Hot Docs 2014

I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story

Hot Docs 2014: I Am Big Bird - The Caroll Spinney Story

Director: Chad Walker and Dave LaMattina

Program: Special Presentations

Run Time: 85 minutes

From Bozo the Clown to Oscar the Grouch, Caroll Spinney has been enriching the lives of adults and children alike for nearly 45 years. At 80 years old, he is the last remaining member of the original Sesame Street puppeteers. With very little known about his private life, we’re given a rare and heartwarming look into the man behind the feathers. Through interviews, a host of home videos, and archival clips, we see both the man and his characters exposed. We are shown the various events that have shaped Spinney’s life – tragedy, a wonderful love story, and a near venture into space aboard the ill-fated Challenger. What’s left is a wonderful man, an artist and entertainer, and a legacy that has carried generations.

An absolutely beautiful and captivating film, Chad Walker and Dave LaMattina have managed to allow us a glimpse at the very private life of one of the most beloved figures in children’s entertainment of the past century. We’re shown his complexity as a human being, and his natural embodiment of the dichotomy between Oscar and Big Bird. Touching interviews with family members affirm his dedication as a father, husband, and professional. Unwavering in his commitment to anything he undertook, he’s spent his life being all things to all people, and doing so with humour and humility.

While the film is a treasure to watch, there’s a profound sadness that punctuates its joy. The legacy is ending, and he is the last of a different breed of human. While Big Bird will live on through the ages, the times have changed, and so too has the nature of entertainment. There’s an unshakable sensation that you’re watching a heartbreaking resignation, and anyone who grew up with Sesame Street or any of Jim Henson’s creations will surely feel nostalgic pangs that teeter on the edge of heartbreak. You will laugh, and you will cry, but most importantly you will remember a time when a big fuzzy bird taught you togetherness and unquestionable love.

On Sunday, April 27thI Am Big Bird will be playing at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema as part of the Scotiabank Big Ideas series. Caroll Spinney will be in attendance following this world premiere, along with some fuzzier friends, to discuss his 45 years at the centre of this revolutionary educational program. He’ll be joined by Lisa de Wilde, CEO of TVO, who will moderate the post-screening discussion. 


Sunday, April 27th at 6:00pm at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Monday, April 28th at 11:59pm at Isabel Bader Theatre

Wednesday, April 30th at 1:30pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Thursday, May 1st at 1:30pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Sunday, May 4th at 4:00pm at the Revue Cinema



The Condemned

Hot Docs 2014: The Condemned

Director: Nick Read

Program: World Showcase

Run Time: 80 minutes

Seven hours away from the nearest town, in the middle of a forest the size of Germany, lies Penal Colony 56. In it are 260 murderers, some of the most dangerous men in Russia. Collectively, they are responsible for over 800 murders. Kept in five-meter long cells, not allowed to sit on their bed during the day, some in isolation, and with little hope of release, many of these men will go mad waiting for hope. Director Nick Read takes us into Penal Colony 56, and grants us a stark look at its residents, their politics, and what’s left of their lives.

The Condemned feels more like a mood piece than a documentary. It’s difficult to focus on the daily lives of men who ultimately have no lives. Many of them were arrested as teenagers, some of them in their early twenties. The tone of the film is bleak and ugly, with a kind of morose beauty you can only find in places where all hope is lost. It’s beautifully shot, using the natural light that peeks in through iron bars to illuminate cramped cells and broken faces. Moody and atmospheric, it looks and feels as if it had been shot by Steve McQueen. But this is not fiction. There are few stories to tell, and the ones we hear are bleak. This is where hope goes to die. Read holds our hand, and walks us through this world of murderers.


Monday, April 28th at 7:15pm at Scotiabank Theatre 3

Wednesday, April 30th at 11:00am at the ROM Theatre

Sunday, May 4th at 3:30pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2



Watchers of the Sky

Hot Docs 2014: Watchers of the Sky

Director: Edet Belzberg

Program: Special Presentations

Run Time: 126 minutes

Inspired by Samantha Power’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Problem From Hell, Edet Belzberg’s Watchers of the Sky takes a hard look at the life and legacy of Raphael Lemkin. The man who defined genocide and helped revolutionize the United Nations has become an overlooked historical figure. His work has inspired others, including Power, US ambassador to the United Nations, Nuremberg Chief Prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz, Argentinean lawyer and chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court Luis Moreno Ocampo, and Emmanuel Uwurukundo, UN Refugee Officer. Through their voices we trace Lemkin’s life, and are given an in depth look at the history of genocide.

Watchers of the Sky shockingly and deftly highlights not only our propensity as humans for violence, but our shameful and willful blindness towards the ugliness and hatred of civilization. Politics and commerce bind hands that are unwilling to help those in need, and the murky waters of law are made muddier by the unwillingness of superpowers to stand up to unjust regimes. Watchers stomps through the ugly history of the Rwandan genocides, Bosnia, Darfur, the systematic extermination of the Armenians, and the Nuremberg trials in order to highlight the horrible truth that, if we do not criminalize genocide, it will recur. How many generations must die before the powers that be are willing to get their hands dirty? All life is created equal in the eyes of the world, and yet, through politics, the sanctity of humanity has a price on its head. One that many are unwilling to pay. With profound interviews from Powers, Ferencz, Ocampo and Uwurukundo, some light is shed on those working tirelessly to change the system, the blockades that will not budge, and the imperativeness of perseverance. Humanity lives on long after we’re gone. Our legacy should be to improve the quality of life for the future.


Tuesday, April 29th at 7:00pm at Hart House Theatre

Wednesday, April 30th at 12:30pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox 3

Saturday, May 3rd at 6:30pm at Isabel Bader Theatre