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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sean Kelly

Hot Docs 2013: Picks of the Fest

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We are only a couple days away from celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.  Over the last two decades, the festival has steadily grown and is now arguably the second biggest film festival in Toronto, next to TIFF.  This will be my third year attending the film festival and I am planning on providing full coverage throughout the week.

This year’s Hot Docs will be screening a total of 205 documentaries from 43 countries.  There is a documentary for every taste screening at the festival, ranging from high profile special presentations to the latest social issues.  Since choosing which doc to see can be a daunting task, I am going to give some recommendations, based on the docs I pre-screened in the lead-up to the festival.

The Manor (Special Presentation)
At first glance, a film about a family that runs a strip club in Guelph is an odd choice to be the opening film of the festival.  However, as you really get into the film, you find that The Manor is more about the family themselves than the bar.  The film uses a fly-on-the-wall format to document each family member and their individual problems and I can definitely see why it was chosen to open.

Screenings:
April 25, 9:30pm – Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
April 29, 12:00pm – TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer (Special Presentation)
It seems that every year at Hot Docs there is a film that everyone should check out.  Last year, that film was The Imposter.  This year, I am predicting that film will be Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer, which documents the saga of a group of punk rock activists in Russia, who are arrested after staging one of their performances in a Cathedral.  Even though their methods are extreme, you come to understand why this group has decided to take a stand against a right wing Russian government, which is becoming more and more like a dictatorship under Vladimir Putin (who became president again after the laws about term limits were changed).  I highly recommend fitting this film into your schedule for the festival.

Screenings:
April 26, 2:00pm – Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
April 28, 4:30pm – Isabel Bader Theatre
May 4, 7:00pm – Scotiabank 3

Downloaded (Rule Breakers and Innovators)
Alex Winter (of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure fame) directs this documentary of the rise and fall of Napster.  The film documents how Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker’s little file sharing service forever changed the state of the music industry, even though Napster itself did not survive.  It’s quite interesting revisiting Napster a decade after the fact and part of the fun of the documentary is the tongue-in-cheek humour interspersed throughout.  It just goes on to show that even if you were sued by the drummer for Metallica, one day you can just look back on these events and laugh.  Joking aside, the films also theorizes that the RIAA did more harm than good by suing Napster users, which has resulted in the current generation, who would rather download something for free than give money to “the man.”

Screenings:
April 27, 9:00pm – Isabel Bader Theatre
April 28, 3:30pm – Scotiabank 3
May 3, 9:30pm – Fox Theatre

The Kill Team (World Showcase)
The Kill Team is about a platoon of soldiers who were charged with killing civilians in Afghanistan for sport.  The film examines the mentality of soldiers, who are bred to be warriors, yet find themselves frustrated by the realities of of their duties, which features more humanitarian work than action.  The film also takes a look at the one soldier who took a stand, yet found himself punished for his actions.  This is definitely a very interesting examination of the “gung-ho” mentality of the military and how soldiers go to war expecting to kill people.

Screenings:
April 30, 8:15pm – TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
May 2, 2:00pm – Hart House Theatre
May 3, 4:30pm – TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Muscle Shoals (Special Presentation)
It seems that this is the year for “studio nostalgia docs.”  Mere months after Sound City talked about the classic rock studio, Muscle Shoals focuses on two studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, which helped to develop the soulful R&B sound, as well as the creation of southern rock.  Countless artists, ranging from Aretha Franklin to The Rolling Stones, recorded in Muscle Shoals and give testimonials about the “magic” of the area.  As a music history doc, I thought it was quite interesting, especially when you realize all the classic songs that were recorded in this area.  The film also talks a bit about race relations and how the house band consisted of entirely white musicians, which often surprised the black artists, who came to record there.  If you’re a music fan, this will be a film worth checking out.

Screenings:
April 30, 9:15pm – Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
May 3, 6:15pm – Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
May 4, 9:00pm – Isabel Bader Theatre


That wraps up my film recommendations.  Some other docs I have my eye on during the festival include the Facebook doc Terms and Conditions, the sasquatch search Shooting Bigfoot, and The Great Hip Hop Hoax.  My full reviews of the above documentaries (and more) will begin posting on Thursday

Sean Kelly

About Sean Kelly -

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described ├╝ber-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).