Hot Docs, North America's biggest documentary film festival, kicks off its 2011 run on April 28 in Toronto. Jam-packed with documentaries running through May 8, Moviefone Canada will be there from start to finish, offering up looks at some of the festival's noted films.
This doc takes the 'Flipper' concept to the next level. 'Dolphin Boy' is the four-year study of a teenager who's reborn thanks to the help of everyone's favorite aquatic friends. At the heart of the drama is a life-threatening conflict that lands 17-year-old Morad in the hospital. Beaten within an inch of his life over a misread text message, the young man is left for dead by his assailants. When he comes to, he can't speak, communicate, or focus on anything.
Enter Dr. Ilan Kutz. The renowned psychologist takes on this troubling case, using all the treatments in his medical toolbox that have been known to help patients suffering from Post-Traumatic Disassociation (PTD). While tests are done and drugs are prescribed, Morad's parents narrate their feelings. Both his mother and father seem distraught from a caring parent point-of-view, but it's Morad's father who views the act as more of a personal insult. He makes an on-camera vow to bring his son back from the abyss, quits his job and takes serious action.
After weeks of failed response, Dr. Kutz makes the big (and likely expensive) decision to move Morad to the Israeli coast so that he can take residence at the The Eilat Dolphin Habitat. For the ensuing 60 minutes, the doc explores the healing power of swimming, playing and just hanging out with dolphins. Morad continues to be non-responsive, but as the months pass by, he slowly crawls out of his locked-in mind. Mild interaction is followed by simple 'yes' and 'no' questions, and within six months he can talk again.
One mind-bending moment has Morad explaining to the camera that he does not remember his father or mother, but feels he was born with the dolphins, right there on the ocean. As fascinating as this study of mental rebirth is, there are frustrating moments in the film, especially when Morad's father must deal with the court proceedings of the case and sell everything he owns to support his son's recovery -- all while receiving little to no engagement from his son.
'Dolphin Boy' misses a few beats in the telling of its story. There are very satisfying victories of progress, and the serene nature of the dolphins is very pleasant to witness, but viewers will be left wondering how the whole dolphin-therapy thing really works. Most families would not have the unbelievable patience and love afforded to this young man, so it is perhaps Morad's parents that are the true heroes of this touching doc.
Thursday, May 5 -- Bloor Cinema
Saturday, May 7 -- TIFF Bell Lightbox 3
For complete schedule and movie listings, visit the Hot Docs website.