Wylie Writes @ Hot Docs 2014: Help Me, Help You

The theme of human connection has never been so prevalent.  The latest technology seems to be fastening people away from face-to-face interactions, and Spike Jonze’s Her made it clear as to what path the human race could possibly fall into.

Filmmaker Tony Shaff has made a documentary that tries to follow suit. But, can he stick his landing?

Hotline (DIR. Tony Shaff)


By: Addison Wylie

Hotline has an intriguing dynamic.  Tony Shaff’s documentary focuses on those conversations that take place over 1-800 numbers and emergency lines.  The operators who are interviewed in Hotline explain that most customers who ring them up are people looking simply to talk.  They’re vying for another person who will be able to relate to them.

The flip side of the coin is the perspectives from the operators.  The receivers realize that an element of interactivity is important and crucial to maintain a relationship, but they also understand that these people are clients.  These operators have to carefully figure out how much of a bond to form.  It isn’t always an easy step since the operators also appreciate communication and friendship.

Shaff has interviewed all the right people including people who answer emergencies, phone sex operators, and fortune teller Ms. Cleo.  Their answers have a lot of truth and reminiscing about the past brings them bittersweet hopefulness with the occasional heartbreak.

The problem I have with Hotline is that while it’s a movie on a search for explanations about connections, it’s also film that uses the least stimulating method of making a documentary.

The film is consistently well edited to fit Shaff’s layout, but the filmmaker doesn’t budge from the ordinary “talking heads” format.  The testimonials are interesting, but they’ve been compiled in a way that makes them sound repetitive.

There’s a lot of good thought-provoking content in Hotline and I’m glad the film has acted as a vessel for these nurturing operators and callers to share their experiences.  But sadly, Shaff’s documentary – more times than not – drones on like a dial tone.

Catch Hotline at Toronto’s Hot Docs International Film Festival on:

Monday, April 28 at 7:15 p.m. @ Hart House Theatre

Tuesday, April 29 at 1:00 p.m. @ Scotiabank Theatre

Friday, May 2 at 9:45 p.m. @ Scotiabank Theatre

Sunday, May 4 at 6:30 p.m. @ Isabel Bader Theatre

Click here for more details and to buy tickets.

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