While documentaries seldom get the same distribution opportunities as feature films, there is a built-in audience looking for them. HotDocs, one of the foremost festivals dedicated to the genre, is already attracting crowds in Toronto. Judging by the first two films I had the chance to watch, the 2015 version is looking strong.
Drone (Sweden, 2014): The War on Terror’s favourite toy, drones are transforming the nature of warfare: They are cheap, broadly effective, don’t require a crew and can be operated from miles away (namely, a barely secluded location in Nevada). But drones also have introduced a battery of moral and legal issues, most of which the main offender hasn’t bother to confront.
This Swedish doc by Tonje Hessen Schei covers a lot of ground in succinct fashion: Recruitment in videogame conventions (!), PTSD in drone pilots, the lawlessness of drone operations and, above all, the indiscriminate killing of civilians (arguably over three thousand since 2001 in Pakistan and Afghanistan). Turns out the unmanned aerial vehicles are a lot less discerning than we have been led to believe.
If there is any problem with Drone is that each angle it covers deserves a documentary of its own. Three and a half prairie dogs.
The Wolfpack (USA, 2015): The winner of the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize has nothing to do with The Hangover movies (thank gawd). It’s actually the story of the Angulos, seven siblings holed up in a Lower East Side apartment in Manhattan. Their dad prevented them from leaving their home growing up, so their only experience of society was through movies, thousands of them.
Slowly, a cute setup (the brothers recreating their favourite Tarantino films) gives way to a much darker reality. While the teens are pleasant, home-schooled and oddly well adjusted, their perception of life outside is warped, perhaps irremediably. Director Crystal Moselle shot the Angulo family for over four years. During this period, the siblings -tentatively first but with growing resolve- conquered the fear that clouded their development.
At no point The Wolfpack comes across as patronizing. For the most part, the filmmaker treats the kids as peers and, in turn, the Angulos reward Moselle with endearing openness. Here is a director fully aware of documentary filmmaking golden rule: If you have good subjects, let them do the talking. Four prairie dogs.