canepari and Drea Cooper they tell the story of Claressa “T-Rex” Shields who was 17 and boxed in the 2012 Olympics when women's boxing was first included. We see Claressa as she trains for the Olympics with hopes of a gold medal allowing her to take her family to a better place.

Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict screens at 4pm on Wednesday and director Lisa Immordino Vreeland looks at one of the central figures in the modern art movement. A trip through 20th century art and artists through the personal history of Peggy Guggenheim, it should be complex and fascinating.

Joshua Oppenheimer follows his singular documentary The Act of Killing with The Look of Silence, which changes the perspective from the perpetrators of genocide to that of the victims. Playing at 6:30 on Wednesday, September 23 it promises to be one of the best documentaries of the year. Framing the story through the brother of one of the victims of the 1960 mass killings in Indonesia, he meets the perpetrators of the killing while providing free eye exams and asking them about their roles in the murders. Oppenheimer's unique approach to documentary shows new ways to explore challenging subjects to give deeper insight into the most extreme aspects of humanity.

The final day of the festival has two documentary features with Mina Shum's Ninth Floor at 4pm on Thursday, September 24th and Dark Horse at 9:30pm.

Ninth Floor is about the Sir George Williams Riot in Montreal in 1969 when students occupied the university computer lab to protest racism at the university. With archival footage and interviews, writer / director Shum tells the story of the incident from 45 years ago that was the largest student occupation in Canadian history. Remarkably, some of the participants in the occupation went on to later become the Prime Minister of Dominica and the first Black Canadian Senator.

Dark Horse from writer / director Louise Osmond is about working class friends in a Welsh mining village who decide to breed a racehorse to compete in the upper class sport. Tracing their inspirational story as their horse competes and faces injury and recovery, it should be a new perspective on a distinct world.

Atlantic Broadcast Documentaries

The Atlantic Broadcast programming stream features a series of contemporary documentaries by local filmmakers on timely and important topics. The documentaries are all under an hour and the filmmakers are usually present for an introduction and while the films will all be on television, the best way to see something is with an audience and the filmmaker present.

The first film in the programming stream is on Friday, September 18, at 4:30 pm with Selling Sex directed by Meredith Ralson. Selling Sex is a look at sex work from the perspective of an online escort named Megan and it dispels the myth of sex workers as victims.

On Saturday, September 19 there are three films in the Broadcast program with Scars of Shame from Lisa Heyden at noon, Studio Black! at 2pm, and Strange and Familiar: Architecture on Fogo Island at 9:30pm. Scars of Shame is about the struggle that Angela Hartlin faces with Dermatillomania which she has dealt with for over a decade. Studio Black! is a tv series based on African Nova Scotian folk tales with episodes directed by Cory Bowles, Juanita Peters, and Jarrett Shaw. Studio Black! brings the folk tales to life with an ensemble cast of African Nova Scotia actors. Strange and Familiar is co-directed by Katherine Knight and Marsha Connolly and it's about the unique buildings on Newfoundland's Fogo Island designed by architect Todd Saunders.

On Sunday, September 20 the final two films in the Broadcast program areMy Week on Welfare by Jackie Torrens and Rama Rau's No Place to Hide: The Retaeh Parsons Story. My Week on Welfare looks at the reality and stereotypes of being on income assistance and the complexity surrounding it. No Place to Hide retells the story of Retaeh and cyberbullying and the far-reaching effects of the tragedy.