Hot Docs: The Films

I’m just back from Toronto for Hot Docs, the largest documentary film festival in North America. This was my first time to this festival and in fact my first time visiting Toronto, and I must say, I am smitten with both.

Some of my favorite films and filmmakers of the festival also took home prizes:

THE BOXING GIRLS OF KABUL is highly recommended. It won the “Inspirit Foundation Pluralism Prize.” I don’t know what that is, but the prize was $10K. I may be biased on this one, as the filmmaker is a friend of a friend. However, I hung out with a group after that included civilians (IE. not doc geeks) who had been dragged along. It was interesting to hear these folks talk about how emotional the viewing experience was for them. In my filmmaker head, I thought “wow, that was well done,” but hearing these folks who rarely watch docs at all talk, it really validated it.

THE WORLD BEFORE HER won best doc at Tibeca and best Canadian doc at Hot Docs, and this praise is well-earned. The film explores the role of women in modern India through the parallel stories of two groups of women: one training for the Miss India beauty pageant, the other training as Hindi militants. The result is an excruciating emotional complexity that I found genius.

Then there is the winner of best international feature, CALL ME KUCHU. Again, I am biased, as this film has previously received a Garrett Scott award, and so I was tracking it and had an easy in to connect with the filmmakers and they were generous enough to share a portion of their Hot Docs experience with me.

With that said, CALL ME KUCHU is one of those unique, magical, devastating moments in documentary. This film is something very, very special, and talking to people here, there is the feeling that despite it’s serious subject matter and African locale, it could really be seen widely in the U.S. This would be so good on so many levels. I don’t want to say too much, except see the film if you can, and maybe don’t even watch the trailer, gives away too much of the story IMO.

I don’t think I have ever been to a festival where I agreed so thoroughly with the award winners.

I wanted to mention one other film that made me happy:

BEAUTY IS EMBARRASSING was a great way to end the festival. It is the story of Wayne White, the set designer and puppeteer who broke out with Pee Wee’s Playhouse, has been a creative force behind all kinds of funky TV, and now has re-invented himself as a fine artist.

I was hoping to finally really love a film at Hot Docs that was not cut-to-the-bone serious, and this was that film. Funny thing is, I rode the airport shuttle at Full Frame with this guy. He mentioned he was the subject of a film, but he didn’t really go into it. We were about to get coffee at the airport, and then got separated. I feel like a boob for not knowing who he was at the time – he’s a genius.

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