Hot Docs 2012 Toronto

The best of Hot Docs 2012

This was an intriguing year for the Hot Docs Film Festival — their new cinema was put to the test with pure festival chaos, it was the most popular year in festival history with over 165,000 attendees, it had the most films at 189, and the People's Choice Award (Chasing Ice) was completely unpredictable! Some of the best films that blogTO writers saw and loved were also appreciated and rewarded at the Hot Docs awards ceremony. While we've already raved about a few, here are some of the other great films from the festival.

Riding on a horse and lugging a goat carcass in the midst of 50+ other riders all vying for a crack at that skin may not sound like your cup of tea for an afternoon of fun, but it definitely makes for good cinema. Buzkashi! follows this traditional Tajikstani sport through three of the fiercest competitors in the country, who couldn't be more different. One is a self-made man supporting almost his extended family with his farm and his herd, another is a rich industrialist who owns a good chunk of the country and the third is a young up-start, unsure of where to place his alliances. With all three men vying for glory, Buzkashi! is compelling ride that never slows down.

The Imposter - Filmmakers Award
I've said it once and I'll say it again, The Imposter is one of the best films I've seen in a long time. While clearly a documentary, the filmmakers use fiction elements and interesting cinematic choices to turn a fairly convoluted story into a compelling epic from start to finish. It doesn't hurt that the story is also one of the craziest that I've ever seen, but the film stays on-track and the pace doesn't slow for a millisecond. This film is worth every shocking minute.

The Revisionaries
Scott Thurman's thesis film project follows a member of the Texas School Board, Don McLeroy, a strong Creationist/Intelligent Design believer who is incidentally one of the most compelling people I've seen on-screen this year. The film follows a year in the life of our anti-hero as he and his cronies try to push Republican initiatives into schoolbooks for children. The film very carefully frames its subjects, never makes fun of them and it really paints an interesting picture of the breakdown of American politics and how agenda-pushers manage to succeed (almost) every time.

The World Before Her - Winner of Best Canadian Feature
I've already spoken about this film before, but now that I've had over a week apart from it I think my perspective has developed. The World Before Her shows two unsustainable roles for Indian women. On one side there's a gaudy Westernized beauty pageant that perpetuates unrealistic beauty ideals, on the other, a fundamentalist camp that indoctrinates vulnerable girls into obedience. But despite their claims, the women involved have less freedom despite their belief that it's the only way to find freedom. It's this paradox that fuels the film and my constant curiousity with it.

I wanted to avoid this film when I first read about it in the Hot Docs programme because the story of Jeffrey Dahmer was too dark and a documentary feature? Perhaps too exploitative. Then I heard wind that it was none of the above and the film proved my fears false. Jeff is an enjoyable slow-burn that features interviews with three key people related to the case interspersed with reenactments of Dahmer's innocuous comings and goings in Milwaukee before finally being caught. It's the combination of the banal moments of his life and the interconnectedness of the interviewees that gives the film an edge and an insight into this story.

Call me Kuchu - Winner of Best International Feature
This was another film that I almost didn't see at Hot Docs this year. When I saw that it was also playing at the Inside Out festival I chose to prioritize another film, but I'm glad I changed my mind. The film is a great character study of systemic violence and discrimination perpetuated against Ugandan gays and lesbians by government, law enforcers and journalists and fuelled by evangelicals from the west. It's a harsh wake-up call to the continuing fight for human rights, especially in East African nations.

See the remainder of the Hot Docs Awards from Friday's ceremony here. See you next year!

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