Hot Docs International Documentary Festival 2014

Hot Docs International Documentary Festival 2014

Sleepless in New York

Hot Docs 2014: Sleepless in New York

Director: Christian Frei

Program: Love, Factually

Run Time: 92 minutes

Love hurts. Rejection hurts more. Enter New York City, where thousands of people wander the street in abject agony: they’ve just been dumped. Christian Frei put out a call to arms, flyers on the street, asking people who have recently been rejected to contact him regarding his latest documentary. Enlisting the help of acclaimed biological anthropologist, Dr. Helen Fisher, Frei follows three lovelorn individuals as they attempt to cope with their confusion, pain, and dejection.

Frei asks some fundamental questions with Sleepless. Why do we hurt when we’re left? Where does that pain come from? How can we cope? With someone as esteemed as Dr. Helen Fisher taking your subjects into the lab, you’d expect a fair amount of interesting data. While the results of their FMRI’s (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) suggest some truly shocking and fascinating chemistry, there’s little information beyond this.

There’s a distinct comfort in hearing jilted Alley talk about her suffering after being left by her boyfriend of three years. Michael’s inability to stop thinking about the woman who unceremoniously dumped him after living together pulls at every searing heartstring. Lovelorn Rosey pining for a fling who strung her along is painfully relatable. Knowing you’re not alone in your pain can be incredibly cathartic. But these people, like us, want answers. Dr. Helen Fisher and Christian Frei combine their disciplines to provide some of the answers, while allowing us to wade through the pain of the incomprehensible. A brain scan can show us what lights up, what reacts, when we’re in a state of anguish. But it can’t relate to us. Frei has created a means for the lovelorn wanderers of the world to relate to one another, creating a dialogue we can all understand.


Sunday, May 4th at 1:30pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1



The Case Against 8

Hot Docs 2014: The Case Against 8

Director: Ben Cotner and Ryan White

Program: Love, Factually

Run Time: 112 minutes

In 2008, over 18,000 same-sex couples wed after an arduous battle for the right to marry in California. Only six months later, Proposition 8 won the popular vote, and their commitment was rendered null and void, as a ban on same-sex marriage was put into law. In the aftermath, the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) joined forces with Ted Olson and David Boies and four plaintiffs to take their case for the right to marry all the way to the Supreme Court. On June 26th, 2013, Kristin Perry, Sandra Stier, Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo won the right to marry their partners, and opened the door for same-sex couples throughout the United States. What began in California has since swept the US, with 18 states now legally recognizing same-sex marriage.

Former Hollywood executive Ben Cotner and Good Ol’ Freda director Ryan White join forces in this behind-the-scenes look at the trial that dominated CNN last year. Bringing the unlikely pairing of Olson and Boies to the foreground, the lawyers involved in the infamous Bush VS Gore trial, emphasizes the way in which this particularly stirring issue transcends political boundaries. We’re shown intimate family portraits of Kristin and Sandra as they prepare dinner together, and Paul and Jeff hanging ornaments on their Christmas tree, supportive parents in tow.

Cotner and White gracefully avoid turning The Case Against 8 into a tirade against the other side, and instead deftly illustrate the most important defence in their case: these are ordinary citizens looking for nothing more than to have the right to be treated as more than second class citizens. They’re not deviants, or malcontents, and contrary to the laughable public service announcements from Prop 8 supporters, Yes on 8, they are not out to corrupt the youth of America. It’s a beautiful film that tenderly illustrates the pain involved in the arduous process of any civil rights movement.



Songs for Alexis

Hot Docs 2014: Songs For Alexis

Director: Elvira Lind

Program: Made in Denmark

Run Time: 75 minutes

Ryan is an 18-year-old transgendered male musician, living with his wildly supportive mother and brothers in Long Island. His girlfriend is Alexis, 16-years-old and born to a traditional family. Disapproving of their relationship, Alexis’ parents take matters to a dangerous level, forcing the young couple to confront the demons of the world, and the face of intolerance in their own backyard.

Part biographical documentary on musician and activist Ryan Cassata, part searing look at the intolerance surrounding LGBT adolescents, Songs for Alexis manages to assert itself above all else as an anthem for unconventional love. A love story for a new generation on the cusp of cataclysmic changes and societal shifts, these young teens deal with the unfair pressures of love.

Ryan is lucky to have figured himself out at the tender age of 12, and to have had possibly the world’s most supportive mother. But Alexis wasn’t so fortunate. The pain and strife of first love is hard enough without having to throw gender identity and sexuality into the mix. Alexis clearly struggles with her own sense of self while trying to remain positive and face the storm that’s brewing on her doorstep. Together, they manage to assert their love for one another, and the importance of acceptance.

Honest and unflinching, Elvira Lind has managed to procure an unsullied image of the poster boy for LGBT rights while asserting that love, however painful, complex, or difficult, is worth standing up for. Songs for Alexis is a happy ending where rarely there is one. It’s an ode to a new generation, a new way to live and a new way to love.


Friday, May 2nd at 7:00pm at Scotiabank Theatre 7



The Possibilities Are Endless

Hot Docs 2014: The Possibilities Are Endless

Director: Edward Lovelace and James Hall

Program: Next

Run Time: 80 minutes

In February of 2005, acclaimed Scottish musician Edwyn Collins suffered a major cerebral hemorrhage. As a result, he found himself severely physically restricted, having lost a huge portion of his memory, and much of the ability to speak. He could only say four phrases: “yes”, “no”, “Grace Maxwell” (his wife’s name) and “the possibilities are endless.” Eager to help his recovery, Edwyn’s son, William, attempts to piece together the bits of his father’s memory that remain. As a family, they try to reconstruct Edwyn’s past so that he might recover for a healthy future. This film documents that transition.

Directors Edward Lovelace and James Hall have truly outdone themselves with The Possibilities are Endless. What they’ve created is a fully immersive, sensory cinematic experience that attempts to put us inside Edwyn’s head as he re-learns how to navigate life. The imagery is at first disorienting, reminiscent of Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Intricate musical cues guide you as Edwyn attempts to remember his life, his wife along for the painful and arduous ride. What we are left with is a poignant story of the potential of the human spirit. Moving and captivating, the possibilities truly are endless. Hall and Lovelace have created a masterpiece.


Saturday, May 3rd at 7:30pm at the Royal Cinema