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Hot Docs 2009 Preview, Part 2

Posted by Tim / April 29, 2009

Hot Docs PreviewWith about 170 films screening at this year's Hot Docs, it's almost impossible to make a list like this comprehensive. Chandra has seen a bunch and has her picks (and pans) in Part 1 of our Hot Docs preview preamble. Me? I've watched 16 films. Well, perhaps 16 isn't really an accurate number. If a film didn't even mildly engage me after the first 20 minutes I pressed stop, eject and moved on. A list of the rejects are below.

I'm not going as far as NOT recommending them though. The documentary is a very personal genre. Subjects I find interesting aren't necessarily the same as the next person. But that said, I'd still argue that a well made documentary about anything is fully watchable. So maybe my rejects are pans after all?

Top Picks

WInnebago Man
For viral video fans, this doc needs no introduction. Just search on YouTube for Winnebago Man and you'll see what I mean. The video - which first rose to prominence in the days of the VHS tape - shows outtakes from corporate commercials made by the Winnebago company and star one frustrated dude named Jack Rebney. In this doc, director Ben Steinbauer gets the bright idea to go track the man down.

End of the Line

Note To Self: Do NOT eat at Sushi on Bloor or New Gen immediately prior to watching this film. Why? For starters, End of the Line, documents the overfishing that is plaguing the world's oceans and the seeming ambivalence of government leaders at home and abroad to do anything about it. Japanese conglomerate Mitsubishi (who knew they were the world's largest hoarders of Blue Fin tuna) look especially bad here, as does the famous Nobu.


I found this film about a Pawn shop in Edmonton strangely captivating. It actually made me want to go and visit all the pawn shops in Toronto. Or at least a couple of them at Queen and Church. Must add that to my weekend to-do list.

Black Wave
While the Exxon Valdez oil spill might be a distant memory for some of us, the repercussions for those living in Prince William Sound are still very real. This eye opening doc made me want to hate Exxon even more than I already did.

This is a quintessential Hot Docs film. Set in Toronto, it documents the lives (or lack thereof) of a number of regulars at a local Bingo Hall. And through some weird cosmic alignment, I somehow managed to be standing next to one of them in the BBQ section of the Home Depot at St. Clair and Keele the day after I watched this.

Big River Man
I fell asleep three times when trying to watch this documentary which might say something about the pace of the film, but as far as content this one is a definite winner. It tells the story of a Slovenian endurance swimmer who is plenty famous in his home country for holding World Records for swimming rivers like the Mississippi, Danube and the Yangtze. Here, he attempts to become the first person to swim the length of the Amazon.

Roadsworth - Crossing The Line
For street art fans this doc is a must see. It's about Peter Gibson, aka Roadsworth, an artist who gained notoriety for his amazing stenciling and spray painting on the streets of Montreal. You don't need to know any more. Just go watch it.

H2OIL takes a closer look at the health and environmental impacts of the Alberta Tar Sands, what some have referred to as the most unsustainable development on the planet. We're exposed to various individuals, First Nations communities and local businesses as they deal with the repercussions of water contamination, greenhouse gas emissions and what may be a government and industry cover up about the health risks faced by residents along the Athabasca River.

This film about Toronto's club district should have been a lot better. I felt that the director just scratched the surface and would have loved to see this extended another 30 minutes. Adam Vaughan, Charles Khabouth and Peter Gatien share screen time.

Not So Recommended

Old Partner
If you want to see images of rural China and like the idea of watching a documentary about a peasant family and their ox then this film should be on your list.

Bloody Monday's & Strawberry Pies
I got fooled into thinking this might be decent because John Malkovich narrates it. And maybe it is. But I couldn't get past the first part of the film to find out.

Enjoy Poverty
The dirty camera lens at the start is pretty much the tip off that this wasn't going to be the slickest of productions.

Inside Hana's Suitcase
I usually like Holocaust films (that sounded weird) but this Rhombus Media production seemed too slick for its own good. The same story told in a different way might have worked.

Cooking History
I generally love food documentaries so the fact this one's not recommended probably says something. There are moments of "interestingness" here but I think this one tries to be too quirky to its detriment.

Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be The Same
I think the good times in this one ended up on the cutting room floor.

Action Boys
You'd think a documentary about Korean stuntmen would be more entertaining.

See also: Hot Docs 2009 Preview, Part 1

Hot Docs runs from April 30 to May 10 at various venues. Tickets and passes can be purchased at the documentary box office, 55 Avenue Road, Hazelton Lanes (Lower Level) or online.



Daniel Z / April 29, 2009 at 11:01 am
Does anyone know if HotDocs is selling compilations of these documentaries on DVD? I'd like to see so many but I don't have time to see them all in theater.

If they're not, it seems like a huge waste of a business opportunity...
mishmash / April 29, 2009 at 12:07 pm
The main reason people submit to hot docs and all of the other festivals is to find a distributor or broadcaster who will buy their films and screen them, air them and distribute them on DVDs. The festival doesn't have the money or the resources to buy everything and compile them and sell them. That is why festivals are so important to indie films because sometimes it's the only chance to see them. Don't wait for the TV, get out there and watch a film at the theater while you can!
Alison / April 29, 2009 at 12:08 pm
I think you can purchase some of them through the NFB website. The Roadsworth DVD is listed as "available soon".
Wade Vroom / April 29, 2009 at 12:14 pm
The Wilco Documentary which is playing at the festival, Ashes Of American Flags, can be bought right now over the web. Search it.

More Hot Doc previews over at Panic Manual...well 4 more at least.
Daniel V / April 29, 2009 at 01:19 pm
Thanks for the replies
Gloria / April 29, 2009 at 02:11 pm
Dang, I'm going to Cooking History! Was looking forward to it. I guess we'll see if we agree.
Soren / April 29, 2009 at 03:29 pm
I'm on my way to pick up tix including Bloody Mondays and Cooking History. Here's hoping you have questionable taste, Tim.
chandra replying to a comment from Daniel Z / April 29, 2009 at 03:39 pm
It looks like Hot Docs just announced a new partnership with SnagFilms, a website "specializing in digital distribution of non-fiction films"

I can't seem to get videos to play, but the site looks promising:

Here's the press release:
Matt / April 30, 2009 at 10:53 am
Winnebago Man = AWESOME.
Lina / April 30, 2009 at 01:25 pm
"Old Partner
If you want to see images of rural China and like the idea of watching a documentary about a peasant family and their ox then this film should be on your list."

This doc is set in rural KOREA, not China. Either way, it's an interesting story... albeit really slowwwwww....

BeanTown / May 7, 2009 at 11:18 am
I saw "Enjoy Poverty" last night and I can say is definitely DOES NOT below in the "Not So Recommended" list.

Its an absolutely brilliant doc - very intense and heady.

The director was there at the screening so it was great to get his insight. A LOT of people seemed to be very upset with the movie - but its really because the movie lays bare a REALITY that we never see.

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