This year, the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival features its largest international representation to date, with 189 films from a record 51 countries making their way to Toronto from April 26-May 6.
Those films include the festival opener, the Canadian premiere of Alison Klayman’s Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, a portrait of the Chinese artist and activist that encapsulates many of the themes that programmers wanted to explore this year.
“There were films that looked at the power of technology and he very much is a key figure in that, in his use of social media,” Charlotte Cook, Hot Docs’ director of programming, told realscreen. “We wanted to look at art as power and he absolutely epitomizes that. It’s about the idea of one person being the catalyst for change. It’s also made by a first-time filmmaker, which is something we’re championing this year.”
Programmers received 2,311 submissions from which they selected the 189 films, including 37 world premieres. There are also 10 fewer films screening compared with last year. Cook, who is programming Hot Docs for the first time, said the decrease in the number of films reflects a desire for a more structured and focused program. “It’s very much quality over quantity,” she said.
Other much-buzzed-about docs coming to Hot Docs include Kevin MacDonald’s Bob Marley biography Marley; Bart Layton’s The Imposter; James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot’s Indie Game: The Movie; Lauren Greenfield’s The Queen of Versailles; Yung Chang’s China Heavyweight; and Christian Bonke and Andreas Koefoed’s Ballroom Dancer.
The festival will also feature a mid-career retrospective of the work of Canadian director John Kastner, who most recently helmed the award-winning Life with Murder. The fest’s Outstanding Achievement Award retrospective will feature the work of Québécois filmmaker Michel Brault, who will also present a master class session as part of the festival’s conference, Doc to the Future.
A three-time Emmy winning documentarian, Kastner is known for tackling complex and emotionally intense subject matter in films such as Life With Murder, Fighting Back and Monster in the Family. Although his Hot Docs retrospective emphasizes his hard-hitting work, the program also features the comic take on market research, Ask A Silly Question.
“I like the fact that we got to program one silly film,” Kastner said following the announcement. “Basically I’m a very silly man doing serious films. It’ something that shows the range of what I do because I’ve done a lot of ‘silly’ films.”
In the competitive programs, the International Spectrum roster includes Bill Ross and Turner Ross’ Tchoupitoulas, Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s The Law in These Parts, Elizabeth Mims and Jason Tippet’s Only the Young, and Sean McAllister’s The Reluctant Revolutionary.
Meanwhile, the competitive Canadian Spectrum program includes Christy Garland’s The Bastard Sings the Sweetest Song, Omar Majeed and Ryan Mullins’ The Frog Princes, Angad Singh Bhalla’s Herman’s House, and Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math’s The Final Member.
Organizers have introduced several new program categories this year. The Nightvision program will spotlight films with potential cult cachet, such as James Franco and Ian Olds’ Francophenia (Or: Don’t Kill Me, I Know Where The Baby Is), about the actor’s experiences on the set of daytime soap opera General Hospital; director Chris James Thompson’s Jeff, about serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer; and Mary Kerr’s Radioman, a doc about an eccentric street person who becomes a fixture on Hollywood film sets.
The Next program will highlight films about artists and includes the LCD Soundsystem film Shut Up and Play the Hits; Poull Brien’s Charles Bradley: Soul of America; The Mystery of Mazo de la Roche, a film about the reclusive Canadian author; and Sylvia Caminer’s doc An Affair of the Heart about rocker Rick Springfield, who will attend the screening.
The Rise Against program reflects the number of films about activism made in the wake of global events such as the Arab Spring. Brian Knappenberger’s We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists; Guy Davidi and Emad Burnat’s 5 Broken Cameras; and Petr Lom’s Back to the Square are among the films screening in the program.
There will also be a retrospective on films about the filmmaking process called Documentary Plays Itself. Phie Ambo’s Gambler, Louis Pepe and Keith Fulton’s Lost in La Mancha, and Thom Anderson’s Los Angeles Plays Itself are among the films screening.
On the industry side the festival also unveiled the full agenda for its revitalized conference Doc to the Future, which will emphasize interactive sessions, hands-on workshops and intimate conversations curated around the theme of new opportunities of audience engagement.
The agenda includes a keynote talk by filmmaker Ted Hope, An Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim’s chat with 2012 Doc Mogul Award recipient Diane Weyermann of Participant Media, a panel on Digital Distribution 101, a two-day “hack” series during which participants will produce an interactive documentary, a three-hour interactive storytelling workshop, a session on first-time doc-makers with David Wilson from True/False Film Fest, and a master class with filmmaker Michel Brault.
“We want to have a real dialogue between who’s on stage and the audience so that we’re working through changes, discussions, issues and conversations together,” said Sarah Lancaster, industry programming and conference coordinator for the festival. “We want it to be practical and real and give people the tools to go out there and experience in the shift in the audience themselves.”
Details of the annual Hot Docs Forum will be announced on March 26.
(With files from Barry Walsh)