By: Gesilayefa Azorbo
Each year, the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival seems to be getting bigger and better. Considering the press conference at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on March 18 announcing the 2015 edition, the festival shows no signs of slowing down.
Hot Docs ’15 offers 210 films in total (the largest offering of films in the festival’s history to date) and 102 world premieres. Not to mention projected attendance figures of 200,000 – the largest yet.
Among the announcements made about the festival, another interesting statistic that stands out is the fact that 40% of this year’s selections are female directors, also the highest amount to date.
This year also sees several exciting initiatives, including an increased focus on interactive docs through the one-night-only live presentation of Kat Cizek’s Highrise: Universe Within, and the free, week-long DOCX Virtual Reality showcase featuring four documentaries shot with revolutionary stereoscopic video and using Oculus Rift technology, designed specifically to be experienced through virtual reality headsets.
This year also sees the return of presenting platinum sponsor Scotiabank’s Big Ideas series. The series will present special guests including ex-Fugee Pras Michel talking about Sweet Micky for President, a doc that follows his political campaign supporting controversial Haitian musician Michel Martelly for president of Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.
Another special guest is stand up comic Tig Notaro, the subject of festival opener TIG. The film kicking off this year’s Hot Docs appears to be a funny movie about cancer and if that doesn’t sell it, I don’t know what will! TIG follows comedian Tig Notaro in the year after her groundbreaking 2012 set – which she opened with the words, “Good evening. I have cancer” – as she re-evaluates and navigates her life and career following her diagnosis.
From the trailer screened, the film shows remarkably candid access, from her hospital visits, to private moments at home with friends and family, to behind the scenes of her performances as a stand up comic. This promises to be a moving testament to resilience and humour in the face of hardships.
Another special feature of this festival will be the In Conversation presentation, which sees prolific documentary legend Frederick Wiseman and his long-time collaborator, producer Karen Konicek, in conversation with CBC journalist and host Piya Chattopadhyay. They will be talking about their current documentary project, Jackson Heights, as well as pitching in the Hot Docs forum, and longevity in an evolving media landscape.
Among the films spotlighted at the press conference was Being Canadian, a quirky hilarious quest for Canadian identity by Robert Cohen, a Calgary-born Hollywood comedy guru behind such successes as The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory. The road trip-style film features appearances by other Canadian comedians whom made it big in Hollywood including Mike Myers, Seth Rogen and Will Arnett. Cohen and some of his collaborators were present at the press announcement, and he had this to say about having his film’s world premiere be at Hot Docs:
“To do it in Canada is genuinely more than we could have hoped. Hopefully it is our love letter to Canadians about what it means to be Canadian.”
There are an unfair amount of films that deserve to be highlighted as must-watch pieces, but the following are a varied handful that I am particularly excited about seeing:
Deep Web (dir. Alex Winter, USA)
“Following the story of Ross Ulbricht, alleged founder of the online black market Silk Road, Deep Web weaves the historic government case against him with an exploration of the darkest corners of the internet to offer a revelatory look at this Pandora’s box of the online world.”
What Happened Miss Simone? (dir. Liz Garbus, USA)
“The legendary Nina Simone is brought back to life in this intimate portrait of her tumultuous life. Deemed the ‘High Priestess of Soul,’ Simone made her mark as a pianist, singer and civil rights icon.”
Above and Below (dir. Nicolas Steiner, Switzerland/Germany)
“From the tunnels below the Las Vegas strip to simulated missions to Mars in the Utah desert, Above and Below is a strikingly beautiful exploration of people inhabiting unusual spaces that almost offers a glimpse into an apocalyptic world.”
“A Ghanaian investigative journalist with a dash of James Bond rises to become a national hero as he slips into disguise undercover to expose corruption and injustice while on a relentless campaign of ‘naming, shaming and jailing’ criminals.”
Lastly, an exciting announcement was following the recent passing of Albert Maysles – the remaining half of the legendary documentarians, the Maysles brothers. After the end of the festival, it’s going to be Maysles Month at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, to commemorate the invaluable contributions the filmmaking brothers made to the field of documentary over their stellar, decades-long careers.
Tickets and passes are now available at the Hot Docs Box Office at 2 Bloor St West (Cumberland Terrace, Main Level). Click here for more details.