The 2014 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival is upon us. North America’s largest Documentary festival is about to take over Toronto, showcasing some of the best documentaries from around the globe at ten venues across our fair city. With over 200 wonderful feature length and short documentaries to choose from, you certainly won’t be disappointed.
This year’s festival plays host to a series of diverse films, highlighting themes of love and relationships, addiction, crime, fashion, gender and sexuality, just to name a few. This year’s Made In program will turn its gaze towards Denmark, showcasing six films that exemplify the region’s outstanding contribution to non-fiction cinema. The Next program returns to the festival with an eye for the arts, creativity and pop culture, while new program Love, Factually celebrates love, passion, and matters of the heart.
Hot Docs’ 21st year starts this Thursday, April 24th, with The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, and continues until May 4th with a wide array of exceptional documentary film that simply mustbe seen. Don’t miss out, and be sure to grab your tickets fast. For a thorough breakdown of what’s coming this year, be sure to take a look at Bob Turnbull’s preview article on the festival.
The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz
Director: Brian Knappenberger
Program: Special Presentations
Run Time: 105 minutes
A revolutionary mind from a young age, Aaron Swartz had changed the way we think of the Internet before most people finish college. One of the leading Internet activists, he was at the forefront of the SOPA and PIPA victories of 2012. He stood for the public’s right to information, the freedom of the public domain, and to change the laws that infringe upon the public’s ability to gain access to knowledge guarded firmly by the ivory towers of commerce. Flooded with a sea of felony charges, the government sought to build a case against Swartz, admittedly to make an example of him for future generations of criminal hackers. Eventually, the pressure and anxiety became too overwhelming, and Swartz took his own life. The Internet’s Own Boy is about his legacy, his hopes and dreams for the future of communication and the communal nature of knowledge, and his life’s work to create a better place for us all to learn and grow together.
Hugely informative, Brian Knappenberger has created a talking head documentary that wastes absolutely no time on frivolity. At 105 minutes, The Internet’s Own Boy is full of significant, revelatory content. Through beautiful infographics, interviews with Swartz’s family, friends, and coworkers, a very intricate picture unfolds. While the message is clear, and Swartz’s intent was unquestionably benevolent, there is a sense that the moral ambiguity of hacking isn’t fully addressed. However, there is a larger dialogue taking place.
The Internet’s Own Boy tells Swartz’s story beautifully. Intricately articulating the flaws in the system, the cogs that form it, the areas for change and growth, and the brick walls that stand in the way of progress, this is certainly one of the most comprehensive films at Hot Docs this year, and is definitely a must-see for all attending.
On April 30th, The Internet’s Own Boy will be a part of Hot Docs’ Big Ideas series. Best-selling author Cory Doctorow, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig and hacker-culture expert Gabriella Coleman will be in attendance for a live conversation following the film about the its critical issues of free speech, copyright and ownership in the Internet age.
Thursday, April 24th at 10:00pm at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Friday, April 25th at 2:00pm at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Wednesday, April 30th at 6:30pm at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Director: Doug Block
Program: Love, Factually
Run Time: 92 minutes
Doug Block’s heartfelt documentary 112 Weddings begs the question “what happens after ‘I Do’?” and demands answers. A documentary filmmaker by trade, as a younger man, Block had to pay the bills. To do so, and fund his passion, he became a wedding videographer. For over twenty years, this is how Block supported himself. Now that enough time has passed, he’s taken an interest in the aftermath of these bonds he’s formed with budding couples. He traces back through some of his most memorable weddings, contacting the couples and requesting interviews. Some are still together, while others have parted ways, and only a few agree to speak to him. Shot in conjunction with a new couple entering matrimony, the film delicately juxtaposes the sometimes painful reality of life after the wedding with the hopeful earnestness most have going into wedlock.
A truly beautiful film, what’s most remarkable about 112 Weddings is that it manages to avoid becoming preachy. There are no preconceived notions of marriage; no lectures on the Dos and Do-Nots, no rules or regulations. Out of the eight couples who agreed to be interviewed, we see every manner of pain, joy, and placidity imaginable. We witness the human condition as it either overcomes obstacles or surrenders to the reality behind our expectations of love and marriage. What we’re left with are the touching portraits of ordinary people. No mystery, no secrets, and no tricks. Just life beautifully told.
Friday, April 25th at 7:00pm at the Isabel Bader Theatre
Saturday, April 26th at 11:00am at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Tuesday, April 29th at 1:30pm at the Isabel Bader Theatre
Stream of Love
Director: Ágnes Sós
Program: Love, Factually
Run Time: 70 minutes
In youth, we think we have all of the answers. We presume to know everything about life, love, sex, and the world. We should know better. With age comes experience, and with experience comes expertise. Stream of Love chronicles the taboo topic of sex in a small Hungarian-speaking Transylvanian town rife with experienced octogenarians, and the titillating stories they tell.
Ferencz wanders this tiny little village in Transylvania, sitting perched atop his horse-drawn carriage. He is a widower, seeking the company of one of the 25 widows in town. But only one or two are worthwhile, evidently. Enter Veronka, Rozál, Tercsi, Erzsi, and Jula. Presumably some of the best available women in town, these five ladies candidly share their experience of marriage, love, and sex. Filmed over the course of three years, director Ágnes Sós gradually earned their trust. Consequently, they vulnerably bear their souls and their secrets for the camera in a sweet and touching portrayal of rural Eastern European life.
Sós has managed to capture some startlingly candid sentiments on love and sex. Thanks largely to the amount of time she spent with her subjects, the dialogue is natural, and unflinchingly honest. It sheds an unapologetic light on both the pleasures and disappointments of sex, while clearly highlighting the otherworldly approach to life found in small traditional towns. As if caught in a time warp, these women carry us through their experiences: their joy, their pain, and their shocking admissions of guilt. Although it’s perhaps ten minutes too long, Stream of Love is a film overflowing with the life and joy that only comes from a life well lived.
Friday, April 25th at 6:00pm at Scotiabank Theatre 4
Sunday, April 27th at 4:30pm at Scotiabank Theatre 3
Sunday, May 4th at 8:30pm at Scotiabank Theatre 4
Four Letters Apart: Children in the Age of ADHD
Director: Erlend E. Mo
Program: Made In Denmark
Run Time: 87 minutes
Focusing on three children at a special school in Denmark, Erlend E. Mo’s piercing documentary takes a very serious look at the rampant ADHD diagnoses in Europe. Victor, Martine and Marino have all been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, in spite of having drastically different symptoms and circumstances. Victor is always angry, and can’t seem to explain or understand why. He hates his ADHD diagnosis, and gets frustrated, thinking it has something to do with his club feet. Martine is an easily overwhelmed little girl, who struggles with rage and is increasingly withdrawn, evading physical contact with anyone, including her parents. Marino is emotionally distraught, and often keeps to himself. When provoked, however, he quickly turns aggressive. Over the course of a year, they’re taken off Ritalin, and instead subjected to an alternative treatment that focuses specifically on the needs and characteristics of each child.
While the film focuses on Denmark, and Europe in general, this extensive problem stretches across the pond. Teachers struggle every day to control increasingly unwieldy children, and parents are perpetually frustrated, turning to medical diagnoses to try and explain their children’s behaviour. Perhaps it’s over crowded classrooms due to poor funding, or simply a parenting issue. That is not a judgment this film attempts to make.
What it does, very successfully, is propose alternative solutions that work. And we see results. This is a must-watch for anyone who works in childcare, healthcare, or young parents with unruly children at home. It’s a plea to step away from the prescription pad, and take some time to figure your children out, whether you’re their teacher, their paediatrician, or their parent. Four Letters Apart is a call to arms that something’s amiss, and that prescribing 7-year-olds with amphetamines is not the solution.
Friday, April 25th at 3:45pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Sunday, April 27th at 9:30pm at the ROM Theatre
Sunday, May 4th at 6:00pm at Scotiabank Theatre 4
Director: Jesse Moss
Program: Special Presentation
Run Time: 100 minutes
Williston, North Dakota, has become a place of refuge for the unemployed during the recent economic downturn. With the oil fields promising six-figure incomes, all the downtrodden, out of luck, unemployed and unemployable men and women from across the States flocked to Williston. What they found was Pastor Jay Reinke. Harbouring the down and out pilgrims in his church, Pastor Reinke offered a warm place to sleep, and healthy meals so that they might have an easier time on the job hunt. But while the Pastor’s motives seem honest and well meaning, the town is in an uproar. Harbouring not only the unemployed, but former felons and sex offenders, the town revolts against Pastor Reinke, fearing for their safety.
Jesse Moss has created a shocking and compelling documentary that focuses a blind eye on the controversy of small town America. Pastor Reinke’s motives are unclear from the beginning of the documentary, and remain as such for much of the film’s run time. Moss offers an ambiguous perspective, forcing us to question the Pastor’s intentions, and the nature of faith and benevolence in a town run by an archaic belief system. What appears to be a well-intentioned, unified public gradually reveals itself to be far murkier. The Pastor himself manages to endanger his family, and potentially his township, in favor of a subconscious path of redemption.
The Overnighters highlights the flaws of an outdated system of belief, showcasing the way faith, kindness and humility have been replaced by archaic standards of living. It raises larger questions than it answers, as the problems that need to be tackled remain as ambiguous as ever, and the public mindset, especially in small towns, is fused like the vertebrae of a spine: unfeeling, unmoving, and incapable of growth.
Friday, April 25th at 9:00pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Saturday, April 26th at 1:00pm at the ROM Theatre
Friday, May 2nd at 7:00pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox 3
Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart
Director: Jeremiah Zagar
Program: Special Presentations
Run Time: 102 minutes
One of the more intriguing documentaries at Hot Docs this year, Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart manages to form a complex discourse on the nature of subjectivity. Pamela Smart was arrested and tried in 1991 for conspiring to kill her husband, with the help of a sixteen-year-old student with whom she was having an affair. The case created a scandal and media frenzy that dominated the airwaves for the duration of the trial. Before a jury was even selected, there were stories being broadcast practically convicting Smart of the crime. The proceedings inspired books, TV miniseries, and a slew of films, including most prominently Gus Van Sant’s To Die For. Director Jeremiah Zagar attempts to trace everything back to 1991 and revisit the trials, hoping to shed new light on the verdict. In a trial that was so hugely impacted by public influence and the chaotic media frenzy that surrounded it, Zagar begs the question: can the bell be unrung?
Before Survivor or The Real World, even before the OJ Simpson trial, Pamela Smart became the world’s first reality television star. Hers was the first trial televised from gavel to gavel, as most of America tuned in daily to follow the proceedings. The result of all this attention was, as Zagar deftly suggests, the cause for Smart’s potentially unjust conviction. Zagar attempts to give us all of the facts, and calls into question the very nature of subjectivity. The manner in which the trial was filmed, the images portrayed to the public, the spin put on Smart herself – dubbed the Ice Queen, and called unfeeling – all play a hand in the audience, and jury’s, perception of the case. Zagar seems to suggest Smart’s innocence, while at the same time eloquently questioning the believability of Captivated itself. He expertly acknowledges the fallibility of documentary film as a medium thru the Heisenberg Principle, and leaves you with the sinking feeling that, when it comes to Pamela Smart, we’ll likely never know the truth.
Friday, April 25th at 9:30pm at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Sunday, April 27th at 11:00am at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Sunday, May 4th at 11:00am at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema