Growing a baby is taking so much energy that I haven’t contributed to this blog in way too long. However, people are pulling on my sleeve for my Hot Docs picks, so I finally put aside some time today to list them out. What a task! But here are my picks. I encourage you to visit the Hot Docs website and search on the title so that you can read more about these films (and more) and watch trailers.
Babies – I really want to see this because I’m having one, but I don’t think I will bother with the line-ups because I know that this one will become available through iTunes, or at my local independent video store, or even get a broad theatrical release. I tend to select my Hot Docs pics based on the story (I love a twist), the location (I love traveling somewhere new or revisit a country that I am familiar with), and the “punch” factor (as in “how the hell did they capture THAT!??!) I also skip the docs that I feel confident will get a wide release – I’m pretty accurate with my predictions that way. So I would see Babies because of the location factor (how 4 babies, one from San Francisco, one from Mongolia, one from Namibia and one from Japan, spend their first year), but will pass because of the distribution factor.
Joan Riveres – A Piece of Work – I am intrigued by the story and the punch – amazed that a woman so concerned with her looks would agree to be dissected publicly like this – but will likely skip because I sense a fairly wide release on this one. I’ll check it out if it fits into a blank in my schedule.
Dish: Women, Waitressing & the Art of Service – Because Maya Gallus is Canadian, because I hear through the CBC that she’s got something going on, and because some of my spunkiest girlfriends were waitresses – for years I heard their lively and outragesous stories. I hope to get more, similar stories with this doc.
Land – I’ve not heard anything about this doc or the filmmaker even though he’s Canadian, but I’m intrigued because I spent a month in Nicaragua back in 2003 and I was surprised at the rampant development that ex-pats were planning for the loveliest parts of the country. I wondered if this was possibly neo-colonialism in action and I’m curious to discover how much has changed and in what ways. Nicaragua is the poorest county in Central America and the second poorest in the Western hemisphere after Haiti. Nicaraguans suffered war for seventy years yet the people are remarkably calm and kind. Much of what I know about the world (and myself) I learned in Nicaragua. Thus, the fate of Nicaraguans means something to me.
Life With Murder – Sigh. I feel a twinge of responsibility to see this film because the filmmaker is a Canadian veteran, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to stomach the subject matter (I’m pregnant and squeamish like never before.) This is the story of small-town Ontario parents who stand by their son after he is convicted of murdering his sister. Yikers. We were pitched this doc for CBC’s Doc Zone, and though it wasn’t Doc Zone material, our commissioning editors thought the story had legs.
Daddy’s Girls – So curious about this one – how can a man lead simultaneous relationships with four different women? And be a father? The filmmaker is his daughter. This is one of the twistiest films on my list.
David Wants to Fly – I like David Lynch: I like his movies, I like that he is a new documentary fan (he started Interview Project last year), and I’d like to join him as he explores Transcendental Meditation – meditation is something I would like to learn more about.
Chemo – It might be too much for me emotionally, but Chemo – the close-up stories of patients at a Polish oncology clinic – might reveal the most important things to live for.
Marwencol – The full-length version of a very intriguing character, the victim of a brutal beating who retreats from society and creates a miniature WWII-era village that he essential “lives” in. This story was first developed as a short doc by a This American Life team – I sense that he gained some recognition via the TAL story and has since had to face his fandom – much to his discomfort.
The Player – A doc about gambling, addiction, love and family. It’s not a top pick of mine, but it’s Dutch and I enjoy hearing my mother tongue spoken. I suspect it may be executed with a poetic touch. It may surprise me.
The Canal Street Madam – Another one that if fits into my schedule… About sex-workers in New Orleans. I’m traveling to New Orleans next month so curious about the place and its people.
Sins of My Father – This one is likely to be festival-circuit hit. I, along with many I’m sure, am not able to resist the story of Pablo Escobar, the famous and violent Colombian drug lord, as told through the story of his son.
American: The Bill Hicks Story – No comedian has pulled on my heartstrings more that Bill Hicks. Even if this doc is dull – so many biographies are so linear, lack any story arc and contain too many accolade-spewing talking heads – I ache to see Bill perform.
National Parks Project: Gros Morne – I wonder, is this the start of a series on Canadian National Parks? Hm. I like Peter Mettler’s psychedelic eye, but this screening is at the Drake Hotel and preggers lady over here may not make it out that far on a Monday. It’s likely sold out anyway.
Strange Powers: Stephen Merritt and the Magnetic Fields – This bizarre musician has influenced so many (including Peter Gabriel). This will be a different kind of bio because Stephen himself is in the doc, so that’s obviously going to be more engaging and revealing. I watched the trailer and he cracked me up when he said into a mike to a full house: “Ignore the audience and it will disappear.”
Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go – Is supposed to be a top-notch doc about a British boarding school for extremely troubled children. The trailer didn’t do much for me, but the filmmaker, Kim Longionotto, had “Rough Aunties” at Hot Docs last year and that was a fantastic film.
Rough Aunties – This incredible bunch of women is saving the lives of severely abused, neglected and abandoned children in Durban, South Africa. Some of the bravest, fiercest, most loving people this planet is currently graced with. I saw this film last year at Hot Docs so won’t be seeing it again, but highly recommend it.
RIPPING REALITY SERIES
This whole series looks good. I’ve seen most of the films (the only ones I haven’t seen are “Czech Dream,” “Family,” “Into Great Silence” and “Tarnation” so I will try to see any or all of these.) I recommend all of the others:
American Movie – One of the first docs I ever saw that struck me as more fun than fiction films. Hilarious and endearing, we watch the main character Milwaukeean Mark Borchardt achieve his dream of making a low-budget slasher flick.
The Corporation – An education in corporate ways and wiles with gusto – the film is as cunning as its subjects and is a must-see for everyone whether at the fest or rent it sometime.
Darwin’s Nightmare – Truly a nightmare, this film is a poetic, painful look into the heart of darkness – the destruction of Tanzania due to globalization. One of the most hard-hitting films I have ever seen.
The Fog of War – One of the most remarkable scenes ever captured on film… Robert McNamara, former U.S. secretary of defense, grand manipulator of the war machine, faces his responsibilities and tells his tale in this intimate portrayal of the man and the mechanics of war. Errol Morris is a master interviewer.
Iraq In Fragments – I will watch this one again if I have the chance because it is so breathtaking. I was a student in a video-journalism class last year and we had the opportunity to speak to filmmaker James Longley on the phone – he was in Iran filming his next film. I remarked about the magic of Iraq in Fragments and he explained that he achieved this by working as a one-man production team and he spends months imbedding himself into the culture.
Spellbound – Like American Movie, a touching, rousing and entertaining film that knocks the socks off of fiction films. This film about kids in a national spelling bee, inspired me to learn about documentary filmmaking and story-telling. It planted the seed for me to transition in my career from dramatic TV to documentary TV.
Enjoy planning your festival! I will try to post a Hot Docs Survival Guide tomorrow listing best places to pee (really important to me right now), best places to find cheap, good fast food, best places to stock up on water and Kleenex (for the tear-jerkers), and best places to get a beer (or tea) to discuss the film afterwards with friends.