theengineer

The Engineer

The Life and Times of Donald F. Simmons


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theengineer

Hot Docs

Hot Docs is past now, and I ended up hitting six out of six with the films I saw.

First up was Shot in Bombay in which we go behind the scenes at the filming of a cops-and-gangsters picture in Mumbai (no songs unfortunately). The movie being filmed was based on a true story (which, as the producer points out, isn't the same as saying it is a true story, so it'll be a waste of time for the actual principals involved to sue him) where a special anti-gangster task force surrounded a housing complex in Mumbai in the early 90s and shot the crap out of it, killing seven known gangsters. Problems on the set include the film star, Sanjay Dutt, going into and out of court on weapons charges, a case that had been going on for a decade, and could ultimately land him in jail for 30 years for terrorism.

The freakiest thing about the film was the interview with the actual head of the task force (now retired), who essentially says on camera that his task force had permission to go out and assassinate known gangsters in order to show everyone who was boss, and no one had any problems with this. The shootout was seen as a big police victory.

The critics gave the film 1.5 stars, but it was a box office smash, which is all the producer cares about ("I'm in this business for my big house, my boat, and my cars").


Next was "The Last Continent", about a group of scientists heading to the Antarctic by boat. The plan was to be frozen in for the winter in order to study the ice pack at the shore and the wildlife that depends on it. The expedition leader was present, and in his introduction he said they had gone to study climate change but nearly ended up it's victims.

The film opened with the expedition arriving in the summer to set up, and everyone trying to decide to stay for the winter or not, facing a good nine months of being unable to leave no matter what (they weren't to be located near any of the permanent bases). Once the icebreaker leaves, that's it. Because there was no good anchorage at their site, the plan was to tie the boat off from either side of a narrow cove, and then get frozen solidly in before the bad weather started. Only the freeze doesn't come. Two months in, they faced a day with 60 knot winds and their anchoring cables breaking as fast as they could set new ones. They finally had to cut all of them and make a run for open water.

Anyway, they finally found a safe harbour, and spent the rest of the winter with their investigations. There's going to be 3 hours on CBC later in the year on the science they performed, so this film stayed with following the crew members themselves, and of course the fantastic landscape around them. Well worth seeing.


After that was Man on Wire, about Phillippe Petit, a French street performer and tightrope walker. In 1974 he and some friends sneaked into the World Trade Center towers one night, rigged a tightrope between the North and South Towers, and in the morning Petit went for a stroll with the city watching. I love caper movies and this was a classic, not only a great story but a amazing piece of film-making, woven together interview segments and archival footage. When originally planning the caper, Petit had a French film-maker he knew start to document all the planning, but then had a falling out with him. The film lay undeveloped for 30 years until the current director found it, and it absolutely adds a magical touch to the film, watching the much younger Petit practice in the country while his friends try and shake him off the wire, simulating the expected winds.

In the Q&A afterwards the director said he deliberately made no mention whatsoever of the fate of the Towers (which we watch being built) as it wasn't part of this story. He did comment that while Petit was a hero in 1974, if someone tried to do this today he'd likely end up in Guantanamo Bay.

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