Hot Docs

Hot Docs 2011 Preview, Part 2

So here we are, a week closer to the first day of Hot Docs 2011. North America's premiere documentary film festival opens in less than two weeks and we've seen about a dozen more titles since the first part of our preview coverage. The festival selection swelled in size this year, so it can be a headache pilfering through the catalog and finding the films you most want to see. Here is our next round of recommends, top picks and what to avoid.

Top Picks

Hot Coffee
Run, don't walk, to see Hot Coffee at Hot Docs this year. This is an extremely powerful documentary, a call to action deconstructing the encroaching power of big business in the US over civil rights and liberties, and most interestingly, the ability to sue for damages. Skeptical? Think the US is too litigious a society as it is? I challenge you to watch this film and try not to reconsider. I foresee great things for this film and don't want to spoil too much in a blurb, but there's more to Hot Coffee than a mild irritation in your lap, more like a burning 2nd degree sensation that will take days to leave your system. (DD)

Beauty Day
Roof skiing, egg snorting and rocket skateboard, but Canadian? This isn't Jackass, but Cap'n Video, the alter ego of one Ralph Zavadil, a St. Catharines man with a camera, a cable access show and tons of terrible ideas. The once small-town curiousity became (in)famous after a misguided self-recorded stunt landed him in the hospital and was distributed to news media outlets who portrayed him in the wrong light. As his antics post-accident became more desperate, his show was cancelled. But almost two decades later, the temptation arises again, and his long-time fans want to help. Can they do it? With all the flashy/cringe-worthy stunts, Beauty Day surprises as a really well-plotted character story and as the film progresses, Cap'n Video eventually taking a backseat to the more interesting story of Ralph Zavadil himself. (DD)


Most of the time, I fall for docs with a charismatic subject, well constructed story arc, or candid expose - none of which are present in Dragonslayer. That might just be the point. Tristan Patterson's first film captures a genuine "disaffected suburban youth" thing by following Josh "Skreech" Sandoval around. Sandoval offers up a pretty aimless period of his life to the filmmaker, in which his main interests, aside from skateboarding, are romance and bongs. Dragonslayer got nods for best cinematography at SXSW and picked up the grand jury prize for documentary feature. (CM)

Matchmaking Mayor
The kids aren't all right in Zemplinske Hamre, Slovakia, and by kids I mean thirty something singles, the 'old maids' and 'eligible bachelors' whose solitary choices are driving their mayor crazy. Filmmakers follow the mayor (former military general) as he arranges an ambitious singles event that he thinks will be the social event of the season, in a thinly veiled ploy to encourage coupling. About halfway through the film he starts to look somewhat sane as the most infuriating part of this documentary is the lack of interest the single people seem to have in each other. And while there is speculation, by the end it seems there is no definitive reason for their singledom until one shocking candid conversation overheard by the filmmakers at the end of the film really sums up the reason why. (DD)

The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye
Are you familiar with the story of Throbbing Gristle-member and performance artist Genesis Breyer P-Orridge? If not, then step right up for one helluva fascinating, gender-bending trip. Genesis and his wife Lady Jaye had an experimental relationship that they termed 'pandrogeny', which saw both partners issue various body modifications to themselves (nose jobs, facelifts, breast implants, etc.) so that they could look like twin hybrids of each other. Sound a bit like Hedwig and the Angry Inch come to life? It kind of is. An assemblage of home videos and films from their time together, plus new footage, the viewing experience gravitates between a chaotic nightmare and a blissful dream. (BW)

Highway Gospel
What does a skateboard champion from the 80's and a rowdy set of highway skateboarders have in common? A love for the board! Highway Gospel is an extremely fun ride following two very different kinds of skateboarders in Ontario and BC as they prep for the equivalent 'World Cup' in their specific events. With one sport legitimatized and one still stigmatized, the film paints a really interesting contrast of the sport and not in a way you've seen before. Gone are the attractive skateboarders of Dogtown and in come the missing teeth, scabs and bruises of downhill boarders and the experienced grey of an aging champion who wants one more go. (DD)

We Were Here
We Were Here is an affecting documentary that will leave nary a dry eye in the theatre, let's just get that out of the way from the get-go. It is, after all, a doc about San Francisco's gay community at the onset of the AIDS crisis, so how could it not be? The blunt sucker punch that the disease packed left millions winded, struggling to catch their breath as close friends and lovers began dropping like flies. Does this almost entirely talking-head documentary add anything, though, to the discussion, or form, that hasn't been said in past films, primetime specials, and PSAs? I'm not so sure it does. Besides the cathartic value of spending time with some sympathetic and likeable individuals who recollect on an extremely trying time in their lives, the content here is awfully familiar. (BW)

Wild Horse, Wild Ride
What began as a cheesy introduction to a perhaps biased documentary, became a very touching film that eased it's way into my heart. Wild Horse, Wild Ride follows the Extreme Mustang Makeover Challenge, an 100 day quest to take a completely random undomesticated wild Mustang and train it to be a trusting, dexterous horse. The best horses of the bunch can look forward to being auctioned and adopted by impressed new owners and no horse has left without a home. The film follows professionals, amateurs, show men (and one HECK of a show woman) as they compete with each other, themselves and their stubborn mustangs to achieve in 100 days what some might deem impossible in a lifetime. The bonds they make will break your heart when you realize that many of them can't afford to keep their new friends. (DD)

Not So Recommended

The Lumberfros (Les Fros)
Stéphanie Lanthier's doc offers a peek into the worklife of seasonal brush clearers in Northern Québéc. Thing is, nowadays the old-time Québécois are working next to Eastern European, African, and Asian immigrants. The Lumberfros leaves you with a resonant impression of the remote logging camps and the immigrant experience in Canada, but I don't know if I would go as far as to say it held my interest for the full 71 minutes. (CM)

The National Parks Project
I agree with the environmental and sociological points that this project - consisting of 13 short films by 13 Canadian directors - is making. What I did not agree with, unfortunately, is the monotonous, National Geographic tone laced through the entire thing. Only Daniel Cockburn's film (which is what drew me to the project in the first place, after I saw his awesome debut feature You Are Here at TIFF last year) manages to breathe some life into these pretty pictures. Another important part of the project was the music; the soundtrack is consumed by mostly indie jams performed by a few dozen Canadian artists. For me, this made the already uninteresting - but, I admit, well shot! - imagery take on a kind of screensaver or audio visualizer effect. Clocking in at over 2 hours, this noble experiment was interminable. (BW)

I really, really wanted to like Gnarr, the story of the mayoral run of Jón Gnarr Kristinsson, because the interesting story was already there! A rebel candidate who runs on a platform of jokes and cynicism, thumbing his nose at the corrupt officials currently in power, who somehow impresses the public and wins the popular vote. But unfortunately Gnarr spends too much time reminding us that Jon is funny and that his jokes are poignant and stunts become the main event, intercut with actually interesting political jokes. For once I wanted a documentary to be MORE political, but I guess there's always a first for everything. (DD)

Contributions by Blake Williams, Danielle D'Ornellas, and Chandra Menard.

Hot Docs 2011 are on various screens all over Toronto from April 28 to May 8. Tickets and passes available at the documentary Box Office, 131 Bloor Street West, by phone at 416-637-5150, or online.

See also:

Hot Docs 2011 Preview, Part 1

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