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Toronto Gets Documentary Fever as Hot Docs Kicks off its 19 Edition

Retro IONCINEMA.com

Toronto Gets Documentary Fever as Hot Docs Kicks off its 19 Edition

Torontonians love their film festivals. In September, they love star-gazing, and voting on the movies that are most likely to – and usually do – go on to win Oscar gold. They love waiting in line in the sun all day for tickets, and standing in rush lines, and charting their 5-films-a-day schedules on carefully calculated spreadsheets. And in May, they love watching documentaries: docs that you’ve never heard of and will never hear from again; docs that played and won awards in Sundance and South by Southwest; docs about obscure Canadian things like curling, Alan Zweig, and longboarding on the highway. The city arguably gets more up-in-arms about Hot Docs than they do about TIFF, opting for the more quaint venues that aren’t bombarded by outsiders and celebrities.

Torontonians love their film festivals. In September, they love star-gazing, and voting on the movies that are most likely to – and usually do – go on to win Oscar gold. They love waiting in line in the sun all day for tickets, and standing in rush lines, and charting their 5-films-a-day schedules on carefully calculated spreadsheets. And in May, they love watching documentaries: docs that you’ve never heard of and will never hear from again; docs that played and won awards in Sundance and South by Southwest; docs about obscure Canadian things like curling, Alan Zweig, and longboarding on the highway. The city arguably gets more up-in-arms about Hot Docs than they do about TIFF, opting for the more quaint venues that aren’t bombarded by outsiders and celebrities. It’s a great mix of films, and they can be viewed in theatres full of eclectic audiences.

This week I’ll be covering ten of the festival’s 159 films. Some of these we heard about after they picked up some hype at smaller, less publicized festivals (Empire North, The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye). The others, though, were hits in Sundance and/or SxSW that we missed during our coverage of those festivals. I’ll be taking a look at the post-modern religious comedy Kumaré, about how skeptic filmmaker Vikram Gandhi transforms into a guru with actual disciples, which picked up the audience award for Best Documentary at SxSW. Also coming from its premiere in Austin is Dragonslayer, a poetically disjointed look at the DIY life of a skater named Skreech, which took home the jury’s Grand Prize for Best Doc. Other films that got great critical notices were Fightville, taking a look at the training and combats of two UFC prospects; and Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, an account of O’Brien’s semi-descension into insanity as he trekked along a 32-city cross-country tour last year.

Fightville

Coming to Hot Docs from Sundance, I’ll be taking a look at the winner of the World Cinema Special Jury Prize award, Position Among the Stars, which closes off Leonard Retel Helmrich’s trilogy about the societal and cultural mutations currently taking place in Indonesia. Among the other hits from Park City, there’s the poignant and devastating AIDS documentary We Were Here, tracking the onset of the disease among a handful of members from San Francisco’s Castro community. The Bengali Detective follows the amusing, bifurcated obsessions of a private detective who prides himself on investigating murders and counterfeiting, and auditioning to appear on reality TV dancing competitions. Finally, I’ll be taking a look at the uber-hyped new film POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold by the ubiquitous celebrity performance ‘artist’ Morgan Spurlock, who aims to uncover the seedy underbelly of product-placement in the cinema.

The two films that didn’t play at either of these two festivals are both by visual artists, and have received small, yet vocal followings, especially among avant-garde/experimental crowds. The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye tracks Throbbing Gristle-member and performance artist Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, focusing on her ‘pandrogenous’ relationship with one Lady Jaye (more on what that term means in the review — see pic above). The film is said to combine home videos and 8mm films to create a collage-like tone poem about gender identity and a by-gone era of punk music. Then there is artist Jakob Boeskov’s re-dramatization of his conceptual sci-fi stunt that he pulled off in 2001, when he created a sniper gun that could shoot GPS censors imperceptibly into unknowing protestors and activists, designed to ‘prevent terrorist attacks before they happen’. I’m hoping to get an interview with Jakob at some point during the fest, as well as taking some time to speak with the filmmakers of Bengali Detective, Position Among the Stars, and The Bully Project, which has just received great reactions from its Tribeca premiere last week.

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Blake Williams is an avant-garde filmmaker born in Houston, currently living and working in Toronto. He recently entered the PhD program at University of Toronto's Cinema Studies Institute, and has screened his video work at TIFF (2011 & '12), Tribeca (2013), Images Festival (2012), Jihlava (2012), and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. Blake has contributed to IONCINEMA.com's coverage for film festivals such as Cannes, TIFF, and Hot Docs. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Almodóvar (Talk to Her), Coen Bros. (Fargo), Dardennes (Rosetta), Haneke (Code Unknown), Hsiao-Hsien (Flight of the Red Balloon), Kar-wai (Happy Together), Kiarostami (Where is the Friend's Home?), Lynch (INLAND EMPIRE), Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), Van Sant (Last Days), Von Trier (The Idiots)

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