DOXA Preview: What to See at Vancouver’s Documentary Film Festival

Partying with Insane Clown Posse fans, tracking a mama grizzly and following the history of LSD are just a few of the stories you'll see documented at this year's DOXA film festival

DOXA’s closing night film, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry looks at one Chinese artist’s acts of dissent

Highlights at this year’s DOXA Documentary Film Festival include grizzly bears, burqas, tobacco farming and Chinese dissident art

Many moviegoers have circled May 4 on their calendars. Mostly, they’re the ones who can’t wait for the Marvel Comics superhero extravaganza The Avengers to crash into theatres.

But for another kind of filmgoer – and we’re not suggesting the two can’t coexist – that date is also the opening night of DOXA, Vancouver’s longstanding documentary film festival.

Partying with Insane Clown Posse fans, tracking a mama grizzly and following the history of LSD and its discoverer offer (potentially) just as much – and maybe more – entertainment value as a bunch of superheroes pounding the living daylights out of each other. Not to mention, these docs – over 100, from around the world – might offer perhaps just a tad more insight into the human condition.

That said, we are kind of looking forward to seeing Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk.

DOXA 2012 Highlights

Bear 71 (opening night film, Friday, May 4)

Like a post-modern Hinterland Who’s Who, this NFB-produced interactive documentary lets the viewer select clips of wildlife footage from motion-triggered trail cameras in Banff National Park. But the main focus stays on a mama grizzly, tracked by cameras since she was three years old. Actress Mia Kirshner narrates – sometimes from a first bear point-of-view – from a script by J.B. MacKinnon (The 100 Mile Diet). See it opening night at St. Andrew’s-Wesley Church, when the screening will be accompanied by live musical performances by electronica artists Tim Hecker and Loscil and cellist Heather McIntosh.


In the Third Place (Wednesday, May 9)
The theme behind this trio of short docs, curated by Mark Kingwell, is what the U of T philosophy prof calls the “third place” – neither work nor home but that spot where you go to unwind with your fellow man (and woman). Of the three films, two look at unusual “third places” – American Juggalo visits fans of the Detroit hip-hop act Insane Clown Posse at its annual gathering, and Heavy Metal Parking Lot takes you to an arena parking lot (“a festival surrounding a temple,” as Kingwell puts it in an essay in the DOXA guide) filled with Judas Priest fans. The third, Terminal Bar, is about boozers at a New York City saloon.


Story of Burqa: Case of a Confused Afghan (special presentation, Thursday, May 10)
While all the controversy these days centres on the nefarious hoodie, Vancouver filmmaker Brishkay Ahmed takes a look at another provocative item of clothing: the burqa. In this doc, Ahmed looks at the significance of the burqa and attempts to navigate city streets wearing one herself.


Bright Leaves (Thursday, May 10)
Ross McElwee is a documentary filmmaker’s filmmaker – methodical, tenacious, insightful. Guest curator/author David Shields presents McElwee’s 2003 doc Bright Leaves, in which the director attempts to come to terms with his family’s tobacco-farming legacy.


Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (closing night film, Saturday, May 12)
On the fourth anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake in China, DOXA is screening this portrait of Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist/provocateur/activist who kept the names of the children who died in the disaster in the public eye. For his efforts, the government awarded Weiwei with the destruction of his studio and a tax bill for 2.4 million dollars. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry promises to be both infuriating and inspiring.

Check out the full list of docs screening at DOXA.