Hot Docs 2011

1 05 2011

Officially, Hot Docs began April 28th. But it feels like still it’s the “party weekend” before Hot Docs really begins – the Hot Docs that for so many in the film industry means endless meetings, sweaty pitches, making connections and hopefully, landing a deal.

I’ve had the chance to meet some wonderful people, from festival programmers to producers and filmmakers (mostly at the amazing social nights that start after 9 every day) but the best thing about Hot Docs is, of course, the films. That’s why we’re all here. To see the incredible results of a filmmaker’s vision. To delight in watching what took sometimes five or ten years of work to realize.

So without further introduction, here’s a slice of a few of the films I’ve had the privilege to see over the last 3 days.

The Bengali Detective is my personal pick for audience favourite of the year.

It’s hard to claim that after having only seen 7 films, knowing there are so many excellent ones out there. Over 200 of them! But this film is a true crowd-pleaser. It follows the engaging, loveable Rajesh Ji, a private investigator who secretly wants to be a Bollywood dancer. It’s a crime show-whodunnit-love story-tragi-comedy that hits all the right notes.

Rajesh’s work is serious, as people call on him to solve crimes they feel the police don’t care about. The film points out a system that still today, for all of India’s progress, oppresses the poor and makes the vulnerable pay. But rather than the typical story about another heartbreaking struggle, the story is so vibrant and full of courage, so tragic and comic, that I gained a totally new compassion and understanding of India.

Rajesh is also a loving father and husband, and it’s touching to see his expressive affection for his son and wife. There’s a tragedy lurking, but I’ll let you watch it  – it’s a heartbreaker. All in all I felt this is like a feature film with all the right elements to pull a sophisticated audience along, and it all just happens to be true.

A second favourite is ‘Fightville’, a film about amateur mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters, by veteran filmmakers Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein. Here’s a more complete review in the Globe and Mail than mine could ever be.

I’m not sure why it appealed to me so much – certainly not because of the violence inside the cage where young men in the prime do their best to destroy their opponent. The more realistic the violence, the paler and more uncomfortable I become. It’s not a film for the faint of heart. But I loved this film because it challenged a lot of pre-conceived notions I had about MMA and UFC fighting. It’s a character study with a cage as a set and the sound of blows and grunts as the soundtrack.

It also has a strong theme of the journey to becoming a man. The film follows two young men who have dedicated their lives to being the best fighter in the ring, Dustin Poirier and Albert Stainback. One from a violent childhood, the other who looked up to his fighter father and wants to be just like him. In the sweat and blood of the Louisiana gym where they train, we watch them both learn more about life and themselves. Both men are articulate and give a voice to why some men turn to violence to express what’s inside.

We see through ‘Fightville’ that it almost doesn’t matter that the discipline is mixed martial arts. These men could be training to be fighter pilots or chefs. But through the journey of committing themselves and pursuing something so totally if they’re going to be the best, they become better men. And that’s a story every athlete and artist can relate to.

More reviews to come, I’ve got to sign off for now.

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