Hot Docs 2011 preview & thoughts

What’s up doc…

Hot Docs 2011Without sounding too rosemantic, there are some wonderful things about living in North America. I’m not talking about twinkies, maple syrup or Hershey’s cookies and cream. I’m actually talking about film festivals. Showcases for films looking for distributors, media buzz and most importantly… an audience.

The Hot Docs festival is North America’s largest documentary festival and this year is presenting over 200 films from more than 43 countries. The festival kicked off last night with the Canadian premiere of Morgan Spurlock’s new film POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.

As with any festival there’s some I’ve missed out on and may end up standing in a rush line for. A few of these movies will show up in theatres really soon (Spurlock’s The Greatest Movie Ever Sold gets a pretty widespread North American release this weekend), while other big-hitters like James Marshall’s follow-up to Man on Wire, Project Nim and Asif Kapadia’s Senna, an enticing look at the life of Formula 1 legend Ayrton Senna, may not show up for a few months. And then you have a wealth of low-key docs that are coming to Toronto to gain some buzz in the hope of getting a theatrical or on-demand release later in the year. The fact so many of these are premiering here without any press or reviews makes going through the schedule making your picks a lot of fun but also a little bit of a lottery.

So anyway, I’ve done the honest thing and picked up a nice shiny festival pass, in the hope of seeing a few gems over the coming days. Just like my pre-TIFF piece last September, below are some pretty pictures, official blurbs and trailers of the docs I’ve got tickets for.

 

Wiebo’s War

94 minutes | Canada | Language: English | North American Premiere | Rating: 14A

- hot docs description/tickets
- Official site
- Now Magazine – “Wiebo Ludwig: victim or fanatic?”
- Insidetoronto.com – “Three west end directors show at Hot Docs”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnBibPMCcME]Big Oil calls convicted 1990s oilpatch saboteur Reverend Wiebo Ludwig an eco-terrorist and portrays him as a patriarchal cult leader. He calls himself a devout Christian driven to defend his Trickle Creek farm from the deadly effects of toxic sour gas wells. Now there’s a new series of gas well bombings, and the RCMP and media are back. David York takes his camera into the heart of Ludwig’s Christian community to create a powerful film about two decades of conflict. Film shot by the Ludwigs chronicles a litany of horrors: livestock deaths, mass miscarriages of lambs and of human babies with similar deformities, severe reactions to gas flares, and desperate attempts to reach government agencies. Their footage of confrontations with gas workers and police, and its stark contrast with media reports, raises a critical issue: when politicians and police become sock puppets for private interests, is vigilante action justified?

 

The Redemption of General Butt Naked

The Redemption of General Butt Naked

83 minutes | USA | Language: English | Canadian Premiere | Rating: 18A

- hot docs description/tickets
- Official site
- BlogTO review (recommended)


During Liberia’s bloody 14-year civil war, General Butt Naked inspired fear as one of the country’s most savage warlords. Notorious for stripping down to nothing but an AK-47 and a pair of leather shoes before massacring his victims—a ploy he thought gave him supernatural powers to evade bullets—he confessed to killing more than 20,000 of his fellow citizens. Now, after a dramatic conversion to Christianity and rebirth as Joshua Milton Blahyi, the deeply repentant evangelist spreads the Word in the very towns he once terrorized. This Sundance award-winning film follows Blahyi on his unique door-to-door campaign as he seeks out his surviving victims, hoping to make amends. But in a country scarred by memories of a bloody past and plagued by continued betrayals and corruption, what chance does forgiveness really have? Gripping and thoroughly unforgettable, this film reveals a man wrestling against his own nature and a nation struggling to move on.

 

Empire North

Empire North

58 minutes | Denmark | Language: (Subtitled) Danish English | Canadian Premiere | Rating: 18A

- hot docs description/tickets
- BlogTO review (Top Pick)
- Wikipedia – “ID Sniper Rifle”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXHVpZEj9VY]Danish artist, filmmaker and reality hacker Jakob Boeskov brings us a docu-fiction based loosely on the events of his life and his newest work. Overwhelmed by war-time horrors of the last decade, Boeskov creates a new identity for himself as the highly polished and well educated CEO of a fictitious weapons company, Empire North. He conceives of a weapon called the ID Sniper Rifle that shoots an undetectable GPS chip into the body of targets so police or government agencies can track them later. Boeskov then infiltrates a high-tech weapons trade show pretending to seek investors for his product. Upon his return to Europe, he finds his inbox flooded with requests to invest as overnight his bogus rifle becomes a highly coveted weapon. Boeskov’s latest piece is a horrifying glimpse into the world of arms dealing and the unethical race to create the next weapon of control.

 

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop

Conan O'Brien can't stop

89 minutes | USA | Language: English | International Premiere | Rating: 18A

- hot docs description/tickets
- imdb
- Variety review
- NY Times review

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAgEz7Lpvto]Conan O’Brien is angry. Unceremoniously dumped from The Tonight Show, then banned from appearing on television, radio or the internet for six months, the firebrand comic found himself without an outlet for the first time in over two decades. In the weeks before his current TBS show was even a glimmer in a TV exec’s eye, O’Brien channeled his creative and vengeful energies to launch the Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour. Filmmaker Rodman Flender hit the road with Team Coco as they performed on a 32-city stand-up extravaganza. Watching O’Brien write, perform and ham it up with cronies like Andy Richter is footage that’s not to be missed. But it’s the quieter time in which O’Brien reflects on what performing means to his life that illuminates a talent that simply won’t quit.

 

Better This World

95 minutes | USA UK | Language: English | International Premiere | Rating: PG

- hot docs description/tickets
- imdb
- Eye Weekly Review (***)
- Variety Review

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kd0pY18lA4k]Two childhood friends from Midland, Texas—hometown of George W. and Laura Bush—turn 20, move to Austin and have a political awakening. Disenchanted and wanting to better the world, David and Brad set out to prove the fervour of their beliefs to both themselves and their mentor, a charismatic revolutionary—and FBI informant. The 2008 Republican National Convention protests serve as backdrop to a drama already scripted. Eight homemade bombs lead to the boys being arrested on domestic terrorism charges. A controversial entrapment defence ensues, exposing the dubious new tactics of the War on Terror. In a provocative study of post 9/11 paranoia, critically acclaimed directors Kelly Duane de la Vega (Monumental: David Brower’s Fight for Wild America) and Katie Galloway (Prison Town, USA) introduce us to activists and informant, taking us inside their lives, now forever changed.

 

Superheroes

Superheroes

82 minutes | USA | Language: English | International Premiere | Rating: PG

- hot docs description/tickets
- imdb
- Criticize This Hot Docs preview

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQe6zA-OTqE]Bruce Wayne is a billionaire, Superman is an alien and Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive spider that gave him the abilities of an arachnid. But they’re imaginary, and even in their fantasy universes they have substantial resources to draw on when fighting crime. So how can there be ordinary people—real humans with 9-to-5 jobs, rent to pay and families to answer to—who come home from work, put on their self-stitched super suits and take to the streets in the name of justice? And how can there be so many? With the phenomenon turning up more frequently in newspapers around the globe, this Slamdance award-winner examines the motivations and repercussions of a new brand of activism. Wryly funny and patiently observed, this real-life Kick Ass shows it isn’t always easy to do the things you want, but a superhero never stops trying.

 

Hell and Back Again

88 minutes | UK USA | Language: English | International Premiere | Rating: 18A

- hot docs description/tickets
- Now Magazine review (NNNN)
- The Star / Toronto.com review


Danfung Dennis was a photojournalist covering the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan when he had a revelation. “I found that I was unable to capture the brutal realities on the ground,” he told indieWIRE. “The public was numb to these same images of war and the traditional media outlets were not committed to their coverage of the conflicts.” Customizing gear built for still photography, he returned to Afghanistan with the intention of conveying what he witnessed as honestly and truthfully as possible. The result is one of the great recent films about war, a visually arresting and intimately powerful story of soldiers in battle and at home, that does the impossible: it shakes our shell-shocked senses with the brutal realities of war and the profundity of human resilience, love and compassion.

 

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey

Being Elmo

76 minutes | USA | Language: English | International Premiere | Rating: G

- hot docs description/tickets
- imdb
- firstshowing.net review [9/10]
- Hollywood Reporter review

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLS_ZnsA0fc]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.

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  2. Thoughts from afar – St. Patrick’s Day 2011
  3. My TIFF 2010 movie schedule!
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One Response to Hot Docs 2011 preview & thoughts

  1. Nice job, Nigel. I’m looking forward to a few of these same films, and can wholeheartedly recommend Wiebo’s War. Hope to see you at some point during the festival! Say hello if you see me!