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May 2nd, 2018     by Tina Zafreen Alam     Comments

Featuring documentaries from across the world, the Hot Docs festival in Toronto runs from April 26 to May 6, 2018. Check out part two of our reviews series featuring the films Mr. SOUL! and Harvest Moon. Hot Docs offers free same-day tickets for all screenings before 5:00 p.m. to students with valid photo I.D. at the venue box offices (subject to availability).

Still from Mr. SOUL!, courtesy of Hot Docs

2018, USA, 102 MINUTES

Both an archive of the visionary television program SOUL!, and a portrait of its host and producer, Ellis Haizlip, Mr. SOUL! begins with the title card “1968” in white on a black background while Haizlip’s voice narrates, “Today whites have every hour on television available to them, the Blacks have none.” Directors Samuel D. Pollard and Melissa Haizlip, Ellis Haizlip’s niece, deftly combine news clips, archival footage from the show itself, and interviews with many former guests and contributors, to create a loving tribute to SOUL! and its heart and centre, Ellis Haizlip.

Through matching textual and graphic elements in its opening moments, Mr. SOUL! artfully embeds its critiques of networks such as NBC, ABC and CBS celebrating the advent of colour TV broadcasting without any diversification of their lineups. Then, after some static we see the logo for WNET, and our first vision of SOUL!, rich and full in its contrast to the white shows before it. SOUL! — a multi-faceted, living, breathing presentation of Black aesthetics, art, dance, theatre, poetry, politics, resistance and more — first aired on New York City’s public broadcasting channel, WNET, in 1968 and ran until 1973, when it was defunded, likely due to pressures from Richard Nixon and the changing political forces.

As a film itself, and as a way to tell the story of SOUL!, Mr. SOUL! is a testament to the vitality and potential of Black culture and Black art. Illustrious featured artists, and interviews include: Patti Labelle, Sydney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, James Baldwin, Stevie Wonder, Nikki Giovanni, Al Green, Muhammad Ali, the Last Poets, Kathleen Cleaver and Sonia Sanchez. In the closing words of Ellis Haizlip, “And, I’m not trying to say that I won’t ever see Black people on TV, should some unaware group of people take SOUL! off. It’s just that I won’t see Black people creating, searching and acting instead of reacting, researching and reacting. There exists, as far as I know, no TV program that deals with my culture so completely, so freely, and so beautifully.” For screening times and more info. — TINA ZAFREEN ALAM

Still from Harvest Moon, courtesy of Hot Docs


Harvest Moon takes us to the Tagaev family home where three generations live, work, brush their teeth at the water reserve hanging from a tree in the yard, and share lessons and stories of the forest — nestled between two mountains in the former Soviet Republic of Kyrgtzstan — amid the sounds of the azaan.

Director Zaheed Mawani opens the film in complete darkness as crickets sing in the night and a father and son talk about the forest, “What do you know about the forest?” We learn that the forest is older than the Ice Age, was once a holy place lush with fruit, wildlife, and inhabited by mystics. Now, it is full of demons and ghosts. These fantastical elements then frame the longer takes of members of the Tagaev family engaging in their daily work and preparation for their trek into the woods to harvest the walnut trees. Warm sunlight falls on the greens and browns of the surrounding environment and the vibrant textile patterns of the women’s scarves and skirts. Everyone takes part, with the young ones helping with cooking and ultimately climbing way high up into the trees to shake down the walnuts that provide the Tagaev family with their livelihood.

This quiet take on one family’s way of life, relationship to one another and connection to the forest around them is full of beauty, humour, wonder and leaves much room for contemplation. For screening times and more info. – TINA ZAFREEN ALAM

Tags: media savvy

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