Hot Docs 2013

26 April 2013

It's my first year at Hot Docs and I'm already loving it. Going to a documentary festival is a lot different than going to something like TIFF. There's the same excitement for films, but the feeling is different and the films are definitely different. You have no stars walking the red carpet and mobs of people trying to snap a photo of a celebrity they've never seen a movie of whose there promoting a film they've never heard about. At Hot Docs, the subjects are stars. The films themselves shine. The people here are strictly here for the movies because documentaries don't have the same glamour as big prestige flicks.

I'm much more likely to walk into a film blind and come out liking it at Hot Docs than I would with average films at the multiplex. There's a quality across the board at Hot Docs 2013 that is undeniable. In my first day at the festival, I was thoroughly impressed. And it was the films I knew little to nothing about that really impressed me.

I came into the festival most anticipating Pussy Riot— A Punk Prayer (review available here), and ended up liking it the least of the films I saw today. I was still impressed by it, but the other films shined. I knew nothing about The Human Scale (review available here)coming in and it really started off the festival on the right foot. It's like a great magazine article or a stimulating conversation with an intellectual: you really come away having learned something. Anita (review available here) was also fascinating, as I was unfamiliar with Anita Hill's testimony on sexual harassment before seeing the doc. It gave me some much needed insight into the everyday experiences of women and how hard it is for a woman to come forward about sexual harassment and be taken seriously. After the screening, there was a Q&A with Anita Hill and director Freida Mock, coordinated by Anna Maria Tremonti. Finally, Narco Cultura (review available here)scarred me. This is a brilliant, gruesome doc. Twisted in how it follows these entertaining, foolish musicians who glamorize cartel warriors, and depressing in how it depicts the actual drug war occurring in Juarez, Mexico.

Four movies in one day. It's funny how exhausting it is standing in line, writing articles at breakneck speed, and watching movies all day. I'm not complaining. This is the life! But it's not like lazing on your couch at home in your pajamas. It takes some stamina.

And so ends my first day at Hot Docs 2013. We'll see if I can keep up the pace tomorrow. Hopefully I can make it into Fight Like Soldiers: Die Like Children, the Romeo Dallaire doc, and Downloaded, which chronicles the birth of Napster, but I'm sure I'll be happy with whatever I end up seeing.

27 April 2013

A slower day today. While I had hoped to hit up at least three movies today, I got sidetracked after getting invited to the after party of Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children, where I had the opportunity to chat with Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin, the directors of Pussy Riot— A Punk Prayer, among others. It was a gorgeous day out and I did end up seeing a couple movies still.

I saw When I Walk (review available here), Jason DaSilva's personal diary of his struggles with MS. The film was emotional and quite personal—many members of the audience struggled to control their tears. The film was preceded by Ramp, by Sama Waham, an experimental documentary produced in Sheridan College's Advanced Television and Film program last year. While it was neat to see a film by one of my predecessors, the film was confusing and posturing. After When I Walk, I headed to Bloor and saw Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children (review available here), which explores Romeo Dallaire's efforts to eliminate the use of child soldiers in the world. The film was followed by a Q&A with Romeo Dallaire, which added value to the screening. The Q&A itself was a worthwhile event in itself.

I hope to up my viewing schedule tomorrow and see another four movies, hopefully including Downloaded, which I missed tonight, and William and the Windmill.

28 April 2013

Another long day—four films in rapid succession, and some more interesting subjects covered. I saw possibly the best film of the fest so far as well as the first dud. Moving from theatre to theatre and sitting in cramped seats scrunched in next to other people can be tiring. But it's so much damn fun.

The films I saw today shared a lot in common. The first two are examinations of young men who are stuck between the pressures of their traditional cultural lifestyles and the alluring appeal of the Western world. The other two were Internet focused, showing how the web has changed our lives and opened up a whole can of worms, good and bad. It's always nice when you get a thematic continuity to your screenings entirely by accident.

First off in the morning I saw William and the Windmill, the Grand Jury Prize documentary winner at this year's SXSW. The film's subject is William Kamkwamba, who built a windmill as a teenager to bring water and energy to his family farm in Mawali. This feat of invention catapulted him to fame and success, and drastically changed his life. Next I saw The Only Son, an examination of a young Himalayan man who is stuck between his family pressuring him to return to their mountain village and take over the care of the farm and his own dreams of a westernized life in Europe.

In the afternoon I also saw Downloaded by Alex Winter (Bill from Bill & Ted) about the rise and fall of Napster. I followed this up with Terms and Conditions May Apply that looks at how corporations like Facebook and Google and world governments are using our personal, private information online. One film is an optimistic look at the capabilities of the Internet and the ingenuity at work there, while the other is an activist look at how the world is slowly turning into a place controlled by Big Brother.

I'm wiped by today, so I'll see how many films I take in tomorrow. The responsibilities of my real life are kicking in, so coverage will slow down very soon.