Hot Docs Hot Tips – Day 4 – Sunday, April 30

by Andrew Parker

As the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival enters its fourth day (continuing until next Sunday, May 7), the votes are beginning to roll in from patrons for the 2017 Audience Award and the coveted $50,000 Rogers Audience Award for Best Canadian Documentary. Patrons can keep up with the top twenty audience favourites over at the Hot Docs website (where you can also get a full list of films screening and tickets), and the winner of the Rogers Audience Award will be announced a special free public screening on Sunday, May 7th at 7:00 pm at The Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema. The winner of the overall Audience Award will be announced on the following Monday, but so far the top twenty boasts a fair deal of Hot Tips picks from the past couple of days, including six of the top ten films. We try to steer you right, and hopefully we continue on the right track.

Will any of our five picks for today pop up in the Audience Award voting? We hope so! So here’s five more films screening today that you’ll want to make time for, and stay tuned all week through the rest of the festival for more great picks!

The Force

1:00 pm – Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

The already embattled Oakland Police Department probably regrets granting documentarian Peter Nicks nearly two full years of unprecedented insider access for The Force, a perfect example of a bid for transparency that comes back to bite a documentary’s subjects in the ass. When Nicks began filming the Oakland police – following beat cops, top brass, and academy recruits equally – the department was already under intense government oversight following a rash of officer involved shootings, citizen complaints, racist allegations, and prostitution scandals. Initially, Nicks can see signs of setbacks and leaps forward, and for the first two-thirds of The Force, the film works as a stylish, observant, and often relentlessly intense look at life as a cop in one of the most controversial police departments in America. And then in the final third when every step forward for the Oakland PD starts to become undone, The Force becomes even more vital viewing.

Also screening:

Sunday, May 7th at 1:30 pm at Isabel Bader Theatre


Resurrecting Hassan

2:45 pm – Scotiabank Theatre 4

Chilean born Canadian filmmaker Carlo Guillermo Proto delivered the emotionally powerful and underrated documentary El Husao to the festival, and his latest film, Resurrecting Hassan is even better. Proto takes an intimate, sometimes uncomfortable look at the Harting family of Monreal: a husband, wife, and daughter trio of subway busking singers, all of them blind, and all of them still trying to get over the loss of the youngest member of their family, Hassan, the only one of them who could see. In their search for closure, the family starts turning to the teachings of a Russian mystic who believes that organ replication and human resurrection are possible. There are a lot of mixed feelings throughout Resurrecting Hassan, but also a lot of empathy and a potent look at the lengths some people will go to in order to overcome grief.

Also screening:

Tuesday, May 2nd at 12:30 pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Friday, May 5th at 3:30 pm at Scotiabank Theatre 7


Playing God

6:45 pm – Hart House Theatre

German filmmaker Karin Jurschick follows divisive American attorney Ken Feinberg in the complex, thoughtful documentary Playing God. Feinberg is best known as the top lawyer to bring in whenever disaster strikes, and his job is to somehow assign monetary compensation for victims and families who have lost loved ones, jobs, and livelihoods. It’s easy to see why so many people have found fault in Feinberg’s profession and methods, but Jurschick paints a picture of a man with a tough job doing the best he can in a system that was already broken before he got there. Tracing Feinberg’s history from negotiating settlements for American soldiers exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, to 9/11, to his controversial relationship to the BP oil disaster compensation fund, and to his current position looking at corporations trying desperately to restructure bankrupting pension plans, Jurschick and Feinberg together leave no stones unturned and give viewers a primer on one of the most previously inscrutable legal processes in the world. Even if you don’t agree with Feinberg, by the end of Playing God you’ll probably realize no one is better equipped to handle such a tall task.

Also screening:

Monday, May 1st at 3:00 pm at Hart House Theatre

Saturday, May 6th at 6:00 pm at Scotiabank Theatre 7



Long Strange Trip

6:45 pm – TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

You’ll need to carve out some serious time in your schedule to catch Amir Bar-Lev’s epic, sprawling, and engaging look inside the history of The Grateful Dead, Long Strange Trip. Clocking in at a hefty, but never dragging four hours in length, Bar-Lev (The Tillman Story, Happy Valley), Long Strange Trip accomplishes something I never thought was possible, and makes the music, history, and fandom of one of America’s most iconic musical acts into something that will be riveting for fans and non-fans alike. With the first two hours dealing mostly with the band’s formation and early years before moving on to talk about the band’s iconography and ending with a moving, necessary, and extended tribute to Jerry Garcia, Long Strange Trip is trying to capture a vibe and hit relevant points instead of going for a comprehensive look that gets buried in minutiae. Early on in the film, an interview subject remarks that it’s hard for some people to get into The Grateful Dead, and while they might be right, Bar-Lev’s work here is very easy to get into.

Also screening:

Wednesday, May 3rd at 7:00 pm at Hart House Theatre

Friday, May 5th at 7:00 pm at The Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema



8:30 pm – Scotiabank Theatre 4

Marwencol director Jeff Malmberg and his producer Christina Shellen (who co-directs here) return to Hot Docs with the story of a tiny Tuscan town (population: 136) with a unique tradition. Every year, area residents band together to stage an allegorical play that they all come up with together and act out in the centre of town. The plays are always reflections of the thoughts, fears, and dreams of the community at large, and considering the gentrification of their region, the current state of the Italian economy, and a lack of engagement from young residents to join the theatre, Malmberg and Shellen capture their subjects at a vital point in the theatre’s history. Spettacolo is a funny, poignant, timely, and relevant backstage dramedy that proves that while “the play’s the thing,” it’s nothing without the people who put it on.

Also screening:

Tuesday, May 2nd at 12:30 pm at Scotiabank Theatre 4

Saturday, May 6th at 12:45 pm at Scotiabank Theatre 13

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