North America’s largest documentary event, Hot Docs, returns this Thursday, April 23, and runs through Sunday, May 3. Toronto’s festival will unspool 210 documentaries during its 22nd edition, among them more than 160 new and recent nonfiction features. I’ve been attending the festival since 2009, and always look forward to checking out the latest work that Charlotte Cook and her programming team have curated. What follows is a section-by-section spotlight of the films I’m hoping to screen when I arrive for the second half of the fest:
This year’s Special Presentations include such titles as Neal Broffman’s HELP US FIND SUNIL TRIPATHI, which explores how a missing university student becomes painted as a terrorist by an overeager media; Violeta Ayala’s THE BOLIVIAN CASE, a dissection of a notorious drug arrest; Jacqui Morris and David Morris’ ATTACKING THE DEVIL: HAROLD EVANS AND THE LAST NAZI WAR CRIME, about the Sunday Times editor’s crusade against thalidomide; Henrik Stockare, Thomas Jackson, and Charlotte Landelius’ FOODIES, about a group of influential food bloggers; John Zaritsky’s A DIFFERENT DRUMMER: CELEBRATING ECCENTRICS, a survey of non-comformists; and Robert Cohen’s BEING CANADIAN (pictured), a road trip exploration of Canadian stereotypes and national identity.
A dozen films compete in the International Spectrum, among them: Ross Sutherland’s STAND BY FOR TAPE BACK-UP, an experimental autobiography by way of a well-worn VHS tape; Iiris Härmä’s LEAVING AFRICA, about the friendship between two women who’ve spent decades promoting education in Uganda; Ostap Kostyuk’s THE LIVING FIRE (pictured), a portrait of three generations of Ukrainian shepherds; Amy Benson, Ramyata Limbu, and Scott Squire’s DRAWING THE TIGER, which explores the pressures placed on a Nepalese family’s daughter; Karen Guthrie’s THE CLOSER WE GET, about the filmmaker’s family’s long unspoken secrets; and Ernesto Cabellos Damián’s DAUGHTER OF THE LAKE, which follows an indigenous Andean woman who threatens to call upon her magical powers to protect her village from mining interests.
The Canadian Spectrum finds eighteen features vying for recognition, including: Felix Dufour-Laperrière’s TRANSATLANTIC, an immersive exploration of a cargo ship over a monthlong journey; Amber Fares’ SPEED SISTERS, a profile of the Middle East’s first all-female racing team; Pablo Alvarez-Mesa’s NUESTRO MONTE LUNA (pictured), a portrait of teenagers training to become bullfighters; Julian Pinder and Billie Mintz’s JESUS TOWN USA, focused on efforts to revitalize a smalltown’s annual Passion Play; Mia Donovan’s DEPROGRAMMED, which looks at a controversial anti-brainwashing expert; and André-Line Beauparlant’s PINOCCHIO, about the director’s con artist brother.
Screening outside of competition, the forty feature offerings in World Showcase include: Gillian Laub’s investigation into race relations in a small Southern town, SOUTHERN RITES; Arnaud Bouquet and Daniel Ferguson’s look at efforts to save a traditional indigenous practice, LAST OF THE ELEPHANT MEN; Sasha Snow’s meditation on a man’s provocative environmental crusade, HADWIN’S JUDGEMENT; Maria Kravchenko and Herz Frank’s exploration of a notorious Israeli assassin, BEYOND THE FEAR; Rebecca Parrish’s portrait of three nuns whose work defies traditional Church doctrine, RADICAL GRACE; Ryley Grunenwald’s look at how development comes between South African cousins, THE SHORE BREAK; Heath Cozens’ profile of a stereotype-defying Tokyo sport, DOGLEGS (pictured); Louise Hémon’s study of a bodybuilder and one-man rescue squad, THE STRONGEST MAN.
This year’s national focus, Made in India, offers such work as: Parvez Sharma’s A SINNER IN MECCA, a personal exploration of queer sexuality and Islam; Samarth Dixit and Jessica Sadana’s JOURNEY WITH PRABHAT (pictured), which explores a legendary early Indian film studio; and Spandan Banerjee’s ENGLISH INDIA, a meditation on Indian history and culture through language.
Hot Docs’ Next section shines the spotlight on art and music docs, including: Laurie Kahn’s LOVE BETWEEN THE COVERS, which explores the lucrative romance novel industry and the women behind it; Jessica Edwards’ STAY AWHILE (pictured), about a long-forgotten Canadian pop group; Marco Amenta’s MAGIC ISLAND, about a son’s reckoning with his estranged father’s legacy; and David Shapiro’s MISSING PEOPLE, which follows an art gallerist’s simultaneous obsession with a New Orleans artist and with her younger brother’s long ago murder.
New this year, Screen on Screen focuses on films about films and filmmakers, including Florian Heinzen-Ziob and Georg Heinzen’s ORIGINAL COPY (pictured), which profiles a man who still hand paints movie posters for a Mumbai theatre; and Boris Nicot’s FILMING OBSTINATELY, MEETING PATRICIO GUZMÁN, an intimate portrait of the noted Chilean filmmaker, honored at the festival this year with a retrospective and award; while other new sidebar, Show Me the Funny, offers audiences a behind-the-scenes look at comedians, such as Howie Mandel, Reed Grinsell, and Steve Sunshine’s COMMITTED, which tracks an aspiring comic for thirteen years.
Finally, the fest’s eclectic Nightvision program returns with some of this year’s oddest nonfiction tales from Sundance, DOC NYC, and Tribeca, as well as one intriguing title that I haven’t heard of before: THE BARKLEY MARATHONS: THE RACE THAT EATS ITS YOUNG (pictured), Timothy Kane and Annika Iltis’ chronicle of an unusual, unconventional endurance race.