Monday, April 30, 2012

Hot Docs

Well, one of my favorite Toronto times of the year is here and I couldn't be happier.  Last year, doing Hot Docs with a 6 month old Big Yam was a bit more of a pain, but this year we're making it to 4 out of our 5 features, and we're only missing that one because of a conflicting, equally awesome engagement.  I think that's pretty solid.  Academic Book Club has also scheduled a Hot Docs outing on Wednesday, so I'm actually going to 5 docs, total. 

We've seen some pretty good ones - recaps below.

Krisis GR2011 - The Prism has one of the worst titles I've ever encountered (so unwieldy!), but an interesting, though superficial, premise.  The Greek-Canadian director armed 14 people in Greece with cameras and taught them how to use them.  Over a year, the footage was uploaded to a site and from all those photos, the documentary was made (interspersed with interviews).  What results is a ground-level look at the effects of Greek's debt crisis.  It was pretty interesting - if only for the fact that it reinforced that students (the ones most passionate about the protest) the world over are always young, idealistic, and woefully ignorant of macro-level understandings of economics.  Ha!  It just seems like a giant mess over there and you have a confluence of factors: history, poor government, lack of fiscal foresight, etc. all colluding to make it a giant mess with little hope for resolution.  This film screened with a "short" documentary called Yugo, about the eponymous Yugoslavian car and the closure of the factory.  This doc was about 28 minutes too long had a weird overwrought dramatic tone that we thought should have been comedic but wasn't obviously so, and was the boringest.

Made In China follows one year in the Jinyuan garment factory, a small-to-mid scale operation reeling from the effects of the global recession.  Orders are down, and so the owner/manager (Old Liu, pictured above) struggles to stay afloat and pay bills, mirroring the experiences of the people who work for him, putting in long hours and living in cramped dormitories.  The movie was filmed in a purely observational style - which made it seem a little long - some of the scenes got repetitive and it could have used a bit of editing - maybe 20 minutes could have been cut without an appreciable difference in the film overall.  The movie is heartbreaking - it shows how every person as part of the chain (minus the people selling and profiting from the selling of the goods produced) is in a bind and there's no easy answers.  We came away from that movie once again feeling how lucky we are to be born in Canada.  There's a family working for 2000 yuan a month, and one of the more heartbreaking scenes is when the husband opens his paycheck and wonders aloud, "but we only took 2 days off last month! What's the point of working so hard when you make so little?"  It's such a complicated scenario.  So yeah, I could make an effort to only buy Canadian, but what does that accomplish other than strangling the manufacturing industry in China and putting more of those people out of work?  One thing I did resolve was that the Big Yam is not going to get an easy ride.  He has to know what goes on in the greater world and how darned lucky he is and he better not give me any lip about it, either!  Otherwise, I'm going to make him sleep on a steel cot with only a thin tatami mat and then we'll see what he thinks about his lot in life.  The movie also touched on some of the generational issues that occur within these families - with children resisting joining the family in the sweatshop trade and how Confucian ideals are being tested as China continues to evolve.  

Yesterday we saw Ping Pong which is precisely the antidote we needed.  It's ADORABLE (and has my name written all over it).  The doc follows 9 different seniors (over 85) from around the world who go to compete in the Senior's Ping Ping World Championships held in China.  So many characters!  OLD PEOPLE!  Suffice to say, it's hilarious and I also simultaneously teared up about a million times.  It was heart-warming to the max.  It just goes to show you - becoming old isn't easy.  You gotta have some fight, competitive zest, and gumption to make it!  One of the women was 89 and suffered from dementia following the passing of her husband of 40 years.  She stopped eating, started to forget things, would get confused and show up at the bakery at 11pm expecting it to be open.  Recognizing that she couldn't live by herself anymore, she moved into a retirement residence and discovered table tennis, which in her words, "brought me back."  So f**king cute!  I can't recommend this doc, enough.  Is it sentimental?  OF COURSE IT IS, IT'S ABOUT OLD PEOPLE, YOU HEARTLESS A**HOLE!  Is it maudlin?  OBVI!  Will it still make you laugh and feel good about the world?  YES!  So get to it, already!

We had an impossibly full weekend.  Momma D had the Big Yam for a sleepover on Saturday night so the Dotytron and I checked out Banh Mi Boys, this restaurant doing updated Asian-Latin fusion and updated Asian mash-ups that's been getting big buzz lately.  

Of course we ordered more food than was necessary/consumable.  We had kimchi fries (twice fried crispy frites with kimchi, mayonnaise, and pulled pork on top), a squid taco, a chicken taco, a kalbi beef banh mi and a pork belly banh mi.  The tacos use a Chinese crispy pancake for a shell and feature the meat, some hot sauce, and a cabbage slaw along with pickled daikon and carrot.  The banh mi feature your protein choice inside a soft French-style bun with the pickled daikon and carrot and hot sauce.  We didn't try the bao.  I really like the bread they use for their banh mi, they're very soft, and don't have the crust that your Chinatown version has, but I thought that overall, the tacos took the day.  The banh mi were a little too bready (I don't like it when the bread to meat ratio is off - which is why we didn't try their 3rd option for food - the bao) and the meat was a little stingy.  What I love about banh mi traditionally is the slick of salted butter and the pate they spread on the bread to keep it moist.  This was missing that and thus tasted a little dry.  The banh mi are also priced at $5.99 each, whereas the tacos are $3.99 and are just as filling.  Plus the "taco" shell is a great vehicle.  The squid was super-tender and flavourful.  You kind of lost the kalbi beef and pork belly taste in the banh mi versions.  I would definitely go back for tacos and kimchi fries and indeed, am looking forward to a return visit!

Sunday we had brunch at Momma D's when we picked up the Big Yam.  She made us waffles and English bacon, which was a nice treat because we went for a run in the morning (for the record: the Dotytron held me back).  Then we saw a doc and then we met up with our Supper Club at Libretto Danforth.  We all shared a heap of appetizers and pizzas and it was all very, very good.  The Big Yam was a champ.  He basically sat in his high chair for 3 hours and was calm and cute and very personable and chill.  He didn't need to be entertained and he only started squawking when I wasn't giving him his food fast enough.  He LOVES the gnocchi fritti there (as do we!) and he ate about 2 slices worth of pizza.  He also ate the proscuitto off another slice.  I was really proud of how well behaved he was.  Three hours of compliant behaviour basically means he can handle your typical Chinese banquet meal, which is my goal.  I'm going to try very very hard to not be the parent who has the kid who runs around the restaurant and who has to whip out an iPhone or something to keep my kid entertained.  If that's your model, then great!  I'm glad that works for you, but it's not necessarily the kind of behaviour I want to foster in the Yam.  

So...this week is bonkers.  Regular work, regular life and then Tuesday night Dotytron is doing his music stuff, Wednesday night I have Academic Book Club - Hot Docs edition, then Thursday night is Academic Book Club proper.  As the Dotytron said, this week is going to be: "Monday - what's going on? Friday - how was everything?"    

Add to that the Dotytron got surplussed this year (from both his jobs!) which means that he will definitely be teaching someplace else next year.  Postings come out tomorrow...le sigh.

Tonight I made us a Mughlai chicken curry and eggplant bhurta.  The chicken curry featured a million different spice blends employed at various stages (one to marinate the chicken, one to fry in the pan, another bundle of whole spices to simmer in the sauce) and a sauce enriched with milk blended with cashews, almonds, and saffron.  We ate this with brown rice.


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