UPDATED: “League of Exotique Dancers” to open Hot Docs

Rama Rau's League of Exotique Dancers (pictured) is to open the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, which promises an enhanced focus on doc shorts and an array of interdisciplinary films.
March 22, 2016

Rama Rau‘s League of Exotique Dancers (pictured) is to open the 23rd edition of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.

The Toronto-set fest revealed its complete film line-up at a press conference held this morning (March 22) at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. The 2016 program will see 232 titles from 51 countries screening across 12 programs, with work by female filmmakers representing close to 40% of the slate, according to organizers.

In addition, Hot Docs will this year see the expansion of its DocX program into a separate venue, as well as a greater focus on interdisciplinary films and an enhanced doc short slate, which has been upped by around 55% over last year. The shorts are housed within the festival’s two thematic programs (Command and Control and the Pursuit of Happiness) and many will screen ahead of features.

shane smith

Shane Smith

“There are so many opportunities for short documentaries than there were even a couple of years ago and a lot of that is due to the online platforms,” Shane Smith , the festival’s new director of programming, tells realscreen. “We’re recognizing the great work that’s being made as a result and we want to make sure we’re incorporating that work into the festival.”

Rau’s Canadian-produced League of Exotique Dancers, which examines the golden age of burlesque, will open the festival on April 28. Produced by Storyline Entertainment and made by an all-female crew, the film profiles some of the most colorful dancers of the period as they prepare to enter the Burlesque Hall of Fame.

Kinosmith is distributing the film in Canada, where it will also air on the Documentary Channel. Producers pre-sold it in Denmark, Sweden and Norway and will be looking for U.S. and UK deals while at Hot Docs.

During the press conference, Rama said the doc will give viewers “an alternative view of feminism in North America.”

“Most of these stories have never been told before mostly because no one has ever asked,” she said.

The program 

The festival last week rounded out the docs screening in its Special Presentations line-up. Highlights include the world premieres of Jerry Rothwell and Reuben Atlas’ Sour Grapes and Brendan Byrne’s Bobby Sands: 66 Days.

The Canadian Spectrum program includes Nettie Wild’s Konelīne: Our Land Beautiful, on the disputed land in northwestern British Columbia; John Bolton’s Aim For The Roses, which weaves together three Canadian stories; Min Sook Lee’s Migrant Dreams, on two women caught in Canada’s migrant worker program; Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s Angry Inuk, billed as a “portrait of a misunderstood and unheard culture”; Matt Gallagher’s How To Prepare For Prison, on the lives and families of those on trial; and Christy Garland’s Cheer Up, on a group of teenage cheerleaders.

The International Spectrum program, meanwhile, includes Juan Mejia Botero and Jake Kheel’s Death By A Thousand Cuts, which follows the cycle of ethnic civil conflict and violence between two countries; Mike Day’s The Islands and the Whales, an examination of the effects of marine pollution on the Faroe Islands; Jonny von Wallström’s The Pearl of Africa, tracking a transgender woman’s fight for love; Catalina Mesa’s The Infinite Flight of Days, following the lives of eight women in the Andes Mountains; and Alma Har’el’s LoveTrue, a study of “love and heartache.”


Alma Har’el’s LoveTrue

The World Showcase program is to screen Jessie Deeter’s The Revolution Won’t Be Televised, on an uprising led by two hip-hop artists; Mehrdad Oskouei’s Starless Dreams, on seven young women jailed near Tehran; Maria Arlamovsky’s Future Baby, an examination of the increasing complexity of human reproduction; Toby Oppenheimer and Dana Flor’s Check It, which follows a gang of black LGBT youth; Lou Pepe and Keith Fulton’s The Bad Kids, a portrait of a group of American youth; and Yun Ye’s Look Love, billed as a study of “circumstance and class.”

Elsewhere, the fest’s Made In Australia program includes Eva Orner’s Chasing Asylum, on the treatment of asylum-seekers in Australia; Hollie Fifer’s The Opposition, about the battle for land in Papua New Guinea; Nicole Ma’s Putuparri and the Rainmakers, which finds a man torn between two identities; and Aaron Petersen’s Zach’s Ceremony, a cultural coming-of-age story.

Among the titles in the Artscapes program is Nimisha Mukerji’s Tempest Storm, on an American sex icon, and Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson, a cinematographer’s memoir recently profiled by realscreen. The Nightvision program, meanwhile, includes Penny Lane‘s Nuts! and Charlie Lyne’s Fear Itself, while the Command + Control program includes Vitaly Mansky’s Under the Sun, Nanfu Wang’s Hooligan Sparrow, and David Farrier and Dylan Reeve’s Tickled.

Highlights in the Pursuit of Happiness program are Paul Refsdal’s Dugma: The Button, Mattia Epifani’s The Successor, Dean Fleischer-Camp’s The Fraud, and Gabe Spitzer and David Terry Fine’s Hit It Hard. Finally, as previously reported, the festival is to celebrate Life Itself director Steve James with its 2016 Outstanding Achievement Award, while filmmaker Rosie Dransfeld will be honored with this year’s Focus On retrospective.

In addition to those programming threads, programming director Shane Smith says there are a handful of strong true-crime capers in this year’s line-up, such as Rothwell and Atlas’ Sour Grapes, as well as strong work from China and Iran.

“We’re seeing really interesting work coming out China this year,” he told realscreen. “Chinese filmmakers are really telling their own stories in ways that isn’t necessarily going to make the authorities happy. But they’re less afraid to tell their stories in their way. Iran is doing great work, too. There’s been a resurgence there in quality and range.”

Big Ideas and DocX

The Hot Docs Forum will also welcome more than 2,000 industry delegates for a number of industry events, including conferences sessions, Hot Docs Deal Maker and the Doc Shop. The Forum runs from May 2 to 6.

Elsewhere, the Scotiabank Big Ideas series – now in its fifth year – is slated to showcase six documentaries, each followed by discussions with notable subjects and experts on the issues featured in the films.

The 2016 roster includes screenings of OJ: Made in America, with director Ezra Edelman and sports journalist Robert Lipsyte in attendance; The Apology, featuring director Tiffany Hsiung, Meehyang Yoon, the director of Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Slavery, and the film’s subject Gil Won-Ok; and The Happy Film, with co-director Ben Nabors, psychotherapist Sheenah Hankin and the film’s subject Stefan Sagmeister.

Also featured in the series is What Tomorrow Brings, featuring director Beth Murphy and the film’s subject Razia Jan; Southwest of Salem: The Story Of The San Antonio Four, with director Deborah S. Esquenazi and producer Sam Tabet, as well as the film’s subjects; and Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru, with director Joe Berlinger and motivational speaker Tony Robbins.

o.j.: made in america

O.J.: Made in America

In addition, the DocX program will return to this year’s festival with a more expansive look at innovative documentary storytelling through new technologies living outside of the traditional format. The program will include screenings, performances, interactive installations, exhibitions, virtual reality (VR) and 360-degree video pieces.

Titles included in the interdisciplinary section of the festival include the world premiering Brothers in the Kitchen from Cyrus Sundar Singh, a doc-hybrid performed live and following Tamil Sri Lankans who fled civil war; Brent and Sam Green’s Brent Green and Sam Green: Live Cinema, which combines performance, cinema and rock ‘n’ roll; and Matt Johnson’s Operation: Avalanche, on the conspiracy theory about the 1969 Moon landing.

The DocX program will also feature such VR experiences as Canadian news outlet The Globe and Mail’s Surviving Solitary, an inside look at the Canadian prison system; Brenda Longfellow, Glenn Richards and Helios Design Labs’ Offshore VR, examining the potential ramifications of deep water oil extraction; Aaron Bradbury’s Lovr, examining brain activity the moment you fall in love; and Gabo Arora, Ari Palitz, the United Nations and’ My Mother’s Wing, which explores the challenges of living in Gaza as a Palestinian family.

Smith’s main focus for this year’s interdisciplinary work will be VR and ensuring audiences have positive experiences with the still-developing technology.

In addition to having a dedicated space for audiences to view VR and 360-degree docs, teams equipped with VR headsets will pop-up in film line-ups and give audiences a chance to view VR docs that are thematically similar to the subject matter in the film they are waiting to see.

“VR is in a fascinating place right now in terms of awareness, but there are still so many people who haven’t experienced it and are not necessarily inclined to seek it out,” says Smith. “The great challenge with VR right now is solving the user experience issue. It’s hard in a group setting to do a VR experience so we’re trying to keep it as audience-friendly as possible.”

Speaking to the inclusion of interdisciplinary work, Sarafina DiFelice – Hot Docs’ newly installed associate director of programming – said that the success of previous interdisciplinary projects at Hot Docs made it a “natural decision to expand and formalize the section.”

“We’re excited to provide a platform for these artists and organizations that are pushing the boundaries of what documentary can do, and to continue to build an audience for immersive storytelling in Toronto,” she continued.

By Manori Ravindran, Daniele Alcinii and Kevin Ritchie

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