JWR Articles: Preview - Hot Docs (Featured speaker: Chris McDonald) - March 28, 2011

Hot Docs

2011 Preview

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Let the feast of issues, ideas and insights begin!

The 18th edition of Hot Docs promises a bounty of films (features and shorts) that will enable Canadians to tell their stories and learn much about the rest of the planet as the makers, producers and admirers of documentaries bring their talents to Toronto (April 28-May 8).

The 200 productions, painstakingly chosen from 2000 entries, will “discuss the big and small issues we all face,” said executive director Chris McDonald at this year’s opening media event. Director of programming Sean Farnel summed up the expanded offerings (several new venues and one third more content) succinctly: “It feels kind of tough with a real discerning edge.” Canadian programmer Lyn Fernie spoke enthusiastically about the 36 home-grown entries: “[They’ll be] exploding the stereotypes of polite, mild-mannered Canadians.” Canucks as vigilantes or infiltrating those wreaking havoc on the high seas? Look no further than The Pirate Tapes, where Somali-Canadian Mohamed Ashareh slips aboard a marauding vessel and secretly captures the other side of the hijacking struggle.

Those who enjoy buff men and have caught the bloodlust fever of UFC Mixed Martial Arts (threatening to overshadow the concussion-rich NHL duals on skates) won’t want to miss a single jab or kick in Fightville. To balance the brutality, James Marsh’s Project Nim takes a loving look at the incredible communication skills of a chimpanzee; fresh from honours at Sundance, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey will be welcomed by anyone who has followed Jim Henson’s Muppets down Sesame Street. Boy Cheerleaders can’t fail to delight those who’s enjoyed Billy Eliot or dreamed of pink pom poms and the roar of the game.

In-depth examinations of the famous include a chess master (Bobby Fischer Against the World), star of stage and screen (Carol Channing: Larger than Life) and singer-songwriter extraordinaire, Ron Sexsmith (Love Shines). From the National Film Board, Charles Officer has crafted an engaging portrait of runner Harry Jerome: Mighty Jerome sprints along with one of Canada’s fastest athletes every challenging step of the way.

Mother Nature takes a horrific bow with Sabina Guzzanti’s Draquila - Italy Trembles. This behind-the-devastation study of the 2009 earthquake in Aquila will no doubt be followed by a film from Japan for next year’s fest. The post-Katrina world of New Orleans—as seen from the point of view of three Mardi Gras Indian Chiefs—forms the basis of Aaron Walker’s Bury the Hatchet.

Rohan Fernando’s The Chocolate Farmer (one of two NFB world premières) delves into the Pop family’s struggle to farm cacao in the passed-down tradition of their Mayan forefathers. St-Henri, the 26th of August sees 16 filmmakers bringing a day in the life of a Montréal street to the screen; director Shannon Walsh takes on the considerable task of putting their findings together.

Jamie Kastner returns to the line-up (cross-reference below) with Recessionize! for Fun and Profit! 15 Simple Steps! With all of the natural and financial calamity leading headlines for the past few years, it will be a welcome tonic to laugh at the crash. Satire also figures prominently (in this instance, product placement) as the festival kicks off with Morgan Spurlock’s POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.

Alan Zweig is this year’s featured filmmaker. A retrospective of his work (first shown at Hot Docs in 2000) will have five screenings including Lovable (cross-reference below). Speaking to the appreciative crowd, Zweig recalled his first encounter with “Chris’ unnerving smile” as he came to the office to sort out the details for Vinyl—his first accepted film. “I left there feeling something had changed … people were pleased with me,” he recalled. “I wouldn’t be here without Hot Docs.”

That’s a sentiment that can be shared by dozens of others who got their start from Canada’s largest documentary film festival.


With a few minutes to pass before the news conference, a quick trip through the Gardiner Museum (with its readily darkened multipurpose “screening” room) provided a striking contrast to cinematic art. Immediately catching my eye was The Monkey Orchestra (based on engravings by Christophe Huet, modelers Johann Joachim Kändler and Peter Trinicke have—centuries ago—crafted a marvellous array of furry musicians that immediately kindles the imagination). What an unexpected treat to savour fine craft even as such an array of new work is about to stimulate discourse over the course of the film festival’s run. JWR

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