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Toronto Thoughts: Borat, Docs, and More

by Anthony Kaufman
September 15, 2006 3:04 AM
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So Toronto is in its final hours, and after three indieWIRE articles (#1, #2, and #3) surveying my thoughts on this year's films, I still have more to say.

Because of limited time, space, and sanity, I was barely able to touch upon the few docs I saw at Toronto in the indieWIRE stories. But first, I just want to join the chorus of voices applauding "Borat" -- the mad rush of excitement at the film's calamitous midnight world premiere is justified: The movie is Jackass crossed with Michael Moore, and I can't wait to see how America responds to it. If Rush Limbaugh thinks he has an easy target in "Death of a President," wait until he gets a load of this Kazakh reporter exposing the anti-Semitism, racism and sexism in ordinary Americans.

Speaking of "Death of a President," I only saw the first half hour of the much ballyhooed film because of a prior committment, but from what I saw intrigued me. But most of all, I've been surprised at the timidity with which the film has been praised and criticized: say what you will about the film, but it's not appalling to think of President Bush's assassination; it's completely logical.

If I had thought of it before, Lucy Walker's documentary "Blindsight" would have fit nicely into my discussion of films in the festival dealing with American values (i.e. "Rescue Dawn," "Golden Door"). The film is a chronicle of a famous blind American rock climber who leads an expedition of shunned and blind Tibetan orphans up one of the tallest mountains in the Himalayas (which sounds riveting enough, as it is), but the most interesting facet of the documentary is the clash between cultures. The American and his team are all obssessed with reaching the top, with a clear sense of victory, while the children and their keeper, a sympathetic blind German woman, want to relish in the experience of the climb. It's a classic conflict between result and process-oriented thinking.

Macky Alston's "The Killer Within" is another fascinating document of the clash between perspectives: When we first see Bob Bechtel, he comes across as a folksy, wholesome middle-aged guy. But the relevalation that he murdered a fellow student when he was in college, and kept it a secret from friends, family and the college at which he teaches for years is a startling starting point for the documentary. As the film progresses, what's most fascinating is Bechtel's surprising lack of affect -- all the more shocking since he's a beloved psychology professor. While one might expect some cathartic moment of guilt, the film's trump card is its very refusal to succumb to such a cliche: Bechtel remains an enigmatic figure, lacking in remorse, a loving father, a kindly old man, and yet stlll, somehow a killer unable to face his conscience.

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