The Top 20 Reads of 2020!
By Pat Mullen
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: cheers to documentaries for getting us through 2020. Films connected us with our fellow doc fans as the pandemic forced people inside and into isolation. Unsurprisingly, the readers’ trends for 2020 more or less reflected the urgency of the lockdown. The stories that drew the most eyeballs generally featured docs that were released in the first wave when we all streamed away the first weeks of social distancing.
Now that we have counted down our picks for the best docs of the year, let’s look at the stories that engaged the most readers in 2020. The list of the 20 most popular reads of 2020 partly resembles a “best of” list for the Hot Docs at Home series. Four of the seven films that played the sneak peek of festival selections on CBC cracked the top 20. Moreover, Hot Docs selections continued to dominate the list with films like The Wall of Shadows, Bare, Wintopia, and Dope Is Death drawing attention during the fest and maintaining their traction throughout the year.
Shifting festivals to mostly at-home viewing didn’t necessarily scale down the sense of the “event,” either. While Hot Docs and TIFF might have seemed more muted than usual without the festival queues and parties, cinephiles had to rely on reviews and social media for word-of-mouth recommendations. Although any cumulative list inevitably favours articles that ran early in the year, fellow Hot Docs winner Stateless was just a few clicks shy of the top 20 while interviews for TIFF selections 76 Days and Sing Me a Lullaby nipped at its heels in the top 25.
At-home viewing also marked an inevitable shift in this year’s top reads: a broadcast premiere topped the list for the first time. That CBC doc, Best Wishes: Warmest Regards, reflected another quarantine trend: we might not have survived the first wave without Schitt’s Creek. The look back at the popular sitcom united readers this year and showed an appetite for positive vibes and laughter amid the ongoing challenge of 2020. As Moira Rose says, “When one of us shines, all of us shine.”
Here are the top 20 reads of 2020 according to unique page views at POVmagazine.com.
1. Schitt’s Creek Ends with a CBC Doc that Reminds Us Why It’s the Best in Canadian Television
-A look back on the landmark sitcom through the doc Best Wishes: Warmest Regards, which took viewers behind the scenes of the final season and reflected upon the series’ rise to unexpected cultural phenomenon.
2. Jerry Rothwell and David Mitchell on The Reason I Jump and Rethinking Autism
-Ahead of the film’s Sundance premiere, director Jerry Rothwell and author/subject David Mitchell joined us to discuss their adaptation of Naoki Higashida’s ground-breaking book.
3. Michael Moore and Friends Attack the Left in Planet of the Humans
-One trend in 2020 saw docs unceremoniously dumped onto YouTube to make the best of shifting viewership. This hit-job on the green movement touched a nerve with the lefties of POV.
4. Beyond Moving: Siphe November Takes Centre Stage
-February’s Doc Soup selection Beyond Moving was among the last chances for doc fans to share the theatrical experience. Fittingly, it was with this triumphant story from the Toronto arts scene.
5. True/False 2020: On Ecstasy and Eccentricity
-2020 had cinephiles reconsidering film festivals when COVID-19 shifted the nature of the beast. Samara Chadwick looked back at True/False, the last fest to play in full before the first wave, and asked if we could reimagine festivals in the years ahead.
6. Hot Docs Review: The Wall of Shadows
-Nearly every festival has a “mountain movie” and Hot Docs 2020 stood mighty tall with this portrait of a Sherpa family and the mountain that rebelled against the rise of thrill-seeking adventure tourism.
7. Finding Sally and a Family’s Search for Answers
-This entry in the Hot Docs at Home series saw director Tamara Dawit trace the story of a lost aunt in Ethiopia, a family’s secret, and a country’s hidden history.
8. Made You Look and the Art of a Con
-Barry Avrich’s zany art world caper kicked off the Hot Docs at Home series and set a bar for the festival with its wild-but-true story of forgery and high society dupes.
9. White Riot: Dismantling Racism and Bigotry One Concert at a Time
-Rubika Shah’s portrait of Rock Against Racism (RAR) reflected on a movement in the punk rock scene to address racism and anti-immigrant sentiment through art.
10. Shawn Mendes: In Wonder Review: Sonic Youth
This upbeat Netflix doc profiled Pickering’s boy wonder, Shawn Mendes, as he returned to Toronto for a triumphant concert and delivered a stirring portrait of youth in the process.
11. POV Interview: DOC’s New Executive Director Michelle van Beusekom
-The 2020 executive director of the Documentary Organization of Canada stepped into the job just days before COVID hit and reflected on the challenges ahead.
12. True Crime, Lobsters, and The Killing of Phillip Boudreau
-Megan Wennberg learned firsthand how a murder could divide a small fishing community in The Killing of Phillip Boudreau. She spoke with POV about putting together this powerful story of a notorious crime.
13. Hot Docs Review: Bare
If POV readers found themselves craving art and intimacy, they got a double-whammy in the Hot Docs selection Bare, which profiled Thierry Smits’ provocative piece Anima Ardens featuring a dozen nude male dancers.
14. Could This Be the Year of the Documentary Best Picture Oscar Nominee?
With documentaries like Crip Camp, Boys State, and John Lewis: Good Trouble dominating the first half of the year, we asked if a doc could finally crack Oscar’s top category. While some of these docs have submitted for Best Picture consideration, they could still be long shots.
15. Report on Sundance Documentaries: Part 1
-Jason Gorber’s popular dispatches from Park City, Utah continued with this preview of four docs that held strong in 2020: The Painter and the Thief, The Mole Agent, Feels Good Man, and The Fight.
16. From Kenya with Love and Fear
-Sam Soko’s Softie was selected to open this year’s Hot Docs festival following an acclaimed debut at Sundance. Here’s the story behind the doc and its portrait of Kenyan activist/photojournalist Boniface “Softie” Mwangi.
17. 9/11 Kids Captures a Nation’s Lost Innocence
-This entry in the Hot Docs at Home series delivered a portrait of the students who were with President George W. Bush when he got the news about 9/11. Where are they now?
18. Radical Health: A Threat to the Nation
-POV favourite Mia Donovan returned with Dope Is Death, a powerful doc that looked at a detox clinic helping marginalised communities kick addictions while fighting systemic racism.
19. Hot Docs Review: The Walrus and the Whistleblower
-Both the Canadian Audience Award winner and the overall audience favourite at Hot Docs this year, Nathalie Bibeau’s doc was a triumphant portrait of a walrus named Smooshi and a trainer named Phil united in a fight for animal rights.
20. The POV Interview: Mira Burt-Wintonick on Wintopia
-The cover story of our Spring/Summer 2020 issue was a sentimental favourite. Filmmaker, former POV editor, and Canada’s “doc ambassador” Peter Wintonick received a loving doc portrait that saw the family tradition continue in this film by his daughter, Mira.
Thanks for reading!