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#HotDocs14: The Best of the Fest

May 5, 2014

By John Corrado

Director Tony Girardin and Giuseppe Marinoni Photo Credit: John Barduhn

Director Tony Girardin and Giuseppe Marinoni
Photo Credit: John Barduhn

The 21st edition of Hot Docs has come to a close, with The Backward Class taking home the Audience Award, followed by Meet the Patels and The Case Against 8.  As always, I saw lots of great stuff and there were plenty of memorable experiences over the eleven days.

Everything started about a month ago for me with a press screening of Harmontown, and culminated last night with Giuseppe Makes a Movie, perfect bookends to a festival that offered just as many surprises when it came to films, as it did in terms of challenging narratives.  I saw and reviewed a whopping 48 features during this year’s Hot Docs, and from my perspective the festival was another wild success.

I could mention the few that were merely pretty good, or that A Different Kind of Boy and Self(less) Portrait were easily my biggest disappointments at the festival, but I don’t want to do that.  I’ve already had my say on those ones, and right now I would just like to focus on the positives.  Below are my final thoughts on some of the most memorable experiences that I had throughout the festival, culminating with my list of favourites.  Enjoy!

Memorable Experiences: Greeted with a standing ovation, George Takei and his husband were generous enough to answer questions for a good thirty minutes after To Be Takei, allowing the audience to witness the charming chemistry between the couple.  I smiled throughout Meet the Patels, but when the audience rose to their feet as the brother and sister filmmaking team went onstage with their parents, I will never forget the look of pride on their father’s face.  I was part of another memorable standing ovation when bicycle craftsman Giuseppe Marinoni took to the stage with director Tony Girardin after Marinoni, raffling off a handcrafted bike frame to whoever’s birthday was closest to the date.

Young musician Ryan Cassata was also met with a warm response after the beautiful Songs for Alexis, treating the audience to an excellent live performance that furthered my appreciation of his incredible talents as both a singer and songwriter.  Speaking of young talent, it was also inspiring to meet Charlie Lyne, the 22-year-old director behind the brilliantly edited Beyond Clueless, who graciously stuck around to meet with fans in the lobby of the theatre.

Finding Connections: When you see this many films at a festival, it’s hard not to find connections between them.  You know the famous footage of rock icon Alice Cooper being put under the guillotine that is shown in the wildly entertaining Super Duper Alice Cooper?  That was James “The Amazing” Randi behind the illusion, and the magician was the subject of the compelling An Honest Liar.  There were also many films this year that served as psychological studies of their subjects, including Art and Craft and The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest, both fascinating and entertaining portraits of mental illness.

It’s not hard to find comparisons between festival standout Kung Fu Elliot and Giuseppe Makes a Movie, the former a look at the man who dreams of being Canada’s first action hero, and the latter focusing on a no budget filmmaker who works out of his trailer.  You could also draw comparisons between An Honest Liar, Kung Fu Elliot and The Overnighters for the ways that they challenged our perceptions of truth, starting as one thing before thrillingly morphing into something else during the last act revelations.

What I Missed: Among the ones that I regret missing are The Backward Class, David & Me, Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story, Keep On Keepin’ On, Pulp, Virunga and Whitey: The United States of America v. James J. Bulger.  But with a total of 197 films being screened, I’m lucky to have even seen 48, a number that I wouldn’t have reached without the help of some advanced screenings and screeners.

Best of the Fest: I liked a lot of what I saw and I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story, To Be Takei, Beyond Clueless, Giuseppe Makes a Movie, Hotline, Advanced Style, The Case Against 8, Art and Craft, Marinoni and Super Duper Alice Cooper all deserve honourable mentions.

But out of everything I reviewed during Hot Docs, my top ten favourites would have to include The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest, The Homestretch, Songs for Alexis, An Honest Liar, The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, The Overnighters, Meet the Patels, The Special Need, Harmontown and Kung Fu Elliot.  Please see below for a complete list of all 48 films that I reviewed.

First Batch of Reviews:
The Internet’s Own Boy
The Overnighters
Kung Fu Elliot
An Honest Liar

Second Batch of Reviews:
The Joe Show
Love Me
Divide in Concord
Alfred and Jakobine
Tough Love
The Sheik

Third Batch of Reviews:
Four Letters Apart – Children in the Age of ADHD
The Basement Satellite
The Homestretch
The Notorious Mr. Bout
Doc of the Dead
I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story

Fourth Batch of Reviews:
Mission Blue
To Be Takei
The Creator of the Jungle 
The Special Need
A Different Kind of Boy

Fifth Batch of Reviews:
Before the Last Curtain Falls
Super Duper Alice Cooper
Children 404

Sixth Batch of Reviews:
The Case Against 8
Mad As Hell
Art and Craft
Advanced Style

Seventh Batch of Reviews:
112 Weddings
The Immortalists
Meet the Patels
Sleepless in New York

Eighth Batch of Reviews:
Out of Mind, Out of Sight
I’ve Seen the Unicorn
Rich Hill
The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest

Ninth Batch of Reviews:
Focus on Infinity
The Boy From Geita
Songs for Alexis

Tenth Batch of Reviews:
Bronx Obama

Final Batch of Reviews:
Giuseppe Makes a Movie
Self(less) Portrait
Beyond Clueless

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