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Films about Rehtaeh Parsons, Danny Williams head to Hot Docs festival
Published Tuesday, March 17, 2015 1:58PM EDT Last Updated Tuesday, March 17, 2015 3:00PM EDT
TORONTO -- Documentaries about bullied teen Rehtaeh Parsons and former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams are among the high-profile titles heading to a Hot Docs festival bolstered by a record number of female directors.
Hot Docs president Chris McDonald says 40 per cent of the directors this year are women. That includes Rama Rau's "No Place to Hide," about Parsons' heartbreaking case, and Kristina Goolsby and Ashley York's opening night film "Tig," about comic Tig Notaro's defiant spirit and humour in the face of a cancer diagnosis.
Female filmmakers have always been prominent at the festival, but McDonald says this year they seem particularly strong.
"Technology has allowed documentary to be much cheaper, faster and easier-to-make films and I think maybe because there are fewer gatekeepers green-lighting films -- gatekeepers who may be male in some cases, probably in most cases -- it's a much more democratic process," McDonald mused.
"Talent rises to the surface and there's nobody there to determine, based on gender or other issues, who gets past the goal posts."
Organizers announced a slate of 210 films from 45 countries Tuesday, many of them centred on comedy or music. That includes "Stay Awhile," a portrait of the Canadian '70s pop group the Bells, who organizers said will reunite for a special performance 30 years after topping the charts.
Other highlights include "Danny," which showcases the charismatic Williams; "Deep Web," from former "Bill & Ted" star-turned-director Alex Winter; Michael Madsen's alien-themed "The Visit"; an account of Haiti's 2010 presidential election in "Sweet Micky for President" featuring ex-Fugee Pras Michel; and the sports film "Out to Win," featuring Olympic gold medal-winning hockey player Charline Labonte, former major league baseball player Billy Bean and U.S. college football player Conner Mertens.
Rau's film traces Parsons' case from the alleged sexual assault to her suicide and the media storm that followed.
"The film really is an indictment of Canadian law and all of us, really, because it (was) about victim-blaming," says the 47-year-old, Toronto-based Rau.
Other Canadian projects include Lena Macdonald's "Mom and Me," an account her longtime struggle to rescue her crack-addicted homeless mother from the streets of Toronto.
The 32-year-old says she started looking for her mom when she was about 14, tracking her through homeless shelters, back alleys and crack houses. She was 17 when she decided to put it all on film.
"Both of my parents had been filmmakers and my mom made films about things like prostitution and cocaine, so for me it was a way to make her proud and a way to connect with her," said Macdonald.
"It was also a way for me to distance myself and have some objectivity and sort of think, 'I'm not in this, I'm watching it."'
It was a dangerous endeavour, but Macdonald credits the homeless community with protecting and guiding her. Still, there were some very close calls, including a near abduction.
"I was really fortunate. There are so many mother-daughter pairs down there on the streets, mother-daughter prostitute pairs. I was so lucky that I had everybody looking out for me and I had pride and confidence and I did OK."
Previously announced films include portraits of music legends Nina Simone and Mavis Staples, and "Being Canadian," from "The Big Bang Theory" scribe Rob Cohen, who interviews Mike Myers, Seth Rogen and the Trailer Park Boys in his search for our national identity.
Rau said she's happy to see Hot Docs highlighting female talent this year.
"I'm just hoping it spreads into all the other fields too," she said. "Women should be seen as (directors of photography), as editors, as fiction filmmakers. It has to be something we don't announce."
The Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival runs April 23 to May 3.