Photo by Alfred Hermida, used under Creative Commons license

Hot Docs 2012

Every year we buy a Hot Docs festival pass, and every year something gets in the way of us seeing at least one of the films. This time it’s wisdom teeth. But we at least got to see a few:

The Imposter (imdb | flixster | hot docs) was carrying a lot of buzz from an earlier appearance at Sundance, and it didn’t disappoint. I was impressed with all three facets: the story, the style and the shooting. The story was so bizarre that it could only be told in a documentary…it would have seemed ridiculous in a typical film. The style involved a lot of recreations, a la Errol Morris, which Nellie hates but I saw as crucial to the story…with no actual footage, you needed some way to put yourself in these situations being recounted more than ten years later. The shooting itself was pretty remarkable…as the director himself said during the Q&A afterward there were influences like Morris and David Fincher, but I got a lot of The Usual Suspects in the mix as well. Overall, a fantastic start to the festival.

It only got better with Brooklyn Castle (imdb | hot docs) on Sunday. Focused on a middle school in Brooklyn that focuses on cranking out amazing chess players, but extending into their personal lives and struggles at school and the state education budget sword of Damocles, it was engaging and worrisome and funny and encouraging all at once. The crowd applauded several times during the film; I rarely stopped smiling for the last half hour. Also: there’s a certain kind of subject that documentary filmmakers must just flip out when they stumble on; in this film his name was Pobo. Once you watch the film — and you really must watch it, just as soon as you can — you won’t forget him, or the other kids, or the teachers, or the stories. This won the audience prize at SxSW, and I’d have to think it’s a favourite to win the audience award at Hot Docs as well.

Unfortunately, with that screening still fresh in my mind, it was inevitable that Fists Of Pride (imdb | hot docs) would be a letdown. The subject matter — Burmese kids living in a boxing camp along the Burmese/Thai border, trying to fight their way out of poverty — sounded compelling, but we never really got to identify with them, or see them fight for more than a few moments each, or find out what happened. It was like a story that just couldn’t find a conclusion. Not bad, but nowhere near the league of the two we’d seen to date.

We already know we’re missing scheduled documentary #4 (The World Before Her) on Wednesday; if we’re lucky we’ll get to see Sexy Baby on Friday. Even if we can’t, our first weekend of the festival was worth the price of five admissions.


Photo by Alfred Hermida, used under Creative Commons license

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