HOLD YOUR FIRE (TIFF2021) – Review by Pam Grady

Taking place only months after the bank robbery/hostage situation that inspired Dog Day Afternoon, the January 1973 incident at John and Al’s Sporting Goods in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, went on far longer – lasting nearly four days – and resulted in the death of a cop. It is also the event credited with ushering in the modern age of hostage negotiation. And it is has been pretty much lost to history – until now with the Toronto International Film Festival world premiere of Stefan Forbes’ Hold Your Fire, a riveting documentary on the subject.

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FLEE (TIFF2021) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Danish writer/director Jonas Power Rasmussen’s documentary Flee about Afghan refugee Amin, his arduous journey getting to Denmark, and how that experience colors his current life, is destined to become a shining example of great indie animation. It may be painful to watch Amin go through the horrors he describes, but it is also an incredibly uplifting, inspiring story that will leave its viewers with a powerful feeling of hope.

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BEBA (TIFF 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Deeply intimate and unfiltered, Rebeca “Beba” Huntt talks of her experience as an Afro-Latina artist raised in a one-bedroom apartment in New York with her two siblings and her immigrant parents. The documentary speaks explicitly to the intergenerational aspect of trauma linked to race, class and gender. Huntt pushes herself through the search for self in a range of ways, spanning from aggressive to poetic, frequently straddling both simultaneously.

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SWIMMING OUT TILL THE SEA TURNS BLUE – Review by Diane Carson

With the tantalizing title Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue, director Jia Zhang-ke personalizes decades of Chinese history through the recollections of well-known writers and ordinary citizens. Through eighteen chapters, this documentary interweaves brief moments of recited poetry, early and recent film clips, urban and rural snapshots, and professional performances, all anchored in extensive, individual interviews.

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SOFTIE – Review by Diane Carson

Director Sam Soko’s documentary Softie is described as a tug of war between loyalty to family or country. It presents that and so much more when Boniface Mwangi, nicknamed Softie as a physically small child, decides to run for Kenya’s Parliament. He’ll confront sadistic violence and extensive corruption by those in power amidst death threats to him and his family.

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TOTALLY UNDER CONTROL – Review by Martha K Baker

Last October, Nature set loose a terrible disease. It was named, in the scientific fashion, Covid 19, for the year it started and for “corona,” describing the virus. Alex Gibney, along with Ophelia Harutyunyan, and Suzanne Hillinger, has directed a fiery documentary blast at the handling of the pandemic in America by the Trump Administration.

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DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD – Review by April Neale

Our culture does little to alleviate anxiety about the end of life, and this documentary succeeds in allowing us to lose some of the dread and delight along with Dick Johnson as his daughter, filmmaker Kirsten Johnson, cooks up very dramatic, well-staged and crafted ways to end it all: Heart attacks, impalings, having an A/C unit fall on his head — all while Dick Johnson discusses the merits to each calamity and gives amusing post-mortems of every potential demise.

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ALL IN: THE FIGHT FOR DEMOCRACY – Review by Martha K Baker

We are taught that democracy began with the Founding Fathers. It did not. Those men in knee britches granted suffrage to their fellows: White men. Men of property. 6% of the population. Over the next 200 years and change, the rest of the nation has had to fight for the vote. Directors Lisa Cortes and Liz Garbus balance newsreels and graphics with commentary to present a civics lesson worthy of studied absorption.

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DRIVEN TO ABSTRACTION – Review by Leslie Combemale

Produced, directed, and edited by Daria Price, the documentary follows one of the biggest art scandals of the last 100 years. Famed New York art gallery Knoedler, its gallery director Ann Freeman, and art dealer Ramiro Gonzales were implicated in a case where, for 15 years starting in 1994, 40 counterfeit pieces of art were sold for a total in excess of 60 million dollars.

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