Thursday, 5 May 2011

Hot Docs 2011: Housing & My Barefoot Friend


On Tuesday I finally had a chance to see a few films at real live screenings at Hot Docs. Woohoo! It was a rainy day (there is always at least one), but it was still awesome. Caught up with films from around the world including Italian film Housing centred on people who literally live in fear that their public housing apartments will be taken over by squatters and also a South Korean film set in India about ricksaw driver. As a bonus, both films had the filmmakers there! That is one of the amazing treats of festivalling and led to a festival first, during the screening of Housing there was a lovely translator during the Q&A who only had to translated audience questions in Italian back to the audience in English! I was thankful she was there and it was great to hear not only the director's responses but also the question as well.

Housing director Federica Di Giacomo with Hot Docs International Programmer Myrocia Watamaniuk

Dir: Federica Di Giacomo

In Housing, we follow the lives of several subsidized housing tenants who are in fear of leaving their homes due to the huge number of squatters ready to take over the apartments. Who are the squatters? Not who you'd expect - they are people on the really long waiting lists for the actual public housing. People who are part of the system, a system that appears to frustrate rather than facilitate. A system that requires a mutual agreement for any housing changes, but no support or structure for tenants to connect to each other. I'll admit that all the people they did talk to in bureaucracy land were sympathetic, but didn't have a lot of practical action that could be taken. You can truly feel the weight of the burden on the tenants who don't feel like they can leave their homes, and how some have adapted their lifestyles to become shut in. The stress level on them is really high, but somehow in an amazing way the film also captures with comedy the zaniness the situation can drive people too. Their is a nice variety of people that they follow to connect with, from a constant worried to a hopeless romantic, and some even had different issues with the situation and different desires of how to get out of it. It was a fascinating film, and I was thrilled for the comedic relief as it's a topic that holds so much weight. The thought of being and feeling like a prisoner in your own home is a frightful one, and important issue really is being brought to light. Sadly, during the Q&A it sounds that no progress has been made in the situation at all and many people are still living in fear, not just in Bari but also in other cities in Italy.

Listen to the Housing Q and A with director Federica Di Giacomo here:

My Barefoot Friend director Seong-gyou Lee with Hot Docs International Programmer Gisèle Gordon

My Barefoot Friend
Dir: Seong-gyou Lee
South Korea

Heartfelt human drama documentary My Barefoot Friend follows rickshaw driver Shallim, who pulls a hand rickshaw and runs through the streets of India to try and provide a better life for his family. Wow, this film really got me. Shallim works so hard and the job of a rickshaw driver is a physically demanding and one which isn't often met with a lot of thanks, but that doesn't stop him from keeping to plug away at his dream. We also see insights into a few other rickshaw drivers and their histories, including actual footage from many years past which gives the films an added layer of depth and intimacy. It's a film where it's so easy to sympathize and root for the people in it, to feel for their challenges and to cheer for any victory, big or small, and to be heartbroken when they are faced with what feel like insurmountable challenges. Although the film has a main focus of a certain period of time, it also has the richness of seeing the lives span over years and years, which makes you understand and feel for the people even more. It's a huge eye opener into the life and tribulations of the challenge to make a better life, against all the odds. My Barefoot Friend is a beautiful, insightful film into the human spirit.

Listen to a selection of the Q and A for My Barefoot Friend with director Seong-gyou Lee here:

Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival runs from April 28 - May 8, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada


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