Hot Docs 2021 Review: The Big Scary “S” Word

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

50/100 

The Big Scary “S” Word, is Yael Bridge’s first full length documentary feature. This documentary is incredibly timely given Bernie Sanders’ recent promising presidential campaigns,  the rising stars in the progressive-wing of the democratic party including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and IIhan Omar,  Amazon’s recent union busting campaign at warehouse workers in Alabama, the 2018 Oklahoma teachers strike, and the role of big money in politics. There is a laundry list of items and examples that the documentary provides. The premise here is that capitalism is not working just fine and, in fact, it is creating a less humane society.  

On the other hand, you have conservatives, moderate democrats, journalists, and pundits that insist that capitalism is the only way forward for America. In a clip featured in the documentary, MSNBC contributor Donny Deutsch states “I find Trump reprehensible as a human being, but a socialist candidate is more dangerous to this country as far as the strength and well-being of our country than Donald Trump.” How is it possible that Americans are so scared of socialism? How is it possible that there is so much inequality in the richest country in the world? These questions inform the crux of this doc as Bridge explores what socialism means for ordinary people, scholars, and politicians. 

There is nothing incredibly innovative to see here. Although, I have to admit that, a quarter of the way through, we are provided with beautiful visuals that trace the history of capitalism, the transition of capitalism into an economic system and a way to organize the production of goods and services, up to its modern form. In the end, it asks more questions than provides answers. This approach is completely okay but at times it “reads” a bit too academic.

The Big Scary “S” Word Trailer

The Big Scary “S” Word screened as part of the Hot Docs 2021 Film Festival. You can visit their website to check for a screening near you.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

Hot Docs 2021 Review: The Face of Anonymous

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

50/100 

What is an information terrorist? The Face of Anonymous (2020) directed by Gary Lang provided an inside look into the work of cyber-activism through the eyes of Anonymous hacktivist Christopher Mark Doyon also known as Commander X. Christopher appears to resent the information terrorist moniker and instead asks how can I terrorize the world with the truth? Visually there is nothing extraordinary to see in this documentary. What somewhat makes it work is the story told by a compelling and questionable set of Anonymous activists allies, and Doyon crisma in particular. The throughline in this story starts with 4chan in 2004 or as defined in the documentary the crucible for Anonymous. 

What started off as a joke and protest against Scientology grew into something bigger as hacktivists set their sights on bigger targets. The first Anonymous operation that gained significant notoriety happened in 2010 and was a DDoS attack on Visa and Mastercard websites in response to donation denials for Wikileaks payment in response to leaked video footage that showed a US military strike against civilians in Iraq. One of the motivations for Anonymous’ anger was that Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal still authorized donations on websites like the KKK and Westboro Baptist Church but would not allow them to continue on Wikileaks. The documentary also detailed how Anonymous allegedly helped protesters in Tunisia and Egypt during the early stages of the Arab Spring.      

This documentary is also the story of big egos and FBI raids that curtailed Anonymous progress and made US hacktivism move underground. Christopher Mark Doyon, however, is an Anonymous true believer to the bitter end. As of today, he has received political asylum and emergency refugee status in Mexico where Doyon claims he refound his freedom. I finished this documentary itching for more. Particularly I wanted more details about how online activism occurs and how it is then translated online. By itself this documentary does not add a lot to the discourse on hacktivism and cyber intelligence. Nevertheless, this documentary would make a good double feature with the HBO series Q: Into the Storm which offers a much more detailed account of the rise of another online movement who, coincidentally, also started on 4chan. 

I would recommend this documentary with a small caveat: do some prior research or reading going in. I’d suggest starting with a piece by David Kushner featured in the New Yorker called The Masked Avengers

The Face of Anonymous Trailer

The Face of Anonymous is currently screening as part of the Hot Docs 2021 Film Festival. You can purchase a ticket to view it here.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

Hot Docs 2021 Review: Dark Blossom

Written by Taylor Baker

62/100

Often staring into a screen or mirror as they billow out more vapor there is an unsatisfied anger intertwined with a yearning at the heart of primary subjects in this Danish Documentary. Dark Blossom begins with quick cuts of skulls, and people in black running between vibrant flowers up to a dead and decomposing fox covered by a common plastic bucket piled with bricks. Not more than a few minutes later we see Jay, one of our main subjects, request to listen to Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” while getting a stick and poke tattoo, notably it’s his first tattoo. The music fades as he answers a phone call from his Mom and deceives her as to what he’s up to.

The assembled footage in Dark Blossom primarily shows the activities and social situations that our three subjects navigate through. Their predilections and aversions. With a constant focus toward the asymmetry of their outcast-like experience and temporary intimacy as a group. Elucidated by voice over, stark images, and their general behavior. The discomfort in their own skin is physically apparent in how often we see them applying makeup, modifying their bodies, and dying their hair. All while they continue to grow.

Repetition. Josephine, Jay, and Nightmare(Mareridt) repeat physical actions, sentences, and emotions. A smaller repetitive moment occurs midway through the film where after a long day lugging around outfits and caked in makeup they’re brought the wrong soda at a restaurant. Which ensues a debate about whether to complain, Jay is experiencing fatigue and eventually the argument peters out. This scene is later followed by a quieter scene in Jutlund where Coke is being surreptitiously drunk in the far corner of the table. It’s a small creative choice but in the context of the film it’s a moment that lingers and speaks volumes about the dispersion of these friends. Dark Blossom narrowly shows the broadness of a small group of young adults disaffected with life in their small town and the status quo.

Dark Blossom Trailer

Dark Blossom is currently screening as part of the Hot Docs 2021 Film Festival. You can purchase a ticket to view it here.