Toronto Hot Docs Film Festival: War, a murder mystery and banks
ISIS, Tomorrow. Will the children carry on the struggle?

TORONTO—Constantly in today’s headlines and in our government’s gunsight, is Islamic terrorism. Several films at this year’s Hot Docs addressed the mess being stirred up in the Middle East due to our foreign policy objectives of laying waste to lands sitting on, uh, our oil. After initially funding and arming the mujahideen in Afghanistan in an attempt to bring down the Soviet Union and gain access to an essential oil pipeline, the U.S. now faces the consequences of our deadly game: Al-Qaeda and ISIS coming after us in full force. With chaos and destruction appearing to be the main objective in the Middle East, we can now see the tragic aftermath of American imperialism in a powerful documentary entitled ISIS Tomorrow. The Lost Souls of Mosul. It’s a disturbing revelation of what happens to ISIS after it is “defeated.”

The Iraqi city of Mosul after being almost completely decimated was freed from ISIS three years ago. The militants were defeated and removed, but what is to be done next with the survivors, many of them former supporters of ISIS, either willingly or not? Young children and ISIS members are interviewed. Many who were indoctrinated by ISIS will never change and will carry on their jihad in another location, while others who “joined” to survive are now forced to deal with their trauma.

In a telling scene where some survivors are going around the neighborhoods pointing out the homes of ISIS members, one can only wonder who can be trusted. Could they really be ISIS members pointing out their enemies? This poignant documentary, directed by Francesca Mannocchi and Alessio Romenzi, compassionately allows people to speak on all sides of the battle. It’s apparent that war not only destroys land, structures, and people but hope and truth as well. An eight-minute introduction to the film can be viewed here.

Who killed Dag Hammarskjöld?

Although the story starts in 1961 in Rhodesia with the death of the UN Secretary-General in a plane crash, Cold Case Hammarskjöld ends up being one of the most politically relevant and revealing films at the Festival. Filmmaker and journalist Mads Brügger, joined by a private investigator, set out to finally solve the puzzle of what many people think was an assassination of the prominent peacemaker, Dag Hammarskjöld, who was heading to the Congo in his support of decolonization. The film convincingly confirms the theory that the plane was intentionally shot down rather than accidentally crash landing in the remote forest near Ndola, Zambia.

But the film doesn’t stop there. Its shocking discoveries are for tomorrow’s headlines. While the world knows of the CIA’s involvement in the assassination of Lumumba, other countries are exposed also. A shady character (unnamed here) who always wears white is involved in the whole sordid history. At first, he is discovered in South Africa, where he assisted the white government subduing the restless majority of Blacks by setting up medical clinics throughout the countryside where he administered deadly injections of the HIV virus to thousands of unsuspecting victims. In the final scene, he appears in a photograph of three people at the site of the 1961 plane crash. This is just one of the many shocking revelations unveiled in the immensely entertaining two-hour murder mystery that keeps you guessing throughout its many twists and turns. The trailer can be seen here.

A tendentious view of the battle of Aleppo

A film winning several awards at festivals is For Sama about a young Syrian activist who births a young girl (Sama) during the growing violent protests for regime change in Assad Bashar’s Syria. With access to quality film equipment at a time when utilities are stretched to their limit, Waad al-Kateab, crafts a guerrilla-style document filmed during and between bombings and killings in Aleppo. During the years of filming, she marries a young doctor. They are determined to remain in place as things fired up. When she becomes pregnant, they seriously consider the consequences of raising a child during this period of extreme violence. The director admits later she never feared death until her daughter Sama was born. And they eventually were among the last to leave their homeland from the original resistance movement.

The excessive blood-and-guts footage becomes unbearable at times, expected, though, with the main protagonist a doctor in the heat of the war zone. But the film comes off in part disingenuous, failing to provide the bigger picture. As the protests continued, Islamic militants eventually joined the ranks, U.S. military beefed up the battle with major weapons and personnel, and we know what eventually developed from that—over 400,000 people dead and millions of Syrians displaced into Europe and other locations unwilling to accept them all. The film implies no violence coming from the anti-Assad group, Al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda and others defined by the West as “terrorists.” The only mention of them comes once in a voiceover when Waad simply states they are nowhere near as violent as the Syrian state. The film often travels back and forth in time, becoming a bit disorienting. It’s definitely a one-sided version of one of the major wars in recent history and certainly funded by Western interests hellbent on regime change—and oil. See the trailer here.

And finally, a short mention of another film about the world economic crisis caused by subprime mortgage lending. Inside Lehman Brothers tells about one of the corporate giants which fed off the bailout that saved major companies while laying waste to our cities. There have been several films about this subject, but this one adds to the story by going back to 2004, when Lehman Brothers employees warned of a subprime mortgage crisis coming, but were ignored. Many of the whistleblowers were women who lost their jobs, while the men stayed employed. Of course, the banks survived and are back to business as usual. Until the next crisis.


Bill Meyer
Bill Meyer

Bill Meyer frequently writes movie reviews for People’s World, often from film festivals. He is a keyboardist at Bill Meyer Music and a current member of the Detroit Federation of Musicians. He lives in Hamtramck, Michigan.