Reviews: Hot Docs celebrates Trans hero Jackie Shane, Palestinian filmmaker longs for home and when women shut down Iceland

NEXT previews some hot picks from Hot Docs festival

Performed by Makayla Walker, animated Jackie Shane performs her hit song “Money” Image courtesy of Banger Films and the NFB

Any Other Way: The Jackie Shane Story

Where: Hot Docs Festival
What: Movie, 98 mins.
When: Sat., April 27 (9 pm) TIFF Lightbox; Sun., April 28 (8:45 pm) TIFF Lightbox; Sat., May 4 (8 pm) Hot Docs
Genre: Documentary
Rating: NNNN (out of 5)
Why you should watch: This eye-opening and inspiring doc celebrates Black trans R&B music pioneer Jackie Shane, who had a short, shining career that saw them briefly land in Toronto in the ’60s — and then disappear. On stage, Shane was a combination of James Brown, Little Richard and Prince, and they thrilled Toronto audiences in the city’s Yonge Street club scene. Shane had abandoned their Nashville home because of racism and homophobia, making their way northeast before spending time in Montreal and, eventually, Toronto.

The filmmakers reached Shane, who had returned to Nashville decades earlier before they subsequently passed in 2019, and recorded a series of revealing phone interviews that form the foundation of the film, using animation to illustrate Shane’s conversations. The filmmakers also locate Shane’s only living relatives, who were not aware of the singer while they were still alive but who ultimately inherited a museum worth of artifacts including costumes, music, photos and more. Queer and trans performers influenced by Shane, including Toronto’s James Bayley are interviewed as well as music historian Rob Bowman. The story is both inspiring and heartbreaking. Inspiring because of Shane’s determination to be themselves and be heard; heartbreaking because, ultimately, the only way Shane felt they could be their true selves was to disappear behind closed doors, living as a recluse until the end, their brilliant stage career abandoned. A fantastic live album from a week of Toronto shows at the Superior Lounge in the ’60s, was discovered, released and Grammy-nominated before Shane’s death, and it looked like the singer was finally going to get back into the spotlight. Sadly, fate yet again had different plans for Shane. An important figure in music and queer history and a massive talent who deserves to be heard.

'Life is Beautiful' (Photo by Mohamed Jabaly)

Life Is Beautiful

Where: Hot Docs Festival
What: Movie, 90 mins.
When: Tues., April 30 (10 am) Scotiabank, Thurs., May 2 (8 pm) TIFF Lightbox
Genre: Documentary
Rating: NNNN (out of 5)
Why you should watch: Young Palestinian filmmaker Mohamed Jabaly left his Gaza home in 2014 as an invited guest to attend a film festival in a small Norwegian town above the Arctic Circle. When Israel slams the border shut in his Gaza homeland, Jabaly will spend the next seven years trying to get home. While in Norway, Jabaly finishes what will be an award-winning film, Ambulance, that features raw footage filmed while Jabaly served as a volunteer ambulance driver saving lives during Israel’s brutal 2012 bombing of Gaza. His earlier film shows the explicit brutality of Israel’s indiscriminate bombing and bloodletting while in his latest film, Jabaly demonstrates the quieter, crushing way Israel controls Palestinians lives, able to arbitrarily keep families apart, cut off resources and institutionally humiliate Palestinians. It is heartening to see the small Norwegian town rally in support of Jabaly and his efforts to get a visa to remain in Norway until the border to Gaza re-opens and he can return home. As a Palestinian, Jabaly’s “stateless” status complicates his efforts to operate within the Norwegian immigration system when, all the while, he desperately just wants to get home. Your heart will break just a little more seeing yet another way Palestinians are institutionally oppressed with Jabaly’s relentlessly optimistic approach offering hope and an insight into the resilience practised by so many of his country people at home and in the diaspora.

The Day Iceland Stood Still

The Day Iceland Stood Still

Where: Hot Docs Festiva
What: Movie, 60 mins.
When: Mon., April 29 (2:15 pm) TIFF Lightbox, Wed., May 1 (4:30 pm) Scotiabank
Genre: Documentary
Rating: NNNN (out of 5)
Why you should watch: You’ll want to stand up and cheer as a feisty group of Icelandic women recall the day in the ’ 70s when they shut the country down as 90 per cent of the women walked off their jobs — including housework — to demonstrate how important women were to the country and to protest rampant, institutional sexism in the society. There’s great archival footage and the interviewed women share awesome inside detail about how the movement evolved, their organizing strategies and their coalition- building efforts, which were necessary to unite almost the entire female population of the country. This film and the inspiriting women in it are just more proof that Iceland is a fucking cool country that definitely and routinely thinks outside the (ice) box.

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