For the second year running, I’m attending Hot Docs, the documentary film festival, in Toronto. I had a tremendous time last year and a number of the films I saw at Hot Docs in 2012 ended up on my best of the year list, including Detropia (Heidi Ewing/Rachel Grady, USA, 2012), McCullin (Jacqui Morris and David Morris, UK, 2012), and Young Man Was (Part 1: United Red Army) (Naeem Mohaiemen, Bangladesh, 2011).
The last of these three exemplifies the film festival experience, I think. It’s a tremendous film that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see had I not been at the festival and which stuck with me and prompted a longer consideration about television, cultural memory, and the radical politics of the 1970s. I’m hoping to replicate such an experience this year (insomuch as these kinds of experiences are reproducible) and have scheduled 12 films in 6 days. Some are familiar and come with some measure of advance hype while I was drawn to others through catalogue description or film still alone.
1. Teenage (Matt Wolf, USA, 2013, USA)
Based on the book by Jon Savage and featuring music by Bradford Cox of Deerhunter and Atlas Sound, this cultural history of the teenager looks very promising, drawing on the form of the archive film, but experimenting with it to produce what sounds like a cinematic exploration of the idea of teenage-ness. Best case scenario is that it errs more toward essay film than Ken Burns territory.
2. The Human Scale (Andreas M. Dalsgaard, 2012, Denmark)
One of Hot Docs’ great strengths is that it annually features documentaries about urban life, city planning, and contemporary architecture, sometimes sponsored in part by the Spacing magazine. This documentary, from Denmark, examines city form and everyday life. Endorsed by David Byrne who, on the site, is described as “musiker og cykelentusiast”, which has fooled me, at least temporarily, that I am fully fluent in Danish.
3. Everybody Street (Cheryl Dunn, 2013, USA)
This looks to be part city film, part photography film and, with any luck, will also be a lot about NYC in the 70s and 80s. It’s sure to be striking visually and, with a tremendous list of interviewees and contributors, sure to be an important oral history as well.
4. Future My Love (Maja Borg, 2012, UK)
I missed this at the Edinburgh Film Fest last June, so am happy to have the chance to see it in Toronto. An experimental essay film that focuses, in part, on 95-year-old futurist Jacque Fresco, Future My Love was picked as a Festival Gem by the BFI when it screened in March at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. It comes with this tantalizing endorsement from critic and film-maker Mark Cousins: “A passionate, inventive epistle about the end of days. It’s a rare, lovely, generous, caring, hurt, recovering film, like Adam Curtis meets Star Trek. I loved it.”
5. The Great Hip Hop Hoax (Jeanie Finlay, 2013, UK)
The strength of Finlay’s previous film, Sound it Out, about one of the last surviving independent record stores in the northeast of England, was enough to convince me to book tickets to see this, her latest film. I’ll steal the synopsis from the official site:
Californian hip-hop duo Silibil n’ Brains were going to be massive. What no-one knew was the pair were really students from Scotland, with fake American accents and made up identities.
The Great Hip Hop Hoax (88 minutes) is a film about truth, lies and the legacy of faking everything in the desperate pursuit of fame. The American dream, told by people who’d never even been to America.
So that’s a part of what I’ve planned. Technology and time permitting, I hope to have a post or two from Toronto during the festival itself, but watch this space for a full wrap-up and stray afterthoughts once the festival is complete and I’m back at home.