Ten Films We're Dying To See At Hot Docs This Year

We kind of freaking love documentaries. It's as if you took the best part of school (learning shit), got rid of all the crappy bits (tests, homework, thousands of dollars in tuition) and added popcorn. So, as you might imagine, we're ridiculously excited that one of the world's biggest documentary film festivals, Hot Docs, is about to take over Toronto's theatres for the next couple of weeks. We spent a silly amount of our Easter weekend diving into the schedule, reading blurbs, watching trailers and generally getting ourselves all worked up about how many potentially amazing films there are at this year's fest. We have, somehow, managed to narrow the field down to the ten we're most dying to see, which we present to you now, along with the trailers and blurbs from the Hot Docs website that have us so excited. You can also head on over here for the full schedule and ticket information and all that kind of stuff.

We'll be seeing as many films as we can during the festival, and posting our reviews between screenings.

At the Edge of Russia
Sat, Apr 30 6:30 PM Cumberland 2
Tue, May 3 1:15 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Fri, May 6 7:00 PM Cumberland 2

"Hundreds of miles from the nearest town or tree, a smooth-faced young recruit arrives at his Arctic post. Here, etched somewhere into the endless white, is a border. The boy, Aleksey, joins five men, together charged with the absurd task of patrolling the invisible border for invisible enemies. Through a crisp and unblinking lens, we watch as the gruff old soldiers, each a refugee from civilization in his own way, initiate the boy into their rigorous daily life. It’s a cold, hard routine, the discipline broken only by the occasional vodka and sad song. Polish director Michal Marczak has assembled a formidable cast of characters in this breathtaking debut, both delicate and bold. At the Edge of Russia is a metaphorical portrait of a crumbled empire whose diligent men still busy themselves tracing meaning in the infinite white. - Samara Chadwick". More information here.

The Battle for Barking
Sat, Apr 30 9:30 PM Cumberland 2
Mon, May 2 4:30 PM The ROM Theatre

"It’s all-out war in London’s borough of Barking where Nick Griffin, leader of the far-right British National Party (BNP), is screamed at and spat upon by locals as he pounds the pavement for votes in the UK’s 2010 federal election. Leveraging white, working class fear in a multi-racial area with skyrocketing unemployment and high immigration, he threatens to oust long-term incumbent, left-wing Labour MP Margaret Hodge. The BNP’s solution to all of Britain’s problems? Return Britain to its former ethnic “purity” by halting immigration and 'firm but voluntary repatriation' for those with 'non-British' ancestry. As Hodge describes Griffin, 'He hates women, he hates Jews, he hates immigrants, and I’m all of them.' More horrifying: he could actually win. Director Laura Fairrie’s fly-on-the-wall, year-long backroom access to both candidates makes for gripping viewing as a study on how rapidly the disenfranchised become radicalized when their leaders stop listening. - Gisèle Gordon". More information here.

The National Parks Project
Sat, Apr 30 9:30 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Mon, May 2 9:15 PM The Royal Cinema 

"In an increasingly urban nation, Canada’s national parks are a treasured escape into extraordinary beauty and rugged wilderness. If the Group of Seven were an introduction to the landscape’s majesty, National Parks Project is the next logical chapter. Fifty-two contemporary artists from across the country, whose talents are as diverse as the parks they set out to explore, used their surroundings as a source of inspiration to blend musical and cinematic skills into collaboratively crafted vignettes. Epic in its ambition to celebrate these locales during Parks Canada’s centennial year, this omnibus film resonates with the knowledge that our unprotected land is more vulnerable than ever. Including films by Zacharius Kunuk, Peter Lynch, Sturla Gunnarsson and John Walker, and music by Sarah Harmer, Sam Roberts, Cadence Weapon and The Besnard Lakes, among many others, National Parks Project is a one-of-a-kind documentary experience. Alex Rogalski". More information here.

Magic Trip
Sat, Apr 30 9:45 PM Isabel Bader Theatre
Mon, May 2 3:30 PM Isabel Bader Theatre

"Academy Award-winning director Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) and co-director Alison Ellwood serve up the ‘60s in this psychedelic road movie adventure, an acid trip on wheels. In 1964, Ken Kesey, celebrated author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, assembled a ragtag crew of friends and lovers known as the Merry Pranksters to take an LSD-fuelled road trip from California to the New York World’s Fair. Driven by none other than Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road muse, their ramshackle bus was tricked out with cameras to capture free-form impressions of America and the seemingly limitless drug-induced antics of its passengers. More than 40 years later, Gibney and Ellwood re-imagine Kesey’s original film, audio tapes and photographs into one of the year’s trippiest and most creative time capsules. Relax, man, and enjoy a truly Magic Trip." More here.

Bury the Hatchet
Sun, May 1 7:00 PM Cumberland 3
Tue, May 3 4:30 PM Cumberland 3

"Aaron Walker’s new film takes you deep into the heart of New Orleans to discover a celebration hidden from mainstream Mardi Gras. Each year, members of a predominantly African-American neighbourhood dress up as Indians to honour the Native American communities that harboured blacks escaping from slavery. A Mardi Gras tradition that dates back to perhaps as far as the mid-19th century, the ‘Indians’ have created a highly intricate structure, with over 40 ‘tribes’ featuring hierarchical roles such as chief, medicine man and flag boy. Through Walker’s portrayal, audiences experience the rich history and struggles this community has faced. Enduring street violence, police harassment and Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, the Mardi Gras ‘Indians’ find the strength to carry on their traditions. Bury the Hatchet also presents a soundtrack of rare music passed down through generations, many of the songs having never been written down or recorded before the 1970s. - Heather Haynes". More information here.

I Am Jesus
Sun, May 1 9:00 PM Cumberland 2
Tue, May 3 4:00 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 3

"Attention, Christians! Jesus is here. There’s just one problem: there are three of Him. Filmmakers Valerie Gudenus and Heloisa Sartorato cross the globe to investigate each person who claims to be the One. In Brazil, Inri Cristo has hardly kept himself a secret, appearing on every TV show possible and actively posting videos on YouTube with the help of his mainly female followers. Across the pond in the UK, the Messiah appears as a distinctly mortal figure in David Shayler. A former British secret service agent turned whistleblower, Shayler experienced a spiritual awakening in prison before taking up with anti-government squatters. Russia’s Vissarion, a Siberian introvert, preaches self-reliance on an organic farming commune, where members welcome his polygamous family teachings. I Am Jesus is a fascinating exploration, not only of the Christ persona, but of the conflicting needs for leadership and spiritual belonging around the world. - Myrocia Watamaniuk". More information here.

We Were Here
Tue, May 3 9:30 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Thu, May 5 1:45 PM The ROM Theatre

"Before AIDS even had a name, San Francisco’s gay community felt an unsettling presence taking hold. Loved ones suffered from strange symptoms, friends fell seriously ill, some just disappeared. Five ordinary residents open up about what life was really like as the AIDS epidemic seized their city. An activist, a nurse, a caregiver, a friend and a lover each reveal how the fear surrounding the 'gay plague' was transformed into a model of political change and social healing. Homophobia was pitted against healthcare, but community action spread just as fiercely, especially among lesbians who came together to fight for their gay brothers. Through deeply moving testimonies and archival imagery, filmmaker David Weissman reconstructs the era that saw unspeakable horrors inspire courageous action, and that taught the world how to battle what is now a stoppable disease. Myrocia Watamaniuk". More information here.

Project Nim
Thu, May 5 9:45 PM Isabel Bader Theatre
Fri, May 6 11:00 AM Isabel Bader Theatre

From the Oscar-winning team behind Man on Wire comes the story of Nim, the chimpanzee who in the 1970s became the focus of a landmark experiment which aimed to show that an ape could learn to communicate with language if raised and nurtured like a human child. Following Nim’s extraordinary journey through human society, and the enduring impact he makes on the people he meets along the way, Project Nim is an unflinching and unsentimental biography of an animal we tried to make human. What we learn about his true nature—and indeed our own—is comic, revealing and profoundly unsettling. Using extraordinary archival footage, director James Marsh constructs a seamless narrative that twists and turns, and ultimately accrues the thematic and emotional arc of an epic." More information here.

Little Voices
Fri, May 6 6:30 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Sat, May 7 3:45 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Which colours would you use if asked to paint a picture of war? It may come as a surprise that when a group of Colombian children, victims of that country’s long-standing internal conflict, were asked to paint and draw their stories, they painted flowers, chose a bright yellow for the sun, and depicted landscapes full of trees, white clouds and clear blue skies. They also drew children whose eyes sparkled, even when faced with the bleakest of circumstances: an innocent rural girl forced to move to the big city, a boy tricked into joining the guerrilla ranks, another who loses a leg to a landmine. There is always a smile. Children are children after all. Their stories and artwork are the basis for this touching, animated documentary—a Hot Docs first—about the Colombian conflict as seen through the eyes of the most innocent of victims. - Juan Baquero". Screening in 3D. More information here.

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey
Fri, May 6 7:15 PM Isabel Bader Theatre
Sat, May 7 7:15 PM Isabel Bader Theatre
Sun, May 8 4:30 PM TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

“This Sundance Special Jury Prize winner is heart-warming and fun for the whole family. Being Elmo is the inspiring story of how a shy nine-year-old Kevin Clash pursued his dream of becoming a puppeteer on Sesame Street. Raised in a low-income community, Clash’s talents were evident in his homemade prototypes and the puppet shows he staged for his mother’s daycare kids. But it was after his first gig on a local children’s TV show that he was truly on the path. Featuring exclusive behind-the-scenes access at Sesame Street, Being Elmo captures the magic created by Jim Henson, and is a tribute to Henson’s legacy and the community of puppeteers who’ve enchanted generations of children around the world. - Karina Rotenstein". More information here.


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