The Hot Docs documentary film festival is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year–from April 25 through May 4–and from what was unveiled at this week’s press conference at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (a wonderfully restored movie house that is one of the only cinemas solely dedicated to documentary films in North America) the organizers and programmers have decided to make it a spectacular one.
A total of 205 films will be screened from 43 countries–45 titles from Canada–spread over 11 different programs and the first order of business at the presser was to announce the opening night film, Shawney Cohen’s The Manor, which is a deeply personal film about Shawney Cohen’s family life over the past three decades. Three decades ago Shawney’s dad bought a strip club in Guelph, Ontario and the film is about life in a family whose business is a strip joint (Shawney is a filmmaker slash strip club manager to this day).
From the International Spectrum program scenes were presented from an ultra stylish doc depicting a young kid who is trying to join the notorious and unique street gang that terrorizes the streets of Baltimore called the 12 O’clock Boys, the gangsters roar around the city streets on dirt bikes and ATVs openly taunting and accosting the police who are trying to coral them. From the program known as Rule Breakers and Innovators Simon Klose’s fascinating film Tpb Afk: The Pirate Bay Away From The Keyboard–which details the epic battle with Hollywood waged by the co-founders of the world’s biggest file sharing sites.
The Canadian Spectrum program is also particularly strong this year with a couple highlights being the hard hitting and compassionate film NCR: Not Criminally Responsible, which is John Kastner’s film dealing with the rights of the mentally ill who commit crimes weighed against the protection of their potential victims. And, on a much lighter note–Oil Sands Karaoke, about a group of singers who double as oil sands workers in Alberta, or are they oil sands workers who double as singers?
What has also distinguished Hot Docs around the world as one of the leading documentary film festivals is the number of filmmakers, industry professionals and special guests who make appearances and give talks designed to raise the enthusiasm level and the passion for not only documentary filmmaking but seeking out documentaries when they are playing in cinemas and supporting them. To this end one of the big Hot Docs sponsors, Scotiabank, is backing a series called Big Ideas.
Scotiabank’s VP of Sponsorship and Partnership Programs, Jackie Ryan, was on hand to announce from special films and the special guests attending to support them. Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children follows Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire as he returns to Rwanda where he has remained committed to helping decades since the horrible times in 1993 when he was UN Forces Commander there. Romeo Dallaire and filmmaker Patrick Reed will be at the festival discussing the film and General Dallaire’s work with war-affected children in Africa.
Anita is a dramatic film about the life of Anita Hill whose life was drastically affected by her testimony at a Senate confirmation hearing regarding a Supreme Court justice whom she was involved with. Hill went on to become a best selling author and professor of women’s studies and social policy at Brandeis University. Anita Hill will also attend the festival with filmmaker Freida Mock.
A particularly delicious announcement involved a special 20th anniversary screening of a film that revolutionized documentary filmmaking and the way docs were perceived twenty years ago–the Oscar winning documentary The War Room (about the campaign to get Bill Clinton elected to his first term) that will be held as a big outdoor screening on the grounds of the University of Toronto. Filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker will be at Hot Docs for the screening and a forum to discuss how his film changed the feature documentary landscape and what the future might hold for documentary feature filmmaking.
Hot Docs has become a world renowned documentary festival through the hard work and determination of a group of people who have done it without the attached glamour of Hollywood that has so significantly benefited and bolstered TIFF–for that they are to be soundly congratulated as the service provided by Hot Docs to filmmakers and film goers is invaluable. Hot Docs highlights films and filmmakers who do what they do for all the right reasons–passion, commitment, heart, curiosity, desire–and the stories shared by them can be found here at Hot Docs and very few other places. That is also something that Hot Docs has been venturing to change as well with ever-increasing success.