Hot Docs Schedule

6 films to add to your 2012 Hot Docs schedule

Hot Docs is in full swing! Toronto's high profile documentary film festival kicked off last night with the Canadian premiere of Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry - and if you missed it, there are still 188 films to see. Hot Docs is running through to next weekend, from April 26 to May 6, 2012.

We posted our top picks of what to see last week and somehow got a hold of a few advance screening copies. While we were lukewarm on some of these docs at first, a few gems surfaced covering topics as varied as ping pong, female boxers from Afghanistan, and reindeer herders in the Russian Arctic.

Here are six films we suggest adding to your 2012 Hot Docs schedule (and 2 to leave off).

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The World Before Her
I was drawn to this co-production because of the contrast it presents between two very divisive institutions in India; one, a national Westernized beauty pageant complete with skin whitening, the second a Hindu fundamentalist camp that teachers self-defence and religious extremism to young girls. But the focus doesn't lie with the institutions long, soon we're introduced to a feminist beauty contestant who is intelligent, but cynical and the traditional but rebellious Hindu instructor advising girls to obey their parents and prepare for marriage while doing the exact opposite. Their two stories are defined by their ideas about freedom and opportunity, while they both struggle with happiness in the world as it is presented to them. The World Before Her is a strong documentary that conveys the divergence of opinions concerning the freedom of Indian women, and how modernity and traditionalism still manage to trap them between two very imperfect worlds. (DD)
Wed, May 2 7:00 PM, Isabel Bader Theatre
Sat, May 5 9:30 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Sun, May 6 11:00 AM, Isabel Bader Theatre

Ping Pong
It seems to be a Hot Docs requirement that we have at least one film dedicated to people living life to the fullest in their twilight years. Ping Pong is a film I predict will do quite well for itself. The pre-fest buzz has been similar to Young@Heart a few years back and it's definitely well-deserved. The subject? An over 80's Table Tennis competition that pairs senior against senior in a battle for medals, championships and fame. The contenders we meet vary in background, a mouthy Brit, a relaxed Swede, a chain-smoking contender from China, a competitive Austrian-Texan spitfire, a Brit bouncing back from cancer, some feisty Germans and a 100 year old Australian! Each contender has their own story to tell to be sure, (there's 703 years between all 8 of them) but they all want to win. Be on the lookout for when players get riled up, because nothing is more entertaining than a great-grandparent cussing like a sailor. Truly a film for anyone, if THEY can get out there and do this, what's stopping you? (DD)
Sun, Apr 29 4:00 PM, Isabel Bader Theatre
Wed, May 2 1:30 PM, Isabel Bader Theatre
Sun, May 6 1:15 PM, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

RECOMMENDED

The Final Member
A titillating doc topic rarely makes for a good story. Truthfully, I wouldn't have missed this film, about the Icelandic Phallological Museum (ahem, Penis Museum) and its long-standing search for a human specimen. But does it have the goods? The Final Member spends time with the museum's very determined curator and two eccentric potential donors, and intermittently throws in a few good hooks that really pull this strange story forward. (CM)
Tue, May 1 9:45 PM, The Royal Cinema
Thu, May 3 9:00 PM, Cumberland 3
Sun, May 6 7:00 PM, The Revue

¡Vivan las Antipodas!
I'm not gonna lie, ¡Vivan las Antipodas! was a little disappointing. The film starts so damn strong with a simple concept, comparing four pairs of geographical points that are at exact opposite ends of the earth, and a minimalist approach, juxtaposing footage from Hawaii, Botswana, Russia, Chile, and more, and then pulls out some fancy upside-down camera tricks. All this, yet the film still failed to pull me into its meditative rhythm. (CM)
Mon, Apr 30 9:30 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Tue, May 1 1:30 PM, Isabel Bader Theatre
Sat, May 5 1:30 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Herman's House
With Herman's House, Toronto filmmaker Angad Singh Bhalla tells three stories. First, that of Herman Wallace, who has been in a 6-by-9-foot solitary confinement cell for nearly 40 years in Louisiana. Second, that of Jackie Sumell, an American artist who takes interest in Wallace and encourages him to think up what he would like his home to look like and takes steps to design and exhibit it. The third is the most compelling, a peek inside the long term and quite complex relationship between Wallace and Sumell, including their motivations for collaborating. (CM)
Fri, Apr 27 9:00 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Wed, May 2 9:15 PM, The ROM Theatre
Sun, May 6 9:30 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

The Boxing Girls of Kabul
Part sports doc, part cultural doc, part political doc, The Boxing Girls of Kabul is a doc that has it all, it may just be a bit too short. I really enjoyed the film that follows the first competitive female boxers from Afghanistan, as they struggle with persecution from fellow Afghani's and often their own family to compete in international competitions. While they struggle with confidence issues as fighters, and note the lack of resources and professional-quality of their training compared to richer nations, they savour every moment of their matches. Just as we start to understand the girls and their trouble though, the film ends, I just wish we had more time with them. On the plus side, one of the girls in the film, Sadaf Rahimi, is attending the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, so hopefully this adds to the buzz for this unique documentary. (DD)
Mon, Apr 30 3:00 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Tue, May 1 7:30 PM, The Royal Cinema
Sun, May 6 1:30 PM, Cumberland 2

NOT SO RECOMMENDED

The Job
The Job is a bit frustrating. You're thrown into the film without any context, any introduction, any idea of whether or not what you're watching is fiction or reality. About twelve eager job hunters are spread around a table facing a few unfriendly faces who will be the bane of their existence for an entire day. They vary in age, experience, ethnicity and desperation. This is the reality of the current economy. What are they waiting for? A minimum wage sales position with an insurance company. The interviewers play all kinds of games to test the applicants, making them nervous and pushing them to their limits with scathing word play and JUST when you think there's a twist, there isn't. The confident applicants lose their temerity and the weak simply crumble. The doc fails to turn the interviewers into anything but villains and barely endears us to the applicants. It's an interesting ride but not one I'd take again. (DD)
Fri, Apr 27 9:00 PM, Cumberland 2
Sun, Apr 29 1:30 PM, Cumberland 2
Sun, May 6 1:15 PM, Cumberland 3

The Tundra Book. A Tale of Vukvukai, the Little Rock.
The Tundra Book is a slow-going and steady documentary about the lives of the Chukchi people who inhabit a remote peninsula in the Russian Arctic. The film follows 72-year-old patriarch Vukvukai and his community, and here we can watch them herding reindeer in isolation from the modern world for most of the 105 minutes of running time. Vukvukai is committed to the old ways of life, hard working, nomadic and free... if only he could convince the children of its value before they are sent off to city schools by helicopters, and often never return. (CM)
Sun, Apr 29 6:00 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 4
Tue, May 1 1:00 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 4

Hot Docs runs from April 26th to May 6th, 2012 at various Toronto venues. Tickets are $14.50 each, $115 for 10, or $205 for 20 and are available online or at the documentary Box Office,
783 Bathurst Street (1 Block South of Bloor).

With contributions by Danielle D'Ornellas (DD)


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