From Russian dash-cams to New Zealand haunted houses. From Ben Carson to Bill Nye; from the Psycho shower scene to George Lazenby's James Bond; from Street Fighter 2 championships to the worlds most interesting shoe shiners; from mermaids to cod tongues, and fashion designers to nuclear fusion. Click through the gallery to see what is Hot at Hot Docs.
City of Ghosts
Part of the Syria-360 series capturing and documenting the ongoing crisis in the Middle East, the citizen-journalists behind the social-media campaign known as Raqqa Is Being Silently Slaughtered (RBSS) get a feature length treatment from Academy Award nominee Matthew Heineman. Raqqa has been, more or less, capital of the Islamic State since 2014 and the atrocities committed and witnessed there, since ISIS came to town, are legion.
In the director's own words, "I was struck by the sacrifices that they had endured as a group, and I knew their story could provide an intimate, character driven window into life under ISIS." The film has recently played both Sundance and Tribeca.
Is there a mermaid subculture? Of course there is a mermaid subculture! Director Ali Weinstein takes a long look at the mythology and the modern aspects of the singing sirens in cinema and cos-play.
Minority Report's empathic psychics have nothing on today's machine learning and empirical algorithms by proxy. In the vein of Cathy O'Neill's disturbing book, Weapons of Math Destruction, Matthias Heeder and Monika Hielscher's film considers the upside and the downside (and the upside-down!) of Big Data as crime prevention.
No, this is not another classic video game documentary. Rather this is an expose behind Dr. Ben Carson's run at the Republican ticket in 2015. Apparently, this insider-observational doc on both the money people and their chosen (often woefully ill-informed) candidate is equal measure enlightening, sad and hilarious.
A remarkably standard documentary formula, take an offbeat subject and travel around the world talking to, and following up with, interesting examples, yields surprising insight and poignancy on labour and life. Stacey Tenenbaum's look at what the stereotyped, Dickensian, profession of shining shoes has evolved into in a globalized 21st century world is entertaining, elucidating and quite superb.
An entire documentary devoted to one scene from one film? Well, Hitchcock devoted one week out of his four week shooting schedule to film it, so we do not think 78/52’s ninety minute run time is nearly enough.
It has been near two years since snippets of Alexandre O. Philippe’s film 78/52, a documentary about the infamous shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, screened during the Frontieres co production market at Fantasia. While he talks to writers and filmmakers about the iconic scene, it was the copious amounts of discussion with film editors that immediately put it on everyone’s must-see lists.
Finally, coming up on two years since the first footage was shown in that small cinema in Montreal, we get to see the finished product as it travels. Other members of the ScreenAnarchy have seen 78/52 and I may have threatened them with recreations of this famous scene if I could not bring this journey around full circle and review the film for myself.
Australian model-turned actor George Lazenby got one shot at playing James Bond in Her Majesty's Secret Service. He wasn't even 30 years old at the time. Josh Greenbaum goes after the story of how Lazenby managed to land the role after Sean Connery 'retired' from 007, and why he stopped playing the world's most iconic super-spy after only a single outing.
House of Z
Fresh off the Tribeca Film Festival, the rise and fall and rise again of American fashion designer American Zac Posen from the 2008 financial meltdown until now, is captured by Sandy Chronopoulous. Posen himself is frequently, and candidly interviewed, and dishes about the dark side of the flamboyant industry.
Couldn't get enough of the recent Tampopo re-release? Koki Shigeno's documentary on the philosophy, secrets, recipes and manners of Japan's iconic blend of broth, noodles and pork not only screens with the festival, but is paired up with several ramen houses in the city for an post-screening indulgence.
Toru Tokikawa essays how an unlikely duo teamed up to modernize ukiyo-e, the ancient art form of wood printing in Japan, to break the boundaries of generation gaps, their methods, lives, legacies, East and West by making things together. In this super high tech world, ukiyo-e craftsman David Bull and designer Jed Henry are using technology to create something delightfully analog.
Living The Game
With access to all the biggest players and tournaments, director Takao Gotsu shows the professional Street Fighter gaming world in this documentary short. Tackling the essential nature of confidence and competition and focusing on Japan’s top talents, Living the Game is an eye-opening look at the culture of modesty that shapes the Japanese style of play, and the psychology of winning and losing, pride and shame.
Long Strange Trip
I first saw the 4 hour Grateful Dead documentary at Sundance, then again at SXSW, and yet I’m still very much looking forward to racking up my 12th hour of Amir Bar Lev’s endlessly watchable and thoroughly insightful film. Even more than for the fans,Long Strange Tripis for every music lover who erroneously under-estimates The Grateful Dead and their contribution to the American canon.
Profoundly funny Kiwi director Florian Habicht (Love Story, Pulp) essays New Zealand's largest haunted house, which operates year round in a converted, former mental hospital. The film delves into just how insensitive putting a scare-theme park onto an institution that dealt with mental health, but it also offers the thesis that this enterprise, scaring people for entertainment, offers a kind of group-therapy for the collection of freaks and geeks that are currently employed there. (It is, of course, also quite funny.)
The Road Movie
An epic compilation of Russian dash cam footage examines the motherland through the strange things that happen on her roadways. If you see one found-footage documentary at Hot Docs this year -- remember the weirdly compelling Fraud from last year? -- then this one should be it.
Let There Be Light
After its world premiere at SXSW in Austin, Texas, Mila Aung-Thwin and Van Royko's feature-length documentary on the holy grail of clean energy, nuclear fusion, arrives at Hotdocs. Let There Be Light documents a decade of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), a multinational mega-project operating since 2007 in southern France with collaboration between the United States, China, Japan, India, South Korea, Russia, and the European Union.
Mmmm, I enjoy a good Cod Tongue every now and again, it's a fine Newfoundland deep-fried morsel. So I am curious about Norwegian director Solveig Melkeraaen's character study of 9-year-old Ylva, who cuts out fish tongues for a living. Is it a labour abuse story, or an innocent slice of life? I am told it is the latter. Prepare for fish guts.
I have, for some time now, been deeply impressed with the Hot Docs NightVision programme, kind of like a non-fiction analogue to TIFF's Midnight Madness. So when they are screening a Polish film described as "The history of the universe, the origins of matter, and the post-human future that lies ahead," with the promise of "Phantasmagoric visuals," well, I am sold.
(By the way, for the past year or so, there have been absolutely amazing things coming out of Poland's film industry.)
All That Passes By Through a Window That Doesn't Open
A dark horse pick here, done almost at random from the Hot Docs catalog, because I like trains, and films with very long titles that promise a cinematic experience. Thus, I will leave the description to the festival's programming team:
"The Azerbaijan government is rebuilding their defunct railways in the hopes of establishing a 'new Silk Road' to connect economically depressed nations and bring prosperity. Martin DiCicco’s visually mesmerizing debut feature follows Azerbaijani railway workers laying the tracks for a future that promises glory to a new generation. Meanwhile, across the closed borders in Armenia, a lonely station master waits more than twenty years for the return of the trains to his tracks. Rough and tumble men work, wait and dream, trying to suppress regret and fear by connecting with one another and the dreams of a better future."
Bird on a Wire
It took Tony Palmer 40 years to release this rockument of Leonard Cohen’s 1972 European tour and the film seems well worth the wait. Palmer’s unprecedented access to the private singer/songwriter makes his film essential viewing for fans of the late somber tongued poet.
The Beatles and World War II, All My Loving, All You Need Is Love: Episode 14
In addition to Tony Palmer’s Leonard Cohen offering, Bird on a Wire, Palmer will be in town with a wealth of Beatles content of similarly old origin. 40 years ago Palmer was attached to a project set on re-imaging the band's prolific music while marrying it with wartime footage. The film died when Palmer left to begin working on the All You Need Is Love series, but something about the concept resonated with the rockumentarian. After all this time, Palmer’s mysterious vision will see the light of day.
The All You Need Is Love series was originally conceived by Palmer and John Lennon over lunch in 1972 - the same year that Bird On A Wire was filmed. The intention was to document a “17-part series tracing the origins and social history of Anglo-American popular music”. In order to do so, Palmer traveled the world accumulating first hand accounts from key players. The Beatles enter the series as subjects in their own episode, to be screened as Episode 14, alongside a presentation of Palmer’s sort of prologue, All My Loving, commissioned to “explain” pop music to older BBC viewers from 1968.