Out of all the festivals I’ve ever covered, the Hot Docs Film Festival is one of my favourites. It’s a festival that always promises a deep array of different types of documentaries from a variety of different countries. It’s very hard to find one doc that resembles another in Hot Docs.
The press conference held at Toronto’s Bloor Hot Docs Theatre on March 18 certainly built the buzz well. The audience had the pleasure of hearing about the other docs opening at the year’s festival. Most notably the ones featuring famous subjects like Alice Cooper, George Takei, and Big Bird (er, I mean Caroll Spinney).
The committee behind Hot Docs announced some very exciting news aside from documentary titles. The Alice Cooper “doc opera” Super Duper Alice Cooper will be simlucast over 45 Cineplex theatre screens, and also feature a live Q&A with the filmmakers and Cooper himself. An added bonus is that Super Duper Alice Cooper was co-directed by Sam Dunn, the filmmaker who brought audiences Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey and Global Metal. So, you know it’s gonna be good.
A few of these special docs will also have special guests attached to the screenings as part of the Scotiabank Big Ideas Series. Movie goers can expect to see George Takei in attendance for To Be Takei and Caroll Spinney for I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story. As a fan of Takei, Spinney, and docs that are cut from the same cloth as Being Elmo, I’m pumped.
Aside from these mentioned docs, let’s look at some other surefire winners. Here are some films that I’m anticipating:
112 Weddings (DIR.Doug Block)
Filmmaker Doug Block (51 Birch Street) has been working on the side as a wedding videographer for nearly 20 years. In that time, he has accumulated hundreds of hours of personal memories, ones that belong to people he only knew for a short time, when their love was new and energetic.
Now, on the eve of his own 25th wedding anniversary, Block decides to revisit these couples and complete their stories, asking the difficult questions of what makes a marriage work.
Contrasting the subjects’ original precious moments with modern interviews and some insight from counsellors specializing in nuptials, 112 Weddings draws a vibrant picture of the relationships that couldn’t sustain themselves and the ones that seem destined to last forever. Exploring the true meaning of commitment, Block feeds his curiosity with these emotional journeys 20 years in the making.
Harmontown (DIR. Neil Berkeley)
Dan Harmon is a funny guy. He’s so difficult to work with he’s been fired twice from television shows he created, most recently from his cult hit sitcom Community. “He’s like a human hand-grenade with a predilection for pulling his own pin,” explains John Oliver (who acted in Community). His fans love him, though.
Now unemployed, Harmon embarks on a 20-city comedy tour of America, recording improvised episodes of his podcast Harmontown for his famously loyal adoring audiences. He’s funny, but there’s a darkness too. Just as likely to tell jokes as he is to drunkenly tell you he hates himself, there’s something magnetic about watching him sort himself out.
Director Neil Berkeley (Beauty Is Embarrassing) deftly navigates the complicated character with expert skill, creating a portrait as layered and entertaining as Harmon himself. Ultimately, Harmontown seems like a hard place to live, but an enlightening place to visit.
Giuseppe Makes a Movie (DIR. Adam Rifkin)
Giuseppe Andrews runs a one-man movie studio from his mobile home in Ventura, California. He’s made 30 independent features and sets out to make his latest, Garbanzo Gas, over just two days.
Giuseppe has no agenda. He wants to have fun, wear spandex, challenge himself and bring together the people he cares about for a good time. It’s not about the result as much as the experience, the act of creation. His process does have a few rules, however: he only uses a single video camera; sticks to a handwritten first-draft script; prefers working with non-actors such as homeless men and neighbours from the trailer park; and feeds his characters lines off-screen.
Giuseppe’s vision runs deeper and weirder than comedy, exploitation or bad taste in this wonderful making-of doc. Follow a totally original oddball as he shoots and directs his outlandish story about an escaped cow enjoying an all-expenses-paid trip… to a motel.
Self(less) Portrait (DIR. Danic Champoux)
In an age of social media, where the boundaries between private and public are constantly being redrawn, 50 people come together to reveal some of their most intimate thoughts.
Director Danic Champoux (Mom and Me) returns to Hot Docs to bring us this inventive story that bends the boundaries of documentary cinema. The ensemble cast appears to bare all for the camera, openly discussing a multitude of subjects, from the funny to the heartbreaking, in this unique portrait that celebrates the diversity of human existence.
The Special Need (DIR. Carlo Zoratti)
Enea, a 29-year-old Italian man with autism, wants a sexual relationship. Enlisting the help of two childhood friends, Carlo and Alex, Enea begins incrementally learning the language of seduction and gaining the confidence to ask women out on dates. But as he confronts rejection, his desire turns into an obsession, and all three realize they may have to resort to more unorthodox solutions.
The men embark on a trip across Europe, speaking with sex workers, psychologists and those who take on the roles of both. What’s revealed is that Enea may not, in fact, be looking for sex, but for a more meaningful involvement that he lacks the language to articulate.
With incredible candor, sensitivity and effervescence, filmmaker Carlo Zoratti confronts the taboos of sex, love and disability without offering simple prescriptions to the issues they raise.
Doc of the Dead (DIR. Alexandre Philippe)
Could there be a real zombie outbreak? If so, Doc of the Dead can help you prepare.
First, before you learn how to fend off the enemy, you should study them. Masters of zombie culture, including George A. Romero, Simon Pegg and Greg Nicotero, come together to discuss the evolution of the zombie genre, and why zombie films, video games, books, graphic novels and television shows continue to rise in popularity. Cinematic horror often reflects what people fear in real life, and zombies are multifaceted in their terror.
From zombie weddings to zombie gun ranges, Doc of the Dead is a complete guide to all things undead.
Tickets and passes for the Hot Docs Film Festival are now available. Click here for more details.