Hot Docs 2017 Hot Tips – Day 2 – Friday, April 28

by Andrew Parker

Following last night’s opening night festivities, the 24th annual Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival (running through May 7th) kicks into top gear today with the first full day of programming, and a lot of high profile festival premieres. Looking for some suggestions? Here are a few films we’ve been able to catch already that should be on your radar, even if you aren’t able to catch them at the festival today.

For a full list of screenings and ticketing information, head on over to the Hot Docs website.


The Grown-Ups

12:30 pm – Isabel Bader Theatre

Middle aged students with Down syndrome at a Chilean catering school are the focus of Maite Alberdi’s touching, hilarious, and occasionally heartbreaking documentary, The Grown-Ups. Focusing primarily on a quartet of students who have been going to the school for most of their adult lives, Alberdi outlines how these aging men and women crave independence, love, and acceptance in a society that’s determined to hold them back. Watching what these students sometimes have to put up with – primarily working for pitifully low wages that no adult could ever live comfortably on – can be hard to watch at times, but Alberdi nicely places a positive focus on the outlooks and smarts of her subjects. These are some truly remarkable people worth rooting for. I know this one screens early in the day, but it’s worth skipping work for (or catching at one of its three remaining screenings this week)

Also screens:

Tuesday May 2nd at 3:15 pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Thursday, May 4th at 7:00 pm at Hart House Theatre

Saturday, May 6th at 5:30 pm at Fox Theatre


Strad Style

5:30 pm – Scotiabank Theatre 3

Rural American low-rider enthusiast Danny Houck is poised to become the next big name in classical music with Stefan Avalos’ amusing and inspirational documentary Strad Style. Danny has always been fascinated with the art of crafting violins, and he aspires to be as good as the master craftsman he emulates in his low tech, old school, kinda sketchy home workshop. After striking up an online friendship with big time violinist Razvan Stoica, Danny attempts his most difficult undertaking to date; a replica of the most famous violin in the world: Guarneri’s Il Cannone. Quickly, Danny realizes he might be in over his head on this one thanks to his limited resources, knowledge, and scatterbrained demeanour, but while it’s amusing to watch him flounder, it’s even more rewarding to watch someone getting better at their craft despite a litany of obstacles. It’s a pretty great crowd pleaser, and it’s very obvious why it made so many waves at Slamdance earlier this year.

Also screening:

Sunday, April 30 at 1:00 pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Friday, May 5 at 6:00 pm at Revue Cinema

Sunday, May 7 at 6:30 pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2



9:00 pm – TIFF Bell Lightbox 3

Today finds the Hot Docs premiere of not one, but two films that I’m convinced will be talked about as the best documentaries from anywhere in the world in 2017. Quest, filmed patiently and thoughtfully by Jonathan Olshefski over the course of a decade, spends time with the Rainey family of North Philadelphia. Father Christopher (a.k.a. “Quest”) has run a community music studio for years, always inviting neighbourhood residents down to his basement to spit a few bars every Friday night. His wife, Christine’a, works at a shelter for homeless and abused women and children, and has a 21-year old son battling a form of brain cancer. Their daughter P.J. has just entered her teens and has a bright, promising future ahead of her. Things change drastically for the family not that long into Quest, and it’s a hard film to talk about without spoiling its impact, but there have been few films about family togetherness and community relations in an inner city environment as raw and poignant as Olshefski’s work here. See it now before everyone else starts telling you how great it was.

Also screening:

Saturday, April 29 at 10:00 am at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Saturday, May 6 at 9:30 pm at Hart House Theatre

Sunday, May 7 at 8:15 pm at Aga Khan Museum


Brimstone & Glory

9:15 pm – TIFF Bell Lightbox 4

Those wanting the biggest bang for their Hot Docs buck and the grandest big screen spectacle at this year’s festival will want to carve out some time to catch Viktor Jakovleski’s impressive, health-hazardous documentary Brimstone & Glory, a look inside the annual San Juan de Dios celebrations in Tultepec, Mexico, better known as the “fireworks capital of the world.” The festival breaks down into two labour intensive, highly dangerous events: the construction of massive towering infernos of fireworks, and their own take on a traditional running of the bulls, where enormous, hopefully flame retardant bulls strapped to the gills with explosives are set off next to party going revellers who eat it up. Gorgeously shot and including cinematography by fellow documentarian Bill Ross and Beasts of the Southern Wild director Benh Zeitlin (who also produced this film) and a killer sound mix, Brimstone & Glory demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible. Unless, of course, you are deathly afraid of heights and/or fireworks. Then you might want to stay away or watch certain scenes through your hands.

Also screening:

Saturday, April 29th at 12:30 pm at Scotiabank Theatre 3

Saturday, May 6th at 2:00 pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox 4


City of Ghosts

6:30 pm – Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

The most potent and frightening film about the ongoing Syrian conflict at Hot Docs this year is Oscar nominated documentarian Matthew Heineman’s City of Ghosts, the film selected to kick off this year’s Scotiabank Big Ideas series at the festival. Heineman embeds himself with the citizen journalists of RBSS – Raqaa is Being Slaughtered Silently – an organization determined to bring to light non-biased reporting from within the capital of the Islamic State. Many of these journalists have been forced to live in exile in Turkey and Germany, but their lives remain in constant danger. That says nothing of the brave men and women who have chosen to day. City of Ghosts will haunt anyone who sees it, and is the other film from today’s line-up that I think will be talked about at the end of 2017 when people discuss the best documentaries of the year. The final moments of City of Ghosts are so conflicting that viewers will be rocked to their core.

Also screening:

Saturday, April 29th at 5:00 pm at Isabel Bader Theatre – This screening is also part of the Food & Film series. More info on that series can be found here.

Saturday, May 6th at 9:30 pm at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

Sunday, May 7th at 12:45 pm at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

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