Sunday, 23 March 2008

Hot Docs 2008 - WooHoo!



Last year's Hot Docs film festival was a terrific experience for me. Out of the 10 films I saw, 9 were excellent while only one didn't quite grab me. I suppose that high hit ratio may have been due to my superior psychic selecting ability, but it's likely more a result of the festival organizers and their amazing work at finding interesting, puzzling and entertaining films that make you think and ask questions.

The 2008 festival kicks off on April 17th here in Toronto and runs until the 27th. With over 170 films at the festival, I somehow managed to find a couple that caught my interest...Below is a list of what I hope to take in this year.

Note: The short descriptions of each film are summaries I cobbled together from the longer descriptions at the Hot Docs web site (I tried not to borrow too much of their phrasings). Each film is linked to its description there, so please visit the site for more relevant details on each documentary.


  • All Together Now - A document of the music (from rights acquisition to final creation) behind Cirque Du Soleil's recent show "Love" (which was based around Beatles tunes).
  • Blast! - A team of astrophysicists attempt to launch an incredibly complex and expensive telescope via a high altitude balloon in order to help delve deeper into the questions about the creation of the Universe.


  • A Crime Against Art - A mock trial purported to be about a "crime against art" is filmed and tries to break down many of the current issues the art world faces - including how art and industry can coexist.
  • Dance With A Serial Killer - The search and capture of one of France's most brutal serial killers is told by the detective who headed the investigation.


  • Emoticons / Kids & Money - A double shot of shorter films (both under an hour): the first shows 6 young girls immersed in online social networks and how real social environments aren't meeting their needs; the second shows the gulf between how young teenagers in L.A. view money.
  • The Fallen - The scandal behind the corruption and greed involved with the February 2006 mining accident in Mexico that trapped 63 miners and the subsequent delay in the rescue is covered.
  • Jesus Loves You - Missionaries from all over the world come to Germany during World Cup 2006 to try to convert soccer fans to Christianity.
  • Killer Poet - Convicted double murderer Norman Porter escapes prison, becomes Chicago's poet of the month and gets caught again with the help of Google Search.
  • The Last Continent - A global warming study of the Antarctic lasting for more than a year provides beautiful landscapes and underwater photography while the crew face danger and excitement.
  • Mechanical Love - "Can robots offer a substitute for human love?" is the main thrust of this film that exams robots being built for companionship to the elderly.


  • Planet B-Boy - Dancers from 18 countries face off at the "Battle Of The Year" to display their amazing moves and show who is the baddest b-boy.
  • Rise And Fall Of The Grumpy Burger - A document of sorts about Marshall Sfalcin's (apparently Canada's answer to Ed Wood) own attempt to film the story of how his family - and not MacDonalds - invented fast food.
  • S&M: Short And Male - An "investigation into the relationship between male height, self-esteem and success."
  • Second Skin - The culture wrapped around Massively Multiplayer Online games and environments like Second Life is examined.
  • Shot In Bombay - While documenting the making of a Bollywood gangster movie, this film promises to also cover the Bollywood industry as well.


  • Steypa - The film's title refers both to Icelandic terms for "concrete" (the material of choice for one of the film's sculptors) and "something weird" (which likely covers off much of the Icelandic contemporary art scene the film focuses on).


  • Talking Guitars - A portrait of Flip Scipio - a master guitar craftsman sought out by some of the biggest names in the music industry.
  • Tonight Let's All Make Love - I have a soundtrack CD by Pink Floyd from this, so it's time I set some visuals to the psychy tunes from the 60s British rock scene.
  • The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams' Appalachia - I loved Jennifer Baichwal's "Manufactured Landscapes" and since the festival has carved out a special spotlight on some of her films, I felt I should sample...So this document of yet another photographer - Shelby Lee Adams and his photos of poverty in the Appalachians - seems a good place to start.
  • Waiting For Hockney - Billy Pappas sets out on a 10 year process to draw the most detailed portrait ever and then present it to renowned artist David Hockney.


Due to some scheduling issues on my side, I won't be able to see much of anything during the middle of the fest, but I'm hoping to cram as much as possible in at the front and back ends (I'd like to at least double my output of last year). Since the festival is set up with double screenings of all the films, there aren't too many that completely bump up against my scheduling issues. Here are a couple, however, that I'd love to see but probably won't be able to:


  • At The Death House Door - I'd want to see this simply because of Steve James' involvement, but throw in the investigation of a death row inmate who may be innocent, a pastor's crisis of faith and a wider look at the death penalty and it sounds like this could be an amazing film.
  • Man On Wire - Missing this one will hurt a bit as I'd heard some terrific reviews...The film tracks the planning and execution of Philippe Petit's high wire walk between the World Trade Center Towers in 1974. How they managed to string a wire between the two towers without permission and actually allow Petit to do his walk across (8 times!) is beyond me...I'm hoping this will come out to DVD later this year.
  • Nursery University - What could be more entertaining than parents battling for spots in crowded Preschools? Apparently, in order to properly set up your child for a prestigious future, you need to be in the proper Nursery school.
  • Wild Blue Yonder - The Maysles brothers were pioneers in documentary filmmaking with films like "Salesman" and "Gimme Shelter". Years after David has passed away, his daughter Celia tries to look back into his past work - but remaining brother Albert refuses to help and even blocks Celia's access to some of David's material.

2 comments:

Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

Festival Season has official begun for 2008! It's so exciting to see.

Great post! I have a feeling we will bump into each other, as many of the film I've also got on my list. Well, I've highlighted into to program, the real list won't be after I've sorted out Canadian Film Fest, Toronto Singapore Film Fest and Images.

Love your list! Quite varied & interesting, I'm glad to see someone else has the Anvil films as well as Emoticons, and Second Skin.

James said...

A couple of these played at SXSW and though I didn't see any of them, the buzz on Dreams with Sharp Teeth wasn't great, but Second Skin and At the Death House Door got some good reviews.

Looking forward to comparing schedules with you soon!