Monday, April 29, 2013

Hot Docs 2013 - Dragon Girls

Dragon Girls by Inigo Westmeier, 2012

Dragon Girls opens with an incredible shot of thousands of children running in perfect formation towards the camera, stopping precisely in perfect unison. The militaristic style of this movement is a perfect representation of the strict ideology the film is about. Dragon Girls follows the trials and triumphs of three Chinese girls studying Kung Fu at a school of over 35,000 in China's Shaolin Monastery. The documentary captures the incredible artistry and athleticism of these children, leaving the audience in awe at their accomplishments. Their regimen is incredibly disciplined, which doesn't leave much of a family or social life for any of them. Dragon Girls does a wonderful job displaying the struggles these girls go through during their studies, but it also lacks any sort of real drama. Talks of competitions and student run-aways lead up to moments that, in the end, don't add up to much. Yes these girls are amazing and you feel for them, but without much of a narrative arc, the emotional payoff is minimal.

3 out of 5 stars

Friday, April 26, 2013

Hot Docs 2013 - The Expedition to the End of the World

The Expedition to the End of the World by Daniel Dencik, 2013

Not to be confused with the fantastic Werner Herzog film Encounters at the End of the World, this Danish documentary follows a mix-mash group of voyagers setting off to North-Eastern Greenland for a once-a-year trip to explore temporarily accessible fjords before they freeze over. A selling-point for me to see this film happened to be Herzog's 2007 portrait of people in a similar landscape (in his case, Antarctica). There is a beauty in these desolate places; their starkness is otherworldly and the extreme lack of human life makes for a compelling look into isolation and solitude. Director Daniel Dencik provides nothing short of magnificent images for the entire 90 minute running time, and the cast of characters, whose backgrounds range from art to archeology to marine biology, provide insights and comedy along the way. The film falls a little short when certain narratives and sequences aren't fully explained, but for the most part, The Expedition to the End of the World is a great companion piece to its Antarctic predecessor.

4 out of 5 stars