Hot Docs 2008

Hot Docs 2008 featured image

by Marc Glassman.

Hot Docs 2008
April 17-27
Box office: 87 Avenue Road at Hazelton Lanes, upper level
Venues: Al Green Theatre (Mlles Nadal JCC); the Bloor; the Royal; Cumberland cinemas; Innis Town Hall; Isabel Bader; ROM; Winter Garden
Films: over 170 shorts and features
Producing countries: 36

Industry delegates: over 2000
Main industry event: TDF (Toronto documentary Forum)
Second most important: Doc Summit (NFB sponsored national dialogue)
Third: DocAgora: new technologies and the doc

Film Programmes:
International Spectrum: new docs worldwide
World Showcase: also global, these films have had more screenings
Canadian Spectrum: features and shorts from Canada
Made in Mexico: surveys Mexican docs
Spotlight in Iran: overview of Iranian non-fiction cinema
Outstanding Achievement Retrospective: Richard Leacock
Canadian Focus: Jennifer Baichwal
Next: films on art
Make me a believer: films on spirituality
Special Presentations: award-winners, master directors, special events

Coolest delegate bonus: The Doc Shop, where 1500 docs are available to be seen on DVD in small viewing stations

Number of stars: one, Isabella Rossellini

Number of years the festival has been running: 15

Hot Docs is the little festival that could. From an event that only showed Canadian docs, most of which had already been broadcast, to the hugely influential international festival that exists today is a leap of nearly galactic proportions. Starting out as a promotional and moderately successful fundraising tool for the Canadian documentary community, the festival grew slowly over its first six years. The big event, all that time, was a prize giving ceremony that functioned much as Guild awards nearly always do—local heroes, across the country, received recognition from their peers.

That all changed in 1999, when Chris McDonald left the Canadian Film Centre to take over the role as Executive Director. Quickly, the programme opened up to include international entries. Retrospectives on important directors became festival highlights as did focuses on national cinemas from Europe, Asia and South America. In a controversial but appropriate decision, Canadian films that had already been broadcast or screened became ineligible.

Within a few years, all films, apart from special screenings, became Toronto premieres. More and more filmmakers came to showcase their wares. Then, in a masterstroke, the TDF (Toronto Documentary Forum) was created. A private industry pitch session in which qualified filmmakers could present their new project to an international body of producers, fellow directors and commissioning editors for broadcasters, the Forum became a “must see” event in many a professional’s calendar. Films—many of them quite important—got their funds increased due to the Forum.

Soon, Hot Docs became one of the most important events in international documentary circles. People from around the world come to the festival to buy and sell films, meet old friends and pitch new projects. Meanwhile, the Toronto audience, ever mindful of something new and significant has embraced Hot Docs.

Audience numbers are climbing. So are the international guests. And, indeed, so are the films.

And, as Kurt Vonnegut once put it, so it goes. Hot Docs just keeps getting hotter. There’s no end in sight—and why would there be?

One pick per section. Yep, it’s how I cover every major festival!

Here we go:

International Spectrum
The English Surgeon.
A brilliant profile of Dr. Henry Marsh, a neurosurgeon who has spent years operating on patients in the former Soviet Union. Sad and moving.

Canadian Spectrum
A compassionate, funny look at the folks who work carnivals today. Funky, interesting—and beautifully shot, in part, by still photographer Virginia Lee Hunter.

Made in Mexico
The Old Thieves
Fascinating profiles of old-time professional crooks. They’re all good storytellers, in particular one “gent” called El Carrizo.

Spotlight in Iran
Tehran has no more pomegranates
A stylish look at the history of Iran’s major city. Uses fake and real archival footage and is quite experiment—all of which slightly disguises a very real critique on Iranian society.

Outstanding Achievement Retrospective: Richard Leacock
Jazz Dance
Frenetic movement to up tempo jazz beats. Kinetic cinema

Canadian Focus: Jennifer Baichwal
The Holier it Gets
Filmmaker Baichwal and her siblings find out much about each other as they travel through India to bury their father’s ashes in the Ganges

World Showcase
Be Like Others
A compassionate look at Iranian transsexuals who go through sex change operation to “be like others”

Next: films on art
General Idea: Art, AIDS and the fin de siecle
Tells the riveting story of a Toronto based conceptual art group that became international art stars and then fell apart when two of them died of AIDS

Make me a believer: films on spirituality
Shadow of the Holy Book
A marvelously absurd look at a crazed Turkmenistan dictator who created his own religion and insisted that everyone—including international corporations—pay lip service to his beliefs

Special Presentations
The tale of the Uruguayan rugby team that resorted to cannibalism to survive after their plane crashed in the Andes. Excellent reconstructions of the events and story telling make this a great film

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