Though it's still cold here in Toronto and many of us are still struggling to rid ourselves of pesky viruses, most of our snow has melted and the ground is dry enough to wear running shoes again. With the occasional hint of warmth sneaking into the air, a young blogger's fancies turn to...film festivals!
Spring is chock full of film festivals here in T.O. Here's a quick sampling (Movie Moxie has a more in depth calendar):
- Canadian Music Week Film Festival - Music For The Screen (March 14th - That's today!)
- Cinefranco (March 24 - April 5)
- The Female Eye Film Festival (March 26-29)
- Images (April 2-11)
- Sprockets - International Film Festival For Children (April 18-24)
- Toronto Jewish Film Festival (April 18-26)
The big one for me though is Hot Docs (Canadian International Documentary Festival). The last two years have provided a phenomenal lineup of screenings with filmmakers, panels, industry events and youth programs. It's taking place a little later this year (April 30 - May 10), but we have the first wave of announcements:
Opening Night - Jennifer Baichwal's "Act Of God"
The subject of last year's retrospective series, Baichwal's new film promises to "explore the metaphysical effects of being struck by lightning". In the hands of pretty much any other filmmaker I might be concerned about the whole "metaphysical" aspects - I just don't have time these days for that kind of psychobabble - but having seen both "Manufactured Landscapes" and "The True Meaning Of Pictures", I put my trust in Baichwal to put together a compelling film that will ask just as many questions as it answers.
This is apparently the first time that Hot Docs has opened their festival with a Canadian documentary and that's an exciting development for filmmakers in this country.
Special Presentation Titles
The entire festival lineup will be announced on March 24th, but the folks at Hot Docs have let slip a few high profile titles. Festival director Sean Farnel says "With these first announcements of some already heavily laurelled titles, we hint at what's to come: a Festival brimming with the year's finest nonfiction films". Here's the 7 titles announced so far (some of which already sound exciting):
AFGHAN STAR (Directed by Havana Marking)
World Cinema Audience and Directing awards, Sundance 2009
Afghanistan Idol? Yep, a TV singing competition (actually called "Pop Idol" I believe) in the land of the Taliban. This could be fascinating.
EL OLIVIDO (OBLIVION) (Directed by Heddy Honigmann)
Prize of the Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique, Dokfestival Leipzig 2008
Silver Dove, Dokfestival Leipzig 2008
The corruption, violence and poverty that the people of Lima Peru must withstand is documented by Honigmann (a previous winner of a Hot Docs Outstanding Achievement Award) who returns to her homeland.
WE LIVE IN PUBLIC (Directed by Ondi Timoner)
Grand Jury Prize (Documentary), Sundance 2009
Timoner (director of the amazing "Dig!") brings us the story and the various schemes of Internet pioneer Josh Harris over the last decade. He was an early proponent of Internet television, set up an experiement in 1999 that had 100 people live on camera for a month and also put himself through 24 hour a day live surveillance for 6 months.
BURMA VJ – REPORTING FROM A CLOSED COUNTRY (Directed by Anders Høgsbro Østergaard)
Joris Ivens and Movies That Matter awards, IDFA 2008
World Cinema Documentary Editing Award, Sundance 2009
Not simply footage from the 2007 uprising in Burma, but stories of the journalists who took it and got it out to the world.
ROUGH AUNTIES (Directed by Kim Longinotto)
World Cinema Jury Prize (Documentary), Sundance 2009
A group of women in Durban South Africa are determined to take care of the many children who are simply forgotten. This could be an interesting look into the progress (or lack thereof?) in post-apartheid South Africa.
RENÉ (Directed by Helena Třetíková)
Best Documentary Award, European Film Awards 2008
Golden Dove, Dokfestival Leipzig 2008
The film covers the twenty year span in the life of Rene - starting with him as a 17 year old Czech delinquent, through prison stints and out the other side as a published author.
THE YES MEN FIX THE WORLD (Directed by Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonanno and Kurt Engfehr)
Panorama Audience Award, Berlin International Film Festival 2009
I expect this will be similar to "The Yes Men" - the first document of the team that specializes in corporate and political pranks. Likely entertaining, but I hope they don't overstay their welcome (I had mixed feelings about their previous film).
- Jennifer Baichwal was honoured with a retrospective of her films last year and this time it's another Canadian filmmaker: Alanis Obomsawin. Obomsawin is a Native American born in New Hampshire, but moved to Quebec at a young age and grew up there. Many of her films (both drama and documentary) are in regards to the Aboriginal people of Canada and several focus on some of the stand-offs Aboriginals have had with Quebec police (Restigouche and Oka being two prime examples).
- Hot Docs is also paying tribute to Toronto's own Ron Mann with this year's Focus On series. Known for films like "Grass", "Go Further" and "Comic Book Confidential", he also directed a fascinating film about avant-garde jazz called "Imagine The Sound". His latest is "Know Your Mushrooms".
- Spotlight on the NFB at 70 will be a retrospective of some of the finest National Film Board (of Canada) produced films. If you're Canadian, you hold a special place in your heart for the NFB - whether it's for those vignette commercials on TV showing off our history, the many films nominated for Academy Awards or the simple animated films that captured our imaginations (my two favourites: "The Cat Came Back" and "The Sweater"). Of course, you could simply plan your own NFB film festival by visiting their web site - many of their films are available to view online (including Alanis Obomsawin's most famous film "Kanehsatake: 270 Years Of Resistance")
- The "Made In" program this year focuses on the nation of South Korea. I'm excited by this, not only because of the rich history of the region, but also because of the various films that have seeped to North America over the last decade. There's a strong love of film in South Korea and I'm looking forward to seeing how they turn their cameras on themselves.
I love this festival...