Saturday 24 March 2012

Hot Docs 2012

Amidst the usual bevy of clips, images and detailed descriptions, Tuesday's Press Conference for this year's Hot Docs Film Festival (April 26 - May 6) had two other big announcements:

  • An experiment to simulcast several movies to different Canadian cinemas at the same time and have a live director Q&A as well.
  • Free coffee/espresso for people waiting in rush ticket lines.

OK, that second one may not be quite as impressive (even if it did garner pretty enthusiastic response from the assembled crowd at the Bloor Cinema), but the two items together show why Hot Docs is one of the top film festivals in the world: they go after the big and even risky ideas while always taking into account the attendees and the little details that make an event memorable.

The simulcast events (called "Hot Docs Live") do indeed sound chancy for the organizers, but there's a genuine feeling of excitement from the festival staff that they are bringing the festival to the rest of the country. Those screenings will be announced on March 30th and the broadcast will happen to 50 theatres in Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary, Vancouver and several other cities. Along with their DocIgnite program (please go support the "How To Build A Time Machine" project at the link - we need to hear the full story...), Docs For Schools and their many other programs, Hot Docs has also now set up their base in the newly renovated Bloor Cinema. The press conference was my first visit there and it was suitably impressive - it's smaller inside the theatre, but cozy, comfortable and beautifully put together. Can't wait to see a film projected there.

As for the actual films during the festival, the opening night selection will be "Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry" about the Chinese activist and artist. The film is a first time effort by Alison Klayman and plays twice on the opening night of April 26th. Charlotte Cook, the new director of programming for Hot Docs, calls it a "perfect story of art as a means for change" as Klayman had deep access to follow the artist who, over the last few years, has bridged from being an artistic consultant for the Beijing National Stadium (for the 2008 Olympics) to being arrested for two months by Chinese authorities.

In total, the fest will be providing over 400 screenings of 189 films (chosen from 2085 submissions!) from 51 countries. There's a small drop in the total number of individual films being shown, but an uptick in how many will receive three showings. I've barely skimmed the surface of the extensive list, but a few standouts already:

  • The Beaches Of Agnes - Previously reviewed here after seeing it at TIFF in 2008, I'm thrilled Hot Docs is giving this another chance to be seen on the big screen. The wonderful Agnes Varda takes a look back at her own life and career in art (mixing in film, painting and the kitchen sink) in this incredibly charming work. I'm biased because I love the films of her and her late husband Jacques Demy, but I'd find it hard to believe anyone could resist the fantastic creativity on display here. Part of The Documentary Plays Itself program (including other documentaries about films and their filmmakers).
  • Beware Of Mr. Baker - To say that Ginger Baker is a might ornery is like saying he's a pretty decent drummer - a huge understatement. Great reviews came out of Sundance for this and it's pretty much my most anticipated since I love him not only as a rock drummer par excellence, but also due to his interest in African rhythms, his work with Bill Laswell and a variety of other projects.
  • Bones Brigade: An Autobiography - As far as I'm concerned, Stacy Peralta can continue to document every little piece of minutia regarding the southern California skateboarding and surfing history for his whole career. Both "Dogtown And Z-Boys" and "Riding Giants" were fantastic (in story, execution and style), so I have high hopes for this closer look at the skateboarding team he created which helped launch the massive popularity of the sport.

  • Charles Bradley: Soul Of America - You like soul music? Then you're gonna love Charles Bradley. At 62 years old, he's just now breaking through in the music business after building a wealth of hard won experience. Likely a crowd pleasing doc of the best kind.
  • Detropia - Hurt more than most urban centres by the economic issues of the past few years, Detroit has essentially crumbled and is struggling to keep itself afloat as a vibrant city. "Detropia" takes a look at the current state of affairs through the eyes of people who have lived through the bad yet still haven't abandoned their city.

  • Gambler - Another of the The Documentary Plays Itself films is 2006's "Gambler" which chronicles the story of current hot director Nicolas Winding Refn's attempt to pull himself out of personal bankruptcy following his second film "Fear X". Part of his solution was to make the sequels to his first film "Pusher": the excellent "Pusher 2" and the bordering-on-insane "Pusher 3" (meant in the best possible sense of the term).
  • Indie Game: The Movie - Were it not for my son, I would have no idea what the title "Super Meat Boy" referred to...Fortunately his knowledge has filtered through to me, so when I saw it mentioned as one of the angles to be examined in this look at the new independent way of creating video games, I actually became somewhat excited. I'm really hoping I can get The Boy to see this with me.

  • Los Angeles Plays Itself - Yet another entry in the The Documentary Plays Itself set and another that I've seen before. In this case, though, I haven't seen it on the big screen and would love to get that chance. It's long (about 160 minutes), but flies by in a wonderful series of images and clips from movies set in L.A. with very evocative narration.
  • The Revisionairies - A documentary bound to make me very angry as it explores the creationist leader of the Texas School Board and his re-election bid. Every hair on my body bristles at how creationists try to cloak their religious agendas in science, but I really should try to better understand the other side of an issue I feel very passionate about.

  • Shadows Of Liberty - I'm expecting even more anger to surface as I watch a detailed analysis of how the reporting of news through different media channels has slowly lost any semblance of objectivity. Granted, I don't expect this will be the least biased film I watch, but I'm hoping it provides some interesting insights.
  • Tchoupitoulas - The Ross brothers first film from 2009 entitled "45365" is a remarkable look at the people and area within one specific zip code. This time they tackle New Orleans and that means a can't miss screening for me.


Anonymous said...

Quite a few of those sound great. I'm going to keep an eye out for Detropia, Charles Bradley, Indie Game: the Movie, and Gambler. Thanks for the writeup!

Anonymous said...

Tchoupitoulas got my eye too, one of the few dimensional docs from a program filled with movies that make me want to crawl up in a ball and hug my teddy bear forever.

Bob Turnbull said...

My pleasure Eric...Hot Docs is just as bad as TIFF for providing too many solid films - even if I planned for weeks and caught 30-40 films, I know I'm gonna miss something that others rave about.

Paolo, that certainly is the flip side of Hot Docs - you can find yourself rocking back and forth in a corner pretty fast if you don't sprinkle the schedule with a few bits of lighter fare. My picks are mostly in that vein, though the screeners I've received so far are a bit more serious overall. Monitor my Twitter feed for signs of me collapsing inwards OK?