Toronto Documentaries

The Top 10 Toronto Documentaries of 2009

With a slew of excellent documentary filmmakers living in the city, the real challenge in compiling a list of best Toronto docs of 2009 is narrowing it down to just ten. Standout documentaries look for answers, make a point, and tell a good story. And bonus points go to those that are inspiring, well-executed or downright baffling. If there's a theme to this year's selections it's that these docs are about our neighbours and neighbourhoods, from high school students in Regent Park to senior at a bingo hall on St. Clair.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Technically this film debuted at Hot Docs in 2008, but it wasn't until this year that Anvil! The Story of Anvil hit movie theatres and video store shelves and inspired us to keep dreaming. Roadie-turned-screenwriter-turned-director Sacha Gervasi found childhood friends Lips and Robb Reiner (of the Toronto metal band Anvil) persisting after three decades of incompetent managers, meagre album sales, and unpaid royalties.

Candid, heartwarming and hugely acclaimed, Anvil! The Story of Anvil pulled the band out of obscurity and, in Lips' own words, is "the largest promotion campaign in the history of the music business". It's also is up for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary.

Jackpot

Jackpot

Alan Black's Jackpot digs way beyond at Delta Bingo on St. Clair. Bingo is not just a game, it's a nine-to-five calling for the handful of Delta regulars followed in this revealing doc. Is today their lucky day? Tomorrow? The next day?

First Ink

The new documentary from Toronto Raptor Chris Bosh tells the story of number four's journey to get his first tattoo. It's an up close and personal look at one of our city's biggest sports hero's with an extensive special features section featuring interviews with Bosh about seeing his first NBA game, Vince Carter and more.

Cat Ladies

According to the City of Toronto Municipal Code, Chapter 349, six is the maximum number of animals a person is legally allowed to have in their home. Some of the women featured in Cat Ladies have over 100. Nope, this isn't a doc about shedding those old stereotypes of lonely ladies that collect cats, it's very much about lonely ladies that collect cats. Sad? I think so, but worth checking out to see for yourself.

Invisible City

Huber Davis' latest generated enough buzz to get an encore screening at Hot Docs this year. Davis follows Mikey and Kendell, both fatherless, in school, at home, and in their community - Regent Park - an invisible city to most of us. Invisible City is possibly the most beautifully photographed film to come out of Toronto this year.

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould

Toronto boy wonder Glenn Gould is one of the most revered classical pianists of the past century. Although Gould has been the subject of countless biographies and documentaries, doc-makers Michèle Hozer and Peter Raymont dug up a bit of new dirt on the man's personal life here. Genius Within is definitely one of those history lesson-type of films, packed with romance and a post-war rising-to-fame story that makes for easy viewing.

Clubland

America's Most Wanted-esque depiction on the Club District that takes a look at the current state of the area through interviews with local club owners, club goers and others who have a stake in its future.

A Hard Name

Ex-cons talk to Alan Zweig in A Hard Name. This documentary is so low-key that I skimmed through it on the first viewing but it's a must on this list for two reasons. One, Zweig is an exceptionally compassionate interviewer, seeming to genuinely connect with his subjects and comes across as the nicest guy ever. Two, the ex-cons tell some fascinating and insightful stories about crime, prison culture, and life after release.

My Toxic Baby

My Toxic Baby

Min Sook Lee's latest is a very personal exploration of the toxic hazards in her infant daughter's environment (i.e., her Toronto home). The lauded local doc-maker/concerned parent takes a 45-minute look at our everyday exposure to toxins and possible ways of reducing them, considering various "alternative" parenting options and environmental health solutions.

The Bloor

Local film buff goodness here - Peter Kuplowsky and blogTO's Robin Sharp chronicle the 100+ year history of the Annex's beloved rep cinema. Architectural drawings, posters, photos, and interviews with past and present staff detail the movie house's many incarnations, including its stint as a porn theatre in the 1970's.

Honourable mentions

- The NFB's extensive Filmmaker-in-Residence project at St Michael's Hospital
- John Greyson's video opera about AIDS activism Fig Trees
- City Sonic, an online series of short films about musicians and their favourite spots shot all over the city
- When We Were Boys, a peek inside an exclusive private boys school and the perfect contrast piece to Invisible City.

With special thanks to Hot Docs, DOC, the NFB, and LIFT.


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