JWR Articles: Commentary - Hot Docs 2008 (Director: Howard Goldberg) - March 19, 2008
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Hot Docs 2008

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A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Documentaries

Reflecting on the “job” of making documentaries with colleague Jennifer Baichwal at his side, Nicholas de Pencier (Streetcar, Five Doors and a prolific producer) opined that every project “is more like hitchhiking; putting it out there in hopes that someone will pick it up.” Indeed, the road to the 15th edition of Hot Docs—North America’s largest documentary festival—was jammed with over 1,800 cinematic vehicles. At today’s media event the fortunate 173 survivors of the programmers’ scrutiny were revealed. The remainder must find another route to the big screen and public recognition for their labours of love.

In all, thirty-six countries will wave their cultural flags during the 11-day fest. From those, two are receiving special attention. “Spotlight on Iran” follows director of programming Sean Farnel’s visit to the autocratic country in the fall. Of the eight films included, the subject matter ranges from the plight of widows in the wake of Saddam Hussein’s Kurdish massacre in northern Iraq (All My Mothers) to the “Iranian reply to O.J. Simpson” in The Red Card—where the mistress of a revered soccer hero is charged with murdering her high-scoring lover’s wife. Travel bugs and social activists alike will want to see both Tehran Has no More Pomegranates and the international première of Where Do I Belong?

“Made in Mexico” could well be in for a rough ride due to the ongoing impasse around the release of Brenda Martin from her no-trial, 2-year incarceration in “one of Mexico’s finest jails.” No doubt, her story will be featured at a future festival. Not surprisingly, the Mexican offerings have all manner of crime at their core: The Demons of Eden (child pornography), The Fallen (government corruption in the wake of a mine collapse—couldn’t happen here), The Infinite Border (illegal immigration, willful blindness style), My Life Inside (murder) and The Old Thieves: The Legend From Artegio (career crooks from the ‘60s—a kind of Bonnie and Clyde with a taste for fajitas).

In the host country’s “Canadian Spectrum,” the work is as diverse as the docmakers. Anyone who’s ever used a grocery buggy for more than its intended purpose will revel in Carts of Darkness. The Toronto première chronicles the fun side of the homeless as they race their 4-wheel shopping carts down the paved slopes of North Vancouver. Too late for an Olympic event? Canada’s blood sport is showcased in Junior: the camera takes a behind-the-scenes look at junior hockey in Québec—helmets are definitely advised. Does size matter? S&M: Short and Male focuses on the plight and discrimination against those “vertically challenged,” where success is truly measured in inches.

With the overall concept for 2008 being ldquo;playful/serious,” the “World Showcase” section has many examples that prove the point. From Germany comes 20 Seconds of Joy, cliff jumpers and their admirers will most certainly get off on this extreme sport. Garbage! The Revolution Starts at Home (Canada; world première) takes a breezy premise (hording 3 months of one family’s waste: compost plus!) and morphs the laughs into an important environmental message. Talking Guitars takes “playful” into the workshop of renowned Dutch craftsman, Flip Scipio. And from Wales, who could resist Phillipa Lord: She’s the Shit? It’s a mercifully short “short” that is awash in excrement galore worn bravely by a farm veterinarian.

On the somber side of the international street can be found Suddenly, Last Winter (Italy)—gay rights go to the Vatican. From Israel: Stalags – Holocaust and Pornography in Israel, which has much to say about the impossibility of preventing human nature. Dance With a Serial Killer (France, UK) provides an in-depth examination of yet another psychopath’s horrendous acts and battle to avoid capture.

Everything gets underway with the opening-night festivities: an intriguing pairing of Green Porno (six minutes of naughty insect shorts from Jody Shapiro and Isabella Rossellini) then Anvil! The Story of Anvil (A Canadian metal band founded in 1973). Hot Docs executive director Chris McDonald summed up the kick off’s content in true Hollywood-pitch fashion: “Like many teenagers, the Festival will be celebrating its birthday with loud music and porn.” Only in Canada, eh? JWR

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Director - Howard Goldberg
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Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival Ontario Media Development Corporation
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