Hot Docs

Hot Docs 2008 - What to Watch

Hot Docs kicks off later this week. For many, the schedule can be a bit overwhelming and a challenge to navigate through the more than 170 films to figure out which ones to see. While the synopses offered on the web site (and at the box office) definitely help provide some idea of what to expect, past years have taught me it's best to rely on word of mouth to find out which ones live up to the hype.

Luckily, I've managed to get my hands on a bunch of preview copies. Over the past couple of weeks I've sat through some real stinkers, some so-so docs and others that have audience awards written all over them. Keep reading for my list of what to watch and what to miss.

Top Pick

Eleven Minutes - Ok I'll admit it. I've never watched Project Runway. Who knows? Maybe that worked in this doc's favour. Eleven Minutes gives us an all-access pass to the behind-the-scenes goings-ons as former Project Runway winner Jay McCarroll prepares for his first fashion show in Manhattan. A definite must-see for anyone wanting to learn more about the fashion industry. But even non-fashion aficionados should appreciate the story and suspense here.

Recommended

20 Seconds of Joy - This doc picked up a couple of awards at the 2007 Banff Mountain Film Festival. Billed as a story about base-jumping, it's really more of a story specifically about world-class base-jumper Karina Hollekim. Check out the trailer here.

Bloody Cartoons - This is simply a well-done documentary that seeks to explore not only why Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in September 2005, but more interestingly, what and who set in motion the reactions that followed. Director Karsten Kjaer travels to Iran, Lebanon and beyond to track down some of the principles involved.

Second Skin - A must see for World of Warcraft fans and anyone interested in online gaming, but I suspect this doc will appeal to a much wider audience. Excellently crafted, Second Skin follows the lives of a number of serious World of Warcraft devotees and explores how the game has united them, destroyed them or otherwise changed their lives forever.

Nursery University - Be thankful you're not starting a family in Manhattan. Here, director Marc H. Simon gets behind the scenes access to the crazy-process that is securing a spot for your child in pre-school in Manhattan. Simon follows a variety of families, school administrators and consultants to get all sides to the story.

Planet B-Boy - Like many docs screening this week, this one will appeal most to audiences interested in a specific subject area - in this case, Hip Hop, B-Boys and dancing. But ultimately, this doc is a bit of a thrill ride as director Benson Lee takes us on a journey around the world leading up to the Battle of the Year World Championships in Germany. We get to learn more about some of the talents on the top teams and watch highlights of the championship. Sadly, Canada is not represented.

The Lie of the Land - I'm not sure this one will appeal to as wide an audience as some of the above but I still want to recommend this doc. It's a well-crafted expose into what's happening on farms in the UK. There's footage here that I truly found shocking which squarely puts me in the category of ignorant city-folk who have little idea of some of the atrocities and inefficiencies that take place before food finds its way to our dinner tables.

Not Recommended

Daddy Tran: A Life in 3-D - This doc is probably the best of the ones I'm not recommending. While I found elements of this story endearing, it was ultimately a bit too slow paced and not as interesting as many of the other films screening at Hot Docs.

Tehran Has No More Pomegranates - This one was difficult to sit through. The style here is choppy and hard to follow. And what I could follow I didn't find that compelling.

Emoticons - With a name like Emoticons, this film held some early promise. But unless you're really interested in the lives of distressed teenagers I'd suggest giving this one a miss.

At the Death House Door - This doc tells the story of Pastor Carroll Pickett who oversaw untold executions at a Texas prison. I would have recommended this at 30 minutes but at more than one and a half hours this film is still in need of some serious editing.

Full Battle Rattle - This screens like a piece of army propaganda and is a complete waste of time. The director took what could have been an interesting subject (a mock village/training base in Nevada complete with Iraqi born actors) and turned it into a fluff propaganda piece that like the Death House Door is about an hour too long.

Suddenly, Last Winter - Don't waste your time on this one either. Too long. Not well crafted. Coulda, shoulda, woulda been good but isn't.

Stay tuned to blogTO for more picks from Sameer and Danielle for what to see (or not see) at Hot Docs. We'll also be posting more contests to the site later this week.


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