Film Enthusiasts Flock to Toronto’s Hot Docs 2014 Festival

Hot Docs 2014 has arrived in Toronto, a city that hosts over 70 film festivals annually. It features 197 different selections from 43 countries covering a wide range of topics—essentially the best documentary films from across the globe made in the last year. I’ve narrowed down a small sampling: some are urban stories; others look at poverty, popular culture or women’s issues; while others highlight Russian, Asian and Southern European cultures. For a detailed screening schedule see hotdocs.ca.

Sacro GRA  (Tales from Rome’s Ring Road)

Sacro_GRA_screenshot

Sacro_GRA

Sacro GRA

Running along the perimeter of Rome, the Grande Raccordo Anulare (translated literally as the Great Ring Junction) is a motorway of remarkable scale and prominence connecting all corners of the city. Taking inspiration from Italo Calvino’s book Invisible Cities—a pensive exploration of the concepts of city, memory and imagination—seasoned filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi crafts a winding tale of distinct narratives bridged by a colossal, sweeping stretch of pavement. From the paramedic worker tending to collision victims along the GRA to the botanist studying audio recordings of the interior of palm trees in order to detect and poison the destructive pests dwelling within, Rosi follows these offbeat stories and elusive characters with an astute, observational gaze. This winner of the Venice Golden Lion is an enchanting portrait of life along a vast, arterial stretch of urban highway and the everyday moments that take place on the edges of The Eternal City.  Lisa Plekhanova       Watch Official Trailer

SLUMS: Cities of tomorrow

Slums_Cities of Tomorrow

2014-Slums_Cities_of_Tomorrow_3

 Slums: Cities of Tomorrow

One billion people on our planet—one in six—live in shantytowns, slums or squats. Slums: Cities of Tomorrow challenges conventional thinking to propose that slums are in fact the solution, not the problem, to urban overcrowding caused by the massive migration of people to cities. The film explores communities in India, Morocco, Turkey, France, New Jersey and Quebec, offering an intimate look at the inhabitants and families who, through resilience and ingenuity, have built homes that suit their needs for shelter. Experts like Robert Neuwirth (Shadow Cities), Jeremy Seabrook (Pauperland) and architect Nicolas Reeves explode the notion that a slum must be a breeding ground for criminal activity. The reality is quite different: slums are as diverse as the cities they surround, often offering a more accurate representation of what community ought to mean—an experience where sharing is essential and social hope can flourish. Lynne Fernie     Watch Official Trailer

Tomorrow We Disappear

Tomorrow We Disappear

Screen Shot 2014-04-25 at 11.07.35 PM

Tomorrow We Disappear

Described as India’s “tinsel slum,” the Kathputli artist colony in New Delhi is home to over 1,500 families of puppeteers, acrobats, painters and magicians. That’s all about to change. When the government sells the land to private developers, traditional life is set to be razed for the city’s first skyscraper. Where outsiders see the slum’s rancid water and shacks, debut filmmakers Adam Weber and Jimmy Goldblum find stunning colours in death-defying performances. Whether bathed in sunlight or exploding against night skies, magnificent fire-eaters, sleight of hand magicians and glorious puppets radiate beauty in crisp, brilliant detail. But will the artists’ resolve to preserve their culture overcome the push for progress? As in-fighting breaks out among colony leaders, spilling out into confrontations with developers and government, the clock ticks onwards to the bulldozing date. Gorgeous and inspiring, Tomorrow We Disappear is a splendid tribute to fading artistry and the tenacity of tradition. Myrocia Watamaniuk        Watch Official Trailer 

The Creator of the Jungle

The Creator of the Jungle

The Creator of the Jungle

 The Creator of the Jungle

Just outside a Catalonian village, a recluse has been building elaborate tree houses and more in a bid to life as he chooses, as Tarzan. Forced by local officials to tear down his architectural creations in the name of modernization, The Creator of the Jungle rebuilds as soon as he can. Years later an American curator discovers Garrell, our self-styled Tarzan, and his creations, and records them. Now, with the curator’s footage and Garrell’s homemade Tarzan films, director Jordi Morató explores the mind and creations of a man uniquely driven to build and inhabit a world of his own making. Craig White       Watch Official Trailer

Pipeline

Pipeline_hot docs 2014

Pipeline

Cross seven borders and even more social classes as cameras follow the route of a Russian natural gas pipeline from Siberia to sunny Europe. Eccentric people, quirky locales and ever-Westernizing political climates astound in this award-winning visual road trip.  Savvy and beautiful, Pipeline visually traces the disparity between people who live above untold wealth and those who actually enjoy it.      Watch Official Trailer

Penthouse North

Penthouse North

Penthouse North

Agneta Eckemyr, an aging Swedish actress turned fashion designer, lives in a roof terrace penthouse with a stunning view of New York’s Central Park, $2500 rent to pay monthly, but no income anymore. Penthouse North tells the story of former tour-de-force now at a breaking point, trying to keep her piece of the city even as the cards are now stacked against her. Craig White

Advanced style

Advanced Style

Advanced Style

A hat-obsessed, bike-riding, part-time vintage store employee who trades shifts for clothing items. A mild-mannered lounge singer with the longest, most carefully groomed eyelashes you’ve ever seen. The advice-spouting owner of the popular boutique Off Broadway. These are the subjects of director Lina Plioplyte’s inspiring documentary Advanced Style. Pulled from the strongest entries on renowned fashion photographer Ari Seth Cohen’s popular blog, Advanced Style tells the fabulous true tales of seven of New York’s most stylish elderly women. Ranging in age from 62 to 95, these women flaunt their eclectic styles and embrace their individuality through their clothes and personal stories. Filled with colourful vitality, each vignette bursts with life, humour and, of course, style. Like the mantra for its characters, Plioplyte’s affirming doc reminds us that age is just a number and beauty is forever. Michael Lerman     Watch Official Trailer

Everything will be

Everything Will Be

Everything Will Be

Vancouver has one of the most famous and bustling Chinatowns in North America, but the patrons that the Chinese grocery merchants depend upon are moving out to the suburbs as condos begin to replace the older homes in the area. Will Chinatown survive? In Everything Will Be by Eve & the Fire Horse director Julia Kwan, a new neon art installation in the neighbourhood assures EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT, but it is cold comfort for many in a gentrifying city. Craig White  

The songs of rice

The Songs of Rice

The Songs of Rice
The Songs of Rice
Winner of the Fipresci Award at the Rotterdam film festival, The Songs of Rice is a kaleidoscopic homage to the staple food, rice. Through the window of rice cultivation in rural Thailand, we see how harvest celebrations, bullfights, music and firework displays intertwine with the land and its traditions.       Watch Official Trailer

The Beijing Ants

The Beijing Ants

The Beijing Ants

Move over Tokyo, London and New York! Beijing, where rents have reached over $11,000 CAD per square metre, is soon to be the most expensive city in the world. With prices out of reach, house-hunter and filmmaker Ryuji Otsuka decides to target the suburb of Tongzhou instead. The Beijing Ants provides a snapshot of a couple’s maddening experience with a society in transition, revealing as much about changing attitudes as it does about the rising cost of living. Shot using hidden and handheld cameras, the apartment search is given a citizen activist aesthetic. Conflict lurks in the family’s dealings with movers, police, landlords and local business owners. Racial slurs, threats and contract negotiations not normally caught on camera are aired for public consumption in this cautionary tale about capitalism and customer service in modern China. Behold the rise of a new consumer, one who agitates as well as she negotiates. Angie Driscoll     Watch Official Trailer

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