Hot Docs

Hot Docs 2009 Preview, Part 1

Hot Docs officially kicks off this Thursday with a sold out screening of Jennifer Baichwal's Act of God. If you missed out on tickets, not to worry, North America's premiere documentary festival is showing 170 more films in the coming weeks.

Ever since Hot Docs announced its lineup last month, we've been watching the advance screeners. This year's slate has some colourful characters, insider views of countries we've never been to, great art, social commentaries, history lessons, and more. Keep reading for blogTO's first rundown of what to watch (and what to miss).

Top picks

Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country - The events of Burma's 2007 uprising as told by an organized network of local journalists leaking footage out of the country. With a military government that censors media, and the banning of foreign television crews, these first-hand videos may be the only documented accounts of Buddhist monks leading public demonstrations - and the violence that ensued. If these reporters are prepared to dodge bullets, hide behind bushes with handycams, and get arrested to tell the world this story, then I am eager to watch it.

Invisible City - Local filmmaker Hubert Davis' latest has generated enough buzz to get an encore screening at the festival. In this doc, Davis follows two teens, Mikey and Kendell, in school, at home, and in their community, Regent Park - an invisible city to most of us. Possibly the most beautifully photographed film in this year's lineup (see trailer below).


El Olvido (Oblivion) - Lima's own invisible city is the subject of Hot Docs Outstanding Achievement Award-winner Heddy Honigmann's entry. Honigmann spends time at work and in the homes of her main characters to capture the everyday life of Peruvian people. These waiters, street performers, and small merchants present a sincere view of a country known for its corrupt and unstable governments.

Zombie Girl - When 12-year-old Emily Hagins posted an online ad looking for people to play zombies in her movie, she got noticed by Zombie Girl directors Aaron Marshall, Justin Johnson, and Erik Mauck. With a little help (from mom, dad, school mates, local film co-ops, the community, and a friend of Peter Jackson's) and a documentary crew following her project, the Austin tween (eventually) realizes a full-length feature. I wonder if the film is any good? It probably doesn't matter.

Not so recommended

Ghost Bird - Is the ivory-billed woodpecker really extinct? Bird enthusiasts, experts, and residents of Brinkley, Arkansas debate the question for an hour and a half.

Bitch Academy - With permission to film the very intimate classes at this St. Petersburg training school for gold diggers, Alina Rudnitskaya should have kept shooting. In 29 minutes, Bitch Academy shows role playing exercises and seductive dancing lessons, but only hints at the students' real motivations and personalities.

Paris 1919 - Archival footage and re-enactments of events at the Paris Peace Conference, inspired by the book Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan. Docs like Paris 1919 make me feel like I'm in class, but history buffs might get something out of it.

Coming up tomorrow: Hot Docs Preview, Part 2

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.

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