Hot Docs grows as filmmakers 'connect the dots'
Director Morgan Spurlock holds a sign for his documentary 'Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Story Ever Sold.'(Daniel Marracino / courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)
Constance Droganes, entertainment writer, CTV.ca
Published Thursday, April 28, 2011 7:06AM EDT
In every film festival's life there is a game-changing year. Some say 2011 could be such a year for Toronto's Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival (April 28 to May 8).
"People will look back on 2011 as the year that docs broke wide open," said Sean Farnel, Hot Docs' director of programming.
The 18th annual edition of Hot Docs will feature its biggest lineup, including 199 official films from 43 countries. That figure represents a 30 per cent increase from 2010's festival.
Hot Docs will use more venues, including the Bell Lightbox and cinemas in previously unexplored Toronto neighbourhoods such as Leaside and Roncesvalles.
The festival is also becoming more of a financial backer to young filmmakers in 2011, bridging that gap that has made it more difficult for directors to finance their docs in traditional ways.
But it is the documentaries themselves that are upping the ante.
"Now more than ever we're seeing a blurring of the lines between documentary and fiction," Farnel told CTV.ca.
"Documentaries have always been interested in areas like social justice and human rights. But filmmakers have become very skilled at connecting the dots. They're pushing the boundaries in ways that are changing what the documentary can do."
That evolution should help more documentaries enjoy healthy runs in mainstream cinemas. That pleasant fate is expected to befall Hot Docs' opening film, "Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Story Ever Sold".
Directed by Morgan Spurlock, this "doc-buster" about today's hyper-branded world possesses the same bite that made "Super Size Me" a huge hit in 2004.
Spurlock's doc went on to earn an Oscar nomination in 2005 for Best Documentary.
"Spurlock really tackles our crazy, branded universe with daring. 'Pom' is definitely one of those crossover docs we'll be hearing about long after Hot Docs is over," said Farnel.
Celebs and economy spotlighted
Hot Docs' lineup also includes 10 programs, with Special Presentations showcasing celebs like Conan O'Brien (in "Conan O'Brien Can't Stop") and the American hip hop group, A Tribe Called Quest (featured in "Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest").
Other programs include Ripping Reality, a survey of unacknowledged docs from the past decade; Made in Italy, a set of nine Italian documentaries; and Focus On, which revisits the works of Toronto filmmaking legend Alan Zweig.
"Every year we sift through our entries and see important themes emerge. This year it's the economy, and specifically the labour movement within the economy, that's big news," said Chris McDonald, the festival's executive director.
That theme inspired a new Hot Docs program called "Workers of the World". One of its most noteworthy entries is called "Recessionize! For Fun and Profit," from Canadian director Jamie Kastner.
Divided into vignettes with titles like "Relocate" and "Roll with the Market," Kastner jumps between L.A. and Dubai, as well as professions like real estate and plastic surgery.
But Kastner's amiable flick about making money in today's messed-up economy never feels scattered or preachy.
Other must-see entries include "Fightville," which looks at today's boom in mixed martial arts; "Becoming Chaz," an absorbing study of Chastity Bono's gender transition; and "Hell and Back Again," a film Farnel calls "one of the great war films of the last decade."
"There's just a lot of good work out there," said Farnel.
"The filmmaking styles are diverse. The subject matter is fascinating. That's what speaks to our audience. That's what has helped Hot Docs become a big, international festival and the largest of its kind in North America."