THE INTERNET’S OWN BOY: THE STORY OF AARON SWARTZ
As a teenager, Aaron Swartz took the Internet community by storm with capabilities, intellect and understanding that matched its most seasoned members. He helped found or develop countless household-name technologies and companies in the time it takes most people finish college.
Aaron was a pioneer in Internet activism, and stood at the forefront of the SOPA and PIPA victories. He looked towards a limitless future—but his life took a dramatic turn. In 2011 and 2012, he was indicted by prosecutors who charged him with a staggering number of felonies. Aaron found himself facing 35 years in prison, and at the age of 26 was found dead in his apartment, from an apparent suicide. As we hear from those closest to Aaron, this incredibly inspirational and moving story shows how one of the most promising minds of a generation found himself staring down a government prosecuting him under the very laws he was fighting against.
DOC OF THE DEAD
Could there be a real zombie outbreak? If so, Doc of the Dead can help you prepare. First, before you learn how to fend off the enemy, you should study them. Masters of zombie culture, including George A. Romero, Simon Pegg and Greg Nicotero, come together to discuss the evolution of the zombie genre, and why zombie films, video games, books, graphic novels and television shows continue to rise in popularity.
Cinematic horror often reflects what people fear in real life, and zombies are multifaceted in their terror. From zombie weddings to zombie gun ranges, Doc of the Dead is a complete guide to all things undead.
LOVE AND TERROR ON THE HOWLING PLAINS OF NOWHERE
In the summer of 2006, following a series of massive wild fires that nearly destroyed the isolated town of Chadron, Nebraska, Dr. Steven Haataja (pronounced Haw-dee-ah) arrived for a teaching position at the local college. A somewhat aloof but brilliant mathematician, Dr. Haataja seemed to be assimilating well into a community brimming with eccentric residents. That winter, however, Dr. Haataja disappeared without a trace.
Ninety-five days later his body was discovered tied to a tree and burned beyond recognition on a private ranch in the remote hills south of campus.
News teams descended upon the town while law enforcement officers, along with psychics and ghost hunters, exhausted themselves in the circus-like investigation. Conjecture and hysteria prevailed and the story quickly developed a life all its own. The case remains unsolved, a profound mystery; “Twilight Zone shit,” in the words of Dawes County Sheriff Karl Dailey. With little evidence to go on, the locally accepted “theories” range from the expected to the absurd: a hate crime, suicide, accidental death, and even space aliens.
Filmmaker Dave Jannetta explores the mystery of the math professor through the eyes of award winning author Poe Ballantine, who spent six years investigating the case while writing a memoir centered on the events (Hawthorne Books, September 2013). "Love and Terror" also examines the author’s life of wanderlust, his rocky marriage to a beautiful Mexican woman, his exceptional, yet purportedly autistic son, and the quaint High Plains town that plays host to the mystery.
In the film, more than twenty current residents of Chadron personify the town and substantiate a narrative that touches on themes such as depression, suicide, the ephemeral nature of reality, and the American Dream. The surrounding landscape - stark, beautiful, and unforgiving - provides a backdrop for the dramatic events.
GIUSEPPE MAKES A MOVIE
Giuseppe Andrews runs a one-man movie studio from his mobile home in Ventura, California. He’s made 30 independent features and sets out to make his latest, Garbanzo Gas, over just two days. Giuseppe has no agenda. He wants to have fun, wear spandex, challenge himself and bring together the people he cares about for a good time.
It’s not about the result as much as the experience, the act of creation. His process does have a few rules, however: he only uses a single video camera; sticks to a handwritten first-draft script; prefers working with non-actors such as homeless men and neighbours from the trailer park; and feeds his characters lines off-screen. Giuseppe’s vision runs deeper and weirder than comedy, exploitation or bad taste in this wonderful making-of doc. Follow a totally original oddball as he shoots and directs his outlandish story about an escaped cow enjoying an all-expenses-paid trip… to a motel.
Directed by Adam Rifkin, the writer responsible for Detroit Rock City and Small Soldiers and the director of the 2007 surveillence drama Look.
Alternative rockers Pulp found stardom in the ‘90s with hits like “Common People” and “Disco 2000.” Twenty-five years later, and 10 million albums sold, they return to their hometown of Sheffield for a reunion show. More than just a concert film, Pulp evokes the live-music experience as a fantastic collective dream seen through the dual perspectives of both audience and band all at once. Everyone is equal in the escape, where performers are pedestrian and the spectators are made stars.
This exhilarating look at popularity and performance blends concert footage, interviews with the band, bystanders and fans, and songs performed by Sheffielders in telling tableaux. Filmmaker Florian Habicht gets us lost in the moment as much as in the music. Forget fame and fortune—they’re fleeting. After all is said and sung, it isn’t the sexy front man or the whiff of youth that keeps us dreaming, it’s the tunes.
A documentary filmmaker, and part-time wedding videographer, has taped 112 weddings. After two decades of filming weddings Doug begins to track down and interview his wedding couples, juxtaposing wedding day flashbacks with present-day reality as he explores themes of love and marital commitment.
I AM BIG BIRD
Caroll Spinney is the whimsical and endearing man behind Sesame Street’s beloved Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. While inspiring generations of kids for more than 40 years, not much has been known about the man inside the bird. Now, with Spinney approaching 80, we get to peek at how the magic was made.
With an epic love story, a life-changing adventure in China and an almost-trip to space aboard the Challenger, both Caroll Spinney and his feathered friend Big Bird have had some incredible adventures and tragedies. Through an extensive collection of home movies and behind-the-scenes Sesame Street footage, the filmmakers capture an intimate portrait. If your heart warmed to the big yellow bird that entertained generations, your heart will melt in this loving portrait of the creative genius who brought him to life.
WHERE I'M FROM
In this hauntingly beautiful film, director Claude Demers takes us on an intimate journey through his troubled childhood in working-class Verdun, a historic and notorious borough of Montreal. We see the neighbourhood—one of great contrasts, from the majestic banks of the Saint Lawrence River to the fluorescent glow of the local Dunkin’ Donuts—through the eyes of his two alter egos, Bastien and Cédric, tween boys with their own challenges who are just discovering themselves and the world around them.
Through them, Demers revisits the landscape of his childhood to ask questions about the mysteries of his origins and his formative years, marked by trauma and abandonment. By the banks of the great river, the world seems larger than life. It’s there that Bastien and Cédric—and by extension the boy Claude—create a powerful imaginary world filled with adventure, and transcend their poverty to dream of a better future.
STREAM OF LOVE
Old widower Feri drives a horse and cart around his sleepy Transylvanian village sizing up his romantic prospects. Of the 25 or so single, elderly women, the old coot claims “only two or three of them are really fine.” So begins one of the year’s most ribald, straight-talking observations about sex, love and everything in between.
Filmmaker Ágnes Sós (Invisible Strings: The Talented Pusker Sisters) spent three years shooting her senior subjects, building a trust so binding that these rural women not only let their guards down over taboo subjects like sex and foreplay, they seemingly throw open the barn doors. From awkward wedding night confessions to surprising discoveries of self-pleasure and even shocking criminal confessions, the women’s tales weave seamlessly into the film’s sweet, nostalgic look at old-world country living. By turns coarse and comical, Stream of Love is a vibrant reminder that “even an old goat likes a lick of the salt.”
TO BE TAKEI
Filmmaker Jennifer Kroot follows Star Trek’s intergalactic helmsman George Takei and his manager-husband of 25 years, Brad Altman, as they prepare for Takei’s dream project, Allegiance, a musical based on Takei’s harrowing childhood experiences inside a Japanese-American internment camp during the Second World War. To Be Takei is a day-to-day look at how the couple strikes a balance between work and play, their lives as private and public figures, and Takei’s personal and career history.
From his rise to fame as Lieutenant (and later Captain) Sulu to his advocacy for marriage equality and civil rights, from his role as William Shatner's nemesis to gay sex symbol, this portrait does more than just dish, it endorses living life without limits. George Takei is an opinionated activist who uses wit, charm and grace to bring attention to the sorrows of his past, the joys of his present and the great unknown of his future.
FOCUS ON INFINITY
A search for answers begins in the Atacama Desert. From the abandoned “nitrate town” of Pisagua, Chile, to the ancient Atacama Giant geoglyph, to the massive radio telescope project known as ALMA, the stage is set for a visually stunning reflection on the origins of the universe and our existence within it. In its pursuit of the secrets of infinity, this cinematic odyssey visits the Area 51 military base in Nevada (famous for its UFO sightings), the Cosmic Ray Division lab at Mount Aragats in Armenia and large-scale astronomy projects in the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona.
Interviews with leading astronomers, physicists and the emeritus director from the Vatican Observatory present a range of theories about the mysterious cosmos, while Turkish physicist and writer Asli Erdogan contemplates the irony inherent in our obsessive search to know why we are here.
Oscar-nominated director Joe Berlinger strips away the myths surrounding Boston ex-mobster and FBI informant James “Whitey” Bulger, getting past his mystique as the Robin Hood of South Boston. As Boston’s most notorious gangster, Bulger allegedly worked hand in hand with FBI agents, ratting out his rivals in exchange for protection. When his alliances fall apart he becomes a fugitive on the FBI’s most wanted list until he is caught in 2011.
With this past summer’s explosive trial as backdrop, filmmaker Joe Berlinger uses his unprecedented access to FBI agents, Massachusetts state police, victims, lawyers, gangsters, journalists and federal prosecutors to uncover shocking new allegations about Whitey’s criminal empire. In this powerful film Berlinger calls our notions of truth and justice into question. Hot Docs is honoured to welcome back two-time Emmy-winning filmmaker Berlinger, best known for his films Brother’s Keeper, Under African Skies, the Paradise Lost trilogy and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.
OLGA - TO MY FRIENDS
In the Russian part of Lapland, some 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) north of Moscow, winter temperatures dip down to the negative double digits. It's as white as the eye can see here, and there's hardly a human being to speak of. Here, Olga lives in a simple dwelling under a think layer of snow. She watches over the rations and vehicles of the reindeer herders, who won't return until spring. This year, she spent 177 days by herself, with only a cat to keep her company.
Olga is the only woman in the reindeer brigade, and the work isn't without its dangers. Food often gets stolen, and she once came face to face with a bear and got run over by a herd of reindeer. But Olga feels right at home here. She grew up in an orphanage, and when her mother finally got some money together and came to pick her up, she felt like a stranger in her own family. She was the only one who didn't speak Saami, the local language, and her family members are all big drinkers – alcoholism is a major problem in the Saami community. When rumors circulate that the brigade is going to be shut down, she is truly worried. If Olga loses her job and her house, what will become of her?
From celebrated Australian director Warwick Thornton comes The Darkside. With the desire to create a film exploring the realm of horror, Thornton sent out a call for people’s stories of their encounters with the spirit world. From these stories he weaves a stunning and poignant collection, at times unsettling and haunting, of indigenous spirit tales gathered from across Australia.
With stunning cinematography, each tale is retold by some of Australia’s most loved actors such as Claudia Karvan, Aaron Pedersen, Bryan Brown, Jack Charles and Deborah Mailman. With its rich and mesmerizing storytelling, this film beautifully captures the space between our world and the spirit world. Thornton is best known for his film Samson and Delilah, winner of the Caméra d'Or at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. Please note there are images of the dead in this documentary.
SUPER DUPER ALICE COOPER
From preacher’s son to glam metal godfather, Vincent Furnier’s transformation to Alice Cooper is rock legend history. Animated photos and interviews describe his early days in Los Angeles with The Spiders (dubbed the “worst band in L.A.” by critics) and his later discovery by Frank Zappa, which led—thanks to drug-induced assistance from a Ouija board—to the creation of Alice Cooper.
The team behind Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey and Global Metal depict the life of this Jekyll and Hyde music icon from Cooper’s perspective, using a decadent stew of documentary archive materials and rock opera. Rock music has no shortage of dramatic biographies, but backstage access to the battle between Furnier’s super-ego and Cooper’s id makes this a seminal film for any fan—or anyone who wants to hear the true story behind Cooper’s 1969 Toronto encounter with an ill-fated chicken.
When Khosrow Vaziri became the World Wrestling Federation’s Iron Sheik and “camel-clutched” his way to fame in the 1980s, he achieved the American Dream by personifying a foreign villain. Losing his world championship belt to Hulk Hogan became a defining moment in professional wrestling.
These days, the Sheik’s smackdowns are on Twitter, where he’s gained a new following. Once an Olympic hopeful, bodyguard to Iran’s Shah and pop culture icon, we witness Vaziri struggling with addiction and despair as a family man. But with the help of Toronto’s Magen brothers, the Sheik begins a road to redemption and renewed status as a public figure. Showcasing his powerful past and at times painful present, this is an insightful look at one of wrestling’s biggest stars, but also a powerful story of personal sacrifice that, in the Sheik’s own words, will “make you humble.”
Formerly titled "American Mugshot," Dennis Mohr's documentary explores the bewildering world of iconic photos of suspects and criminals. It examines the cultural value of these photos and questions their worth to contemporary society.
Mugshot gathers a motley crew of writers, artists and collectors whose lives have been transformed by the strange power of the mug shot. Once disregarded as photographic evidence of a crime, these tiny moments of history are now highly valued by collectors and aficionados. Cultural and legal differences are exposed between Canada and the United States as we see how these precious photos are used in historical archives, in art and in tabloid culture. Ultimately, the doc is an intimate portrait of the human condition -- the unseen bonds that unite each of us.
In the rural town of Rich Hill, Mo., population 1,393, three young residents find themselves dreaming big but living small. Fourteen-year-old Andrew loves his family and tries to adapt the best he can to being constantly uprooted and moved around the state as his dad clings to dreams of creating the life he wants for his family. Fifteen-year-old Harley’s mother is in prison for attempted murder. He lives with his grandmother, who tries to create a sense of stability for a young boy dealing with issues far beyond his years. Thirteen-year-old Appachey is a smart old soul who can’t seem to find a way to align himself to the world he lives in. Filmmaking cousins Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo, whose family historically hails from the town, create an achingly beautiful, Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning portrait of three boys navigating their way through adolescence and daydreaming towards their future.