HotDocs Film Festival – Day 2: Mermaids, Blurred Lines, Brimstone & Glory

Mermaids (Canada, 2016): A fascinating phenomenon per se, women who find personal fulfillment by becoming “mermaids” are a lot more common than expected. Mermaids focuses on three of them, each one going through a challenging journey: A transgender woman, a grieving sister and a bipolar Latina coming to terms with a history of abuse. Each one has discovered that rubber tails free them from all their burdens, however briefly.

Mermaids does a good job humanizing a potentially ludicrous practice: Midway through the film, director Ali Weinstein digs deep on what makes this women tick and finds gold. The documentary could have used some professional insight, but as it stands, it’s quite entertaining. 3/5 prairie dogs. 

Blurred Lines: Inside the Art World (Canada, 2017): This academic doc by Barry Avrich (Stratford Festival’s mainstay director) is a good example of a compelling topic comprehensively researched. The matter at hand is the business of art: Billions of dollars change hands with little regulation and often with merely speculative purposes. The result is a mercenary market that shapes artists’ output and not for the best.

Avrich spares us any lecturing about how art and money are mutually exclusive. The filmmaker puts together an impressive array of interviewees, including contemporary figures like Marina Abramovic and Julian Schnabel, collectors, consultants, gallerists and museum directors. You won’t find any dealers, but there is a good reason for that. Blurred Lines benefits of a visually enthralling subject and delivers an agreeable experience, if a notch sterile. 3.5/5 prairie dogs.

Brimstone & Glory (USA, 2017): There isn’t a better format to register collective madness, in this case, the National Pyrotechnic Festival in Tultepec, Mexico. The entire town lives for this event, even though very few have the education to create fireworks (most of the instructions come from tradition and trial and error) and many have lost limbs, if not their lives.

The event itself is at a whole other level of crazy. Most of the fireworks go off at eye level and in the middle of the crowd. Embers landing in people’s eyeballs are a common occurrence. Not surprisingly, the film is visually enthralling (director Viktor Jakovleski uses traditional and GoPro cameras to capture the action), although it could have used more research or characters to follow. 3/5 prairie dogs.

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.