Two shorts at Hot Docs this year provided significant tales of performers mastering the art of self-representation. Director Chrisann Hessing’s Turning Tables is a handsome profile of Anishinaabe DJ/techno artist Classic Roots (né Joshua De Perry) as he returns home and explores the roots that inspire his electro beats. Director Jamie Miller’s Prince’s Tale, which deservedly won the jury prize for Best Canadian Short Doc and the Audience Award for Best Short Doc, offers a lyrical and poetic portrait of burn survivor Prince Amponsah as he rises from the ashes of a horrible fire renewed with confidence, destined to reclaim
The Strange Sound of Happiness (Italy/Germany, 89 min.) Dir. Diego Pascal Panarello Programme: The Changing Face of Europe (North American Premiere) Some say the happiest sound is the noise of children’s laughter. Happiness could be the sound of birds chirping or waves crashing upon the beach. Others, the 1%, might say the clang of the stock market bell puts a smile on their faces. Director Diego Pascal Panarello, on the other hand, finds life-changing serenity in the twang of a marranzanu. The instrument, also known as a khomus and a Jew’s harp, is an old tool that unleashes a remarkable
Afghan Cycles (USA, 90 min.) Dir. Sarah Menzies Programme: Silence Breakers Afghan Cycles follows the stories of several young women who train as part of the Women’s National Cycling Team of Afghanistan. Mostly young university students, the women are passionate about the freedom bicycles present and are determined to continue riding despite the opposition they face in their communities. The bicycle serves as a powerful symbol: the right to movement, the right to take up public space, the right to gender equality and self-determination. The friendships that are developed through the sport, the intimacy of training and the mentorship
Pick of the Litter (USA, 79 min.) Dir. Dana Nachman, Don Hardy Programme: Special Presentations (International Premiere) Call it puppy love. It’s impossible to resist the sheer volume of adorableness packed into Pick of the Litter. This crowd-pleasing and doggone adorable doc by Dana Nachman and Don Hardy introduces audiences to five extremely cute puppies as they endeavour to become guide dogs for the blind. One watches as a veterinarian delivers Phil, Poppet, Potomac, Primrose, and Patriot from their mother, and it’s love at first sight when these little puppies wiggle and roll in their first moments of life.
More Human than Human (Netherlands, USA, Belgium, 79 min.) Dir: Tommy Pallotta, Femke Wolting Programme: Special Presentations. (International Premiere) Tommy Pallotta, a Richard Linklater collaborator who worked on Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, and co-director Femke Wolting open their doc about artificial intelligence with montages of robots like monstrous Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still, cute R2-D2 and C-3PO, and tragic Roy in Blade Runner. The clips set up the film’s various takes on Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). The machines might be harmless friends, or potential fiends that could eventually destroy us. Near the end of the
The Reckoning: Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secret (Canada, 90 min.) Dir. Barry Avrich Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere) The impact of the Silence Breakers is everywhere at Hot Docs this year. It’s a full programme devoted to women speaking against systemic misogyny. Women’s voices are at the forefront of the festival. People are listening and stories are being heard. It’s appropriate for Hot Docs to feature the snowball that got the conversation rolling. The Reckoning: Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secret covers the watershed moment that began with breaking news in The New York Times and The New Yorker exposing Hollywood producer
The American Meme (USA, 94 min.) Dir. Bert Marcus Programme: Nitghtvision (International Premiere) OMG! Paris Hilton is actually smart. The celebrity socialite, reality TV star, and entrepreneur is the biggest surprise of Bert Marcus’s plugged-in documentary The American Meme. Hilton serves as the chief talking head in this survey of social media “influencers” that considers Andy Warhol’s adage that everyone gets fifteen minutes of fame. In an era when careers are made and broken with six- second video loops and 280 character tweets, ephemeral celebrity is in overdrive. Marcus maps out the ever-growing world of social media influencers who
Chef Flynn (USA, 83 min.) Dir. Cameron Yates Programme: Special Presentations (Canadian Premiere) If tennis was the competitive pop-up theme for TIFF17, chefs are it for Hot Docs 2018. Eight women chefs put on The Heat for the festival’s opening night film by Toronto director Maya Gallus. Another “hot doc” in the burgeoning fine dining kitchen genre is Chef Flynn, a profile of 19-year-old cooking superstar Flynn McGarry. On the screen, 10-year-old “Chef Flynn” transforms his family’s California living room into supper club “Eureka” (note the early chutzpah) using his classmates as line cooks. With sudden fame, Flynn outgrows