hot docs 2014 toronto

The top 5 films to see at Hot Docs 2014

Hot Docs 2014 is finally here. Toronto's second-largest film event (behind TIFF), the documentary fest will run for the next 11 days and contains 139 features to choose from. Unless you happen to be part of the programming team, it appears to be nigh on-impossible to see them all - so I've narrowed the list down to a few choice screenings.

Last month, we outlined the 10 films getting the biggest advance buzz; these were recommendations dependent on the notoriety of their filmmakers, the intrigue of their subjects, and the hoopla they created at festivals like Sundance, SXSW, and Berlin. Three of the best films I've previewed were featured in that post: Actress, The Overnighters, and The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga. This time around, I've decided to share the wealth and let a couple of other gems get a mention. (Also worth mentioning: Portrait of Jason and Harlan County U.S.A. are two must-see rep screenings.)

Without further ado, here's the best of what I managed to see.

Joy Of Man's Desiring
Acadian filmmaker Denis Côté, who has presented at least one new film every year since 2007, is something of a workhorse, so it seems fitting that his latest fusion of documentary and fiction should be centred on - apologies to the Lumière bros. - a set of workers not leaving the factory. Côté's camera has never been more fluid and intense than it is here, as workers and machines glide amongst one another in a kind of minimalist, industrial ballet. The titular Bach piece does make an appearance, arriving, if you can imagine, in the film's cutest moment.

Kung Fu Elliot
Winner of the Slamdance Grand Jury Prize for the Documentary category, this account of Canada's version of Jackie Chan wouldn't have been out of place in the Midnight section. Giving voice to amateur writer/director/actor Elliot "White Lightning" Scott, Kung Fu Elliot might lack hustle, but it's also a hilarious testament to the creative minds that have emerged in convergence culture's liberation of filmmaking production and distribution.

The Possibilities Are Endless
Films about the sudden onset of physical and mental disabilities tend to follow a fairly familiar, sentimental trajectory, so when one comes along that completely breaks away from the mold, celebrations are in order. Like Alan Berliner's beautiful 2012 HBO doc First Cousin Once Removed, filmmakers Edward Lovelace and James Hall approach the new, tragic life of Orange Juice member and stroke victim Edwyn Collins with an astounding sense of poetry, making a film that considers not only a life that once was, but also the subject's new, fragmented perception of it.

The Songs Of Rice
Every year, there is a handful of films in the festival (hell, every festival) that get termed "Malick-ian." This year at Hot Docs, there are over at least a dozen of these (you'll know them when you see them), but the only one truly deserving of this unfortunately-too-common distinction is this film set in the rice farming fields of rural Thailand, which is sure to leave you in a reverie. If you happened to see last year's "heartwarming" drama The Rocket, this is essentially the same film, except done well.

Come Worry With Us!
Like the aforementioned, very good film Actress that is also playing in Hot Docs (go see it, seriously), this is another film that aims to depict how the duties of parenthood affect and impinge on one's creative life. In this case, the subjects are Jessica Moss and Efrim Menuck of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra fame. The film offers a moving glimpse at the compromises we make, and don't, in order to participate in the act of so-called "growing up."

Lead still from The Songs Of Rice.

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