HotDocs ’16 – Day 1: Chasing Asylum

Day 1 - Chasing_Asylum_1

For the next few days, I’ll be posting reviews of the most relevant films to be shown in the current edition of HotDocs, the Canadian international documentary festival taking place in Toronto between today and May 8th. The event is the biggest of its kind in North America and will include over 200 docs.

I may get to twenty.

Chasing Asylum (Australia, 2016): Compared even to USA and Eastern Europe, the treatment of refugees in Australia is shameful. Those captured in boats on their way to the subcontinent, never get to set a foot there. Most end up in camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru without a procedure in place to apply for refugee status, or at least a return date. The Australian government pays these smaller island-nations to keep the prisoners there, but provides very little insight on what to do with them.

This relentlessly grim doc makes smart decisions allocating resources. Outside statements by the refugees, NGO volunteers and administrators, the film features secretly shot footage from inside the detention centers. It’s overwhelmingly depressing, but drives the point home.

Chasing Asylum does a good job balancing the emotional component with data-fueled context. As it often occurs in documentaries of this nature, a list of the authorities who refused to speak on camera bookends the movie. This is all well and good, but given how important would have been to comprehend their reasoning, merely mentioning them doesn’t cut it. Sometimes, there is value in door-stepping someone. 3/5 prairie dogs.

Chasing Asylum will also play on Friday, April 29th, and Sunday, May 8th.

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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.