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The top 5 films to see at Hot Docs 2014

Posted April 23, 2014 by Blake Williams

hot docs 2014 torontoHot Docs 2014 is finally here. Toronto’s second-largest film event (behind TIFF), the documentary fest will run for the next 11 days and contains 139 features to choose from. Unless you happen to be part of the programming team, it appears to be nigh on-impossible to see them all – so I’ve narrowed the list down to a few choice screenings.

Last month, we outlined the 10 films getting the biggest advance buzz; these were recommendations dependent on the notoriety of their filmmakers, the intrigue of their subjects, and the hoopla they created at festivals like Sundance, SXSW, and Berlin. Three of the best films I’ve previewed were featured in that post: Actress, The Overnighters, and The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga. This time around, I’ve decided to share the wealth and let a couple of other gems get a mention. (Also worth mentioning: Portrait of Jason and Harlan County U.S.A. are two must-see rep screenings.)

Without further ado, here’s the best of what I managed to see.

Joy Of Man’s Desiring
Acadian filmmaker Denis Côté, who has presented at least one new film every year since 2007, is something of a workhorse, so it seems fitting that his latest fusion of documentary and fiction should be centred on – apologies to the Lumière bros. – a set of workers not leaving the factory. Côté’s camera has never been more fluid and intense than it is here, as workers and machines glide amongst one another in a kind of minimalist, industrial ballet. The titular Bach piece does make an appearance, arriving, if you can imagine, in the film’s cutest moment.

Kung Fu Elliot
Winner of the Slamdance Grand Jury Prize for the Documentary category, this account of Canada’s version of Jackie Chan wouldn’t have been out of place in the Midnight section. Giving voice to amateur writer/director/actor Elliot “White Lightning” Scott, Kung Fu Elliot might lack hustle, but it’s also a hilarious testament to the creative minds that have emerged in convergence culture’s liberation of filmmaking production and distribution.

The Possibilities Are Endless
Films about the sudden onset of physical and mental disabilities tend to follow a fairly familiar, sentimental trajectory, so when one comes along that completely breaks away from the mold, celebrations are in order. Like Alan Berliner’s beautiful 2012 HBO doc First Cousin Once Removed, filmmakers Edward Lovelace and James Hall approach the new, tragic life of Orange Juice member and stroke victim Edwyn Collins with an astounding sense of poetry, making a film that considers not only a life that once was, but also the subject’s new, fragmented perception of it.

The Songs Of Rice
Every year, there is a handful of films in the festival (hell, every festival) that get termed “Malick-ian.” This year at Hot Docs, there are over at least a dozen of these (you’ll know them when you see them), but the only one truly deserving of this unfortunately-too-common distinction is this film set in the rice farming fields of rural Thailand, which is sure to leave you in a reverie. If you happened to see last year’s “heartwarming” drama The Rocket, this is essentially the same film, except done well.

Come Worry With Us!
Like the aforementioned, very good film Actress that is also playing in Hot Docs (go see it, seriously), this is another film that aims to depict how the duties of parenthood affect and impinge on one’s creative life. In this case, the subjects are Jessica Moss and Efrim Menuck of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra fame. The film offers a moving glimpse at the compromises we make, and don’t, in order to participate in the act of so-called “growing up.”

Lead still from The Songs Of Rice.

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I’m Short, Not Stupid Presents: ‘I Am Tom Moody’

Posted February 24, 2014 by Jeffrey Bowers

Fear is the worst, and I’ve got loads of it. I’ve got an inordinate fear of yoga—actually, I have a fear of being terrible at yoga. I can’t touch my toes, and I fart when I try. Plus I think about all of the pretty girls who go to yoga, which makes the whole thing even more problematic for me, because I’m afraid of talking to pretty girls. They’re either terribly mean or terribly dumb. I can’t even get started on my fear of talking to people whose names I have forgotten, because it’s everyone’s. Everyday fears like these run rampant through my brain, alongside making rent, eating properly, and trying to remember if I locked the door when I left the apartment. It gets worse when my inner voice starts fretting over things of note, like succeeding at my job, love, and life. 

Tom Moody has these same problems. Part of Tom is filled with major self-doubt, part of him is super-confident, and both parts won’t stop fighting each other. He suffers from delusions of grandeur and inadequacy. I guess that’s what happens when your mom sleeps with the ice cream man and your dad refuses to be patient with you (probably because his wife is sleeping with the ice cream man). Thirty-two years later, when Tom intends to make his debut musical performance at an open mic, all of these fears of inadequacy come rushing back. Of course, Tom is working with corny pop songs instead of a downward-dog yoga position but he’s still dealing with what pretty girls might think of him. 

The short film is animated beautifully with awkward characters by Ainslie Henderson. You can see and feel the struggle, which is voiced with humor and sincerity by the very underrated Mackenzie Crook. There are aspects of the character we all know too well. “A person finding his voice” is something that’s been done 1,000,000,000 times, but it remains a timeless story. And although this one shows its symbolism all too obviously and things pan out all too conveniently, there’s so much heart and genuine anguish in this animation, that it’s hard to fault. Facing your fears is an important lesson to learn and action to take. I’m sure if I finally went to yoga, I’d feel better—not just because that’s the point of yoga, but because I would have gotten off my ass and looked at some girls.

Ainslie Henderson completed I Am Tom Moody for his graduation film at the University of Edinburgh. It was recently nominated for a BAFTA award for Best British Short Animation. It won the 2013 Slamdance Grand Jury Prize for Animated Short as well as many other awards and nods from international festivals. If you like it, you should check out his making-of video, which is basically a companion piece to I Am Tom Moody. It showcases Ainslie experiencing all of the torment and insecurities of his main character, while painstakingly animating his main character. 

Jeffrey Bowers is a tall, mustached guy from Ohio who’s seen too many weird movies. He currently lives in Brooklyn, working as an art and film curator. He is a programmer at the Hamptons International Film Festival and screens for the Tribeca Film Festival. He also self-publishes a super-fancy mixed-media art serial called PRISM index.


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“Her” and the future of empathy

Posted January 16, 2014 by Darren

“Her” is both a love story and a ruminative critique of how we use technology. Yet, it’s also a meditation on empathy.

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‘The Chaperone 3D’ Is the Best Animated Short About a Montreal Motorcycle Gangfight, Ever

Posted January 6, 2014 by Stephanie Mercier Voyer

The unassuming high school teacher turned motorcycle gang asskicker story of the decade.

The Chaperone 3D is a short animated film that tells the incredible true story of Ralph, one of the first black teachers in the Montreal School Board, w…

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