Hot line-up at Hot Docs

Multicultural newborns and legendary Canadian rockers will be in the spotlight at next month's Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. The fest opens with French director Thomas Balmes' Babies and the story of one of Canada's biggest bands, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage.
March 24, 2010

New film projects from A-list documentarians Alex Gibney and the team of D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, and special retrospectives featuring the work of Kim Longinotto and Tahani Rached are among the highlights of the upcoming Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, in Toronto from April 29 to May 9.

The roster for the 11-day event was announced at a Toronto press conference yesterday (Wednesday). Hot Docs aims to deliver the best collection of documentaries in the world, says Farnel, and the festival’s growing popularity serves as a testament to that commitment. The attendance for the festival has doubled in five years and the concurrent Toronto Documentary Forum (TDF) is highly competitive. ‘Documentaries can be and do a little bit of everything,’ says Farnel. ‘They are the Swiss Army knives of film form.’

This year’s festival received a record total of 2088 film submissions, up from last year’s impressive 1948, and will present 166 documentaries, 20 of which are world premieres and 30 international premieres. The film selections are drawn from 41 countries.

There’s no doubt that the adorable tots of opening night film Babies will win some fans. Thomas Balmes’ film follows the growth of four babies – from Namibia, Mongolia, Tokyo and San Francisco – and makes its Canadian debut on April 29. The Hot Docs crew got a preview screening from Alliance Atlantis, and after the film, according to Farnel, instead of discussing greater themes and ideas from the documentary, everyone dissolved into conversations about which was the cutest baby. ‘This is what reality TV has done to us,’ cracked Farnel.

The second opening night film is Canadian doc Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, from Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn. ‘They got the biopic they deserved,’ said Farnel of the iconic Canadian rock band. Members of Rush will be in attendance for the screening on April 29.

The Special Presentations Program will feature 19 titles, including Steven Soderbergh’s foray into documentary with And Everything Is Fine, an archive footage tribute to Spalding Gray; biographical doc Bhutto from filmmakers Duane Baughman and Johnny O’Hara, on the controversial former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto; Alex Gibney’s Casino Jack and the United States of Money, which looks at fraudster Jack Abramoff’s scandal and Kings of Pastry, from documentary legends D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, who follow the battle to become France’s top pastry chef.

The 23 films in the Canada Media Fund-supported Canadian Spectrum include Maya Gallus’ Dish – Women, Waitressing and the Art of Service and Shelley Saywell’s In the Name of the Family, which looks at an alleged honor killing in Mississauga, Ontario. John Zaritsky’s Leave Them Laughing takes a look at one woman’s comedic approach to having Lou Gehrig’s disease.

This year’s spotlight is on South America, and will include Sins of My Father by previous TDF participant Nicolas Entel. His film explores Pablo Escobar’s son and his deceased father’s legacy.

Kim Longinotto, award-winning director of docs Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go, Divorce Iranian Style and Rough Aunties, will receive this year’s Outstanding Achievement Award and retrospective. Also receiving a retrospective is Canadian filmmaker Tahani Rached. Three of her films, Au Chic Resto Pop, Beirut! Not Enough Death To Go Around and These Girls will screen during the Focus On program, while Rached’s newest film, Neighbors, will screen during the Special Presentation program.

As previously announced, Jan Rofekamp will receive the Doc Mogul Award, which goes to an individual who has made significant contributes to the vitality of the doc industry. Rofekamp is president and owner of Films Transit International, a Montreal-based distributor of theatrical docs.

Considering the Academy Awards were held earlier this month, it’s a bit early to start making predictions for next year. Still, according to Hot Docs programming director Sean Farnel, there might be some Oscar nominees within the 2010 festival’s line-up, just announced yesterday. He wouldn’t be remiss in saying so, given the Hot Docs track record from last year: the Hot Docs Audience Award went to Oscar best doc-winner The Cove, and Oscar-nominated Rabbit à Berlin nabbed the prize for best mid-length doc at the fest.

Hot Docs will run from April 29 to May 9.

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