Monday, April 12, 2010

My 2010 Hot Docs lineup...

Below are the films I'll be watching at this year's 2010 Hot Docs festival, which is North America's largest documentary film festival (running April 29th through May 9th). I've been meaning to attend for a few years now, based on highly positive feedback from my brother, Jay. Thanks to James McNally of Toronto Screen Shots for hooking me up with tickets - reviews of some of the films I'll be seeing will be posted there.
Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage - One of rock's most influential bands, Rush ranks third-behind only the Beatles and the Rolling Stones-for the most gold and platinum albums. Yet despite international popularity and reverence from fellow musicians, they remain slighted by critics and ignored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They are the world's biggest cult band. Filmmakers Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn are becoming masters of the music doc, and here have constructed a rock-solid, absorbing, and seamless survey of Rush's astounding 40-year career. The testimonials from famous fans - Billy Corrgan, Kirk Hammett, and Jack Black among them - are engaging, astute, and often hilarious. The archival footage is spectacular (Geddy, those outfits!) and, most important, the soundtrack and live concert footage remind us why Rush continues to be a singular phenomenon and Canadian icons: their music is virtuoso, timeless, amazing.
The Parking Lot Movie - Landing a job at the Corner Parking Lot is no easy feat. Bossman Chris Farina empowers employees as de facto owners, creating a work environment that privileges workers over customers. The ragtag crew of misfits he’s assembled contemplate existentialist and misanthropic deep thoughts while setting parking brakes. The car jockeys give equal time to brain-teasers, time-wasters, and the finer points of morality. Park and you will be judged! Your good or evil based on the make, model, and licence plate of your ride. A hilarious indictment of capitalism, class politics, and car culture.
The People Vs. George Lucas - Star Wars is so much more than just a movie—it’s a cultural phenomenon. Since its release and subsequent sequels and prequels, fans have reinterpreted the original films into needlepoint, nerdcore, puppet skits, and parodies. A participatory and democratic documentary devoted to the fans, The People vs. George Lucas assembles fan films, rants, and excerpts from the Star Wars Holiday Special to pose the timeless question: Who owns and controls a piece of art anyway? Does the Star Wars galaxy belong to George Lucas, its visionary author and copyright holder, or to the society that has embraced and expanded it? Appreciation, interpretation, and re-appropriation are crucial in keeping an artwork alive, but what happens when the creation becomes bigger than its creator? An entertaining look at the conflicted dynamic between George Lucas and his fans that might best be compared to the rise and fall of his very own character, Anakin Skywalker.
Gasland - Move over crude oil. Natural gas is the new player in the energy game and an unprecedented drilling boom is sweeping America. The Halliburton-developed technology of “fracking” or hydraulic fracturing has unlocked a “Saudia Arabia of natural gas” across the United States. So when filmmaker Josh Fox is approached to lease his Pennsylvania farmland for drilling, he almost takes the money. But after asking a few questions, he unwittingly stumbles into an environmental disaster. Residents from north to south report contaminated wells, mysterious ailments, and even combustible water straight from the tap. Fox blends terrifying facts of corporate cover-ups and governmental atrophy with a personal and refreshingly absurd take on the whole rotten mess. The Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, Gasland is an astonishing exposé of America’s new energy race.
Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work - Check your plastic surgery jabs and red carpet cattiness at the door. It’s time to meet the real Joan Rivers. Raunchy and unapologetically brash? This we know. But as award-winning filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg (The Devil Came on Horseback) spend a year with the comedy legend, a new and remarkable story of guts and sucker punches unfolds. At a time when women weren’t supposed to be funny, let alone tackling taboo topics like sex, Rivers trailblazed all the way to “The Tonight Show.” But personal tragedies and professional missteps now find her 75 years old and fighting tooth and nail to get back on top. Intimate vérité footage and brutally frank conversations reveal just how far she’ll go. Outrageously funny and unflinchingly honest, the film reveals the ruthlessness of the entertainment industry, the trappings of success, and the bare vulnerability of the performer.
12th & Delaware - Award-winning filmmakers Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing (Jesus Camp) plant themselves in the middle of America’s most uncompromising war. An abortion clinic sits on 12th Street in Fort Pierce, Florida. Directly across, on Delaware Avenue, a pro-life centre sets up camp. With an almost identical exterior, it’s often mistaken for the very clinic it hopes to shut down. With unprecedented access inside both facilities, the filmmakers record the astonishing dramas that unfold behind and between their doors. Offering free ultrasounds and her own facts about abortion, Anne, pro-life’s front line soldier, is on a mission to save her centre’s confused visitors, while Candace and her husband, owners of the abortion clinic, usher their clients past sidewalk protestors and secretly transport their doctors. 12th & Delaware presents an unflinching look at an intractable war and the women caught in the crossfire.
Human Terrain - Human Terrain adeptly explores the U.S. military’s controversial new program, the Human Terrain System. The program, designed to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi and Afghan people by making cultural awareness a key counterinsurgency strategy, embeds social scientists with combat troops. While some academic critics consider it misguided and unethical to gather intelligence and target potential enemies for the military, others support the idea of a more sensitive military occupation. The film hears from both sides, giving us rare access to war games in the Mojave Desert and training exercises at Quantico and Fort Leavenworth, and taking us into the heart of the war machine and the shadowy collaboration between American academics and the armed services. Human Terrain is a brilliant and timely positing of what happens when war becomes academic and academics go to war.
Casino Jack And The United States Of Money - The story of how Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff rose to power and subsequently fell from grace is fascinating enough as a study in the disruptive power of money and how it so effortlessly undermines the American democratic process. But by plucking out the scandalous events surrounding Abramoff, including million-dollar swindle schemes, mob-style murder, and trips to the Marianas Islands to interfere with international labour laws, this spy-like drama is almost too bizarre to be believed. With careful structuring of the fantastic material, Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney navigates us through the political circus while Abramoff drives a clown car of offences. Watching in disbelief as the crimes spill out could be funny if the stakes were a little less high.
Shadow Play: The Making Of Anton Corbijn - Anton Corbijn’s photography career began with dark photos of bands in Dutch clubs. Twenty years on and the internationally renowned artist and music video director’s high contrast style now defines the look of überbands such as Joy Division, U2, Depeche Mode, REM, and Nirvana. Bono, Chris Martin, Kurt Cobain and others share how Corbijn captures his shots, illustrating the shifting dynamics of photographers, paparazzi, and celebrity. The film cuts between these iconic subjects and behind-the-scenes footage of Corbijn directing his latest, and perhaps most personal work, a feature biopic of Joy Division’s front man Ian Curtis. Shadow Play is a fascinating glimpse inside the mind of a master.
Life With Murder - Twelve years ago in Chatham, Ontario, Mason Jenkins murdered his 20-year-old sister with repeated rifle shots to the head. Overwhelming evidence led to his conviction, but Mason insisted he was innocent. His parents endured community shunning when they steadfastly stood by him. Extraordinary access to original crime scene videotapes and recorded telephone calls, forensic evidence, and interviews with Mason, his parents, and the police detective in charge of the case deliver an airtight case against Mason. At the same time, the compassionate portrayal of his parents’ grief and their overwhelming need to believe in their son constructs a powerful psychological portrait of the family—and results in an astonishing confession. Award-winning director John Kastner admits to being obsessed with the lives of criminals. In Life with Murder, he extends this interest and asks us to empathize with the tragic effects of murder on the families of criminals.
(all synopses taken from Hot Docs website)

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