Avoid Festival FOMO with Some Hot Docs

Grace, Milly, Lucy…Child Soldiers


By Pat Mullen

We’re all worried about missing our fun on the festival circuit over the next few weeks or, maybe, months. Not only are the fests the prime time to see new voices and seasoned masters in their elements as they unveil their latest projects to the world, they’re also prime social events for film buffs. Yes, even introverted movie critics love the buzz of festival screenings with filmmaker Q&As. I’ll take a packed house over a streaming link any day. (But the “I have a comment, not a question” folks are welcome to extend their social distancing beyond COVID-19 season.)

While we await the pleasure of gabbing about movies in line with fellow doc fans, let’s take the festival online. Here are six films in a curated selection of recent festival favourites, hidden gems, and topical docs to ease festival FOMO. Pick a movie and discuss it virtually with friends!

Master Class: Grace, Milly, Lucy…Child Soldiers

Raymonde Provencher is this year’s Focus On honouree at Hot Docs. Since there’s some time between now and the festival, brush up on Povencher’s worthy career beginning with this 2010 feature documentary about child soldiers in Uganda. The film sees this tragedy through the eyes of three young girls as they make sense of their actions and look towards building a future following their lost childhoods. Subscribe today to read a profile on Provencher’s career in our upcoming Spring/Summer issue!

Grace, Milly, Lucy… Child Soldiers, Raymonde Provencher, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

Hot-Button Issues: Push

A fan favourite at Hot Docs last year, Push offers a revealing study of the financialization of housing. The film follows Leilani Farha, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing for the United Nations, as she tours the globe and sees how cities react to a worldwide housing crisis. The film’s an eye-opening exposé that will make you hate condos even more. Read more about Push in our interview with director Fredrik Gertten.

Inspiring Characters: Walking on Water

Every good doc festival needs a character. (As does every good doc, really.) Look no further than documentary staple Christo for inspiration. The eccentric landscape artist has fuelled numerous documentaries thanks to his grand installations, like Christo Valley Curtain or Christo: Wrapped Coast. The most recent Christo doc, Walking on Water, is one of the better portraits of the artist as director Andrey Paounov captures the madness of his 2016 feat The Floating Piers. Perhaps self-isolating will inspire some art installations at home? Put that shower curtain to good use! Read more about Walking on Water in our interview with Christo and Paounov.

Shorts Spotlight: Portrait of Pockets

Speaking of artistic characters, one doc subject who holds his own to Christo is Pockets Warhol. This CBC Short Docs film by Brina Romanek profiles a capuchin monkey who is an unexpectedly talented artist. The film takes audiences inside the sanctuary that saved Pockets Warhol and shares how his caregiver Charmaine Quinn fed his curiosity through art. Pockets takes finger-painting to a new level. Celebrities like Jane Goodall and Ricky Gervais now hang his artwork their walls, but is the hype real or is it just monkey business?

Watch Portrait of Pockets on CBC Gem.

Canadian Stories: Midian Farm

Festival favourite Liz Marshall (The Ghosts in Our Machine, Water on the Table) gets personal with Midian Farm. The film revisits a chapter from Marshall’s past as she returns to the lost utopia of her childhood at Midian Farm, a communal ranch where hippies tried to forge a world outside the confines of capitalism. Marshall reunites with the families who lived together at the ranch and explores how the strains of communal living shaped her family. The film reflects on the challenges that broke this utopian model and wonders what the future holds when one’s ideal struggles to become a reality. Marshall’s Meat the Future is one film we’re hoping to see once the festivals return, so catch up on her previous doc beforehand!

Stay Healthy: Midnight Family

Midnight Family is a white-knuckle thrill ride. This verité-style doc takes place almost exclusively within a family-run private ambulance that careens through the streets of Mexico City. Director Luke Lorentzen offers an objective portrait of the Ochoa family as they save lives while also risking the lives of their clients to keep their business profitable. This dilemma sees the family asses a client’s vital signs and drive to hospitals that offer higher rates for deliveries, while medical care nearby might save them at the Ochoas’ expense. This riveting film invites a larger conversation on the need for public health care and the dangers of privatizing a system with human costs.

Check back each Wednesday for an updated Festival FOMO playlist. We’ll keep curating until audiences can attend the events in person. In the meantime: watch, share, and discuss!