At a press conference announcing the line-up for the 25th Hot Docs International Festival on Tuesday (March 20), realscreen caught up with a few of the filmmakers and producers to discuss the docs they’re bringing to the fest as world premieres.
Turning up The Heat
Among the more than 246 films screening during the festival is Toronto-based filmmaker Maya Gallus‘ The Heat: A Kitchen Revolution (pictured, above) which will bow opening night at the festival on April 26. In the high stakes and hot-tempered world of restaurant kitchens, it’s not easy to climb the ladder. For women, it’s even more difficult. But as women take the reins in more of the world’s top restaurants, they bring a cultural shift with them that is impacting the predominantly macho space.
Gallus, who heads up Toronto-based Red Queen productions with Justine Pimlott, told realscreen that the idea for the new film grew out of her 2010 documentary Dish: Women, Waitressing & the Art of Service which looks at women working in the service industry.
“After looking at women in the front of the house, I became interested in women in the back of the house – the kitchen,” she said.
The director (pictured, below) said when she was shooting the documentary she became fascinated, watching people work and how focused the women were. But she was aware of the need to keep a respectful distance from the occasionally frantic world of food prep.
“The last thing you want is to be in the way or interfere with that process,” Gallus said.
With the culturally and politically significant charge of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement, Gallus believes people are more open now to women-led stories like The Heat.
The project was named as a Ted Rogers Hot Docs Fund recipient in the round of funding announced in February.
Joining the Fan Club
Some people are very passionate about their television shows.
And then there are fan activists – TV advocates who work to save their favorite series from being axed.
Michael Sparaga’s 97-minute United We Fan takes audiences into the world of fan activists Bjo and John Trimble, who led a letter-writing campaign in the 1960s to save Star Trek. From the Sixties to the present day, countless other TV fans have gone to extreme lengths to save their best-loved shows.
The idea behind Sparaga’s latest project started years ago when, at the age of 13, he wrote a letter to NBC to try and save the 1986 short-lived drama series Crime Story. The show never came back, but that memory stuck with him. Ever since then, he has kept his eye on different television campaigns. In 2009, when the Toronto Star spotlighted a local trying to save the show NBC series Chuck, Sparaga said he started researching the topic at length.
What he found is that these fan activists are fighting for more than another season of their show or more episodes.
“They are fighting to keep their group of people who love that show together – and their identity, which is reflected in that show,” he said.
During the two years it took to put the doc together, Sparaga, who also produced the doc with Joel Roff, said he had to sift through many fan stories to find the gems. Often, he found that fans were fighting for particular shows because they identified with a character on screen. He said this was very true for the LGBTQ community, which is still underrepresented on television.
“It was eye-opening how important representation is – to see themselves on air,” Sparaga noted.
Examining The Accountant of Auschwitz
“What would I have done in that position?”
That is the question that Toronto-based director Matthew Shoychet wants audiences to reflect upon after watching The Accountant of Auschwitz, making its world premiere at Hot Docs.
In 2015, 94-year old Oscar Gröning, known as the “Accountant of Auschwitz” took the stand in a trial where he was charged with the murder of 300,000 Jews. While the trial in Lüneburg, Germany made headlines around the world, there was much debate around his prosecution. On one side were those who believed Gröning was a witness and therefore complicit, regardless of any perceived duty to follow orders. Others saw no reason to pursue charges of this elderly man.
Producer Ricki Gurwitz said in looking at this case, the goal was not to make a Holocaust film but one that applies a modern perspective in asking what we can learn from the past.
“It was an intellectually complicated film to make,” Gurwitz said.
As neither she nor Shoychet was at Gröning’s trial, they had to get footage from it and piece it together alongside archival footage.
“The biggest [production] problem was trying to construct the film,” Shoychet noted. “With so many facts and characters and hours of footage, how do you bring the story through?”
Gurwitz hopes the film will prompt audiences to reexamine how people are prosecuted and what it means to be complicit in a crime.
“Not everything is always so black and white. There is some grey area to explore – and to understand – which helps to understand us as humans,” she said.