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« Smash: "The Movie Star" & "Publicity" | Main | First Best Actress Predictions of the New Oscar Year »
Sunday
Apr292012

Hot Docs: Paolo's Opening Reactions

Paolo here. All world class cities have a lot going on in arts and cultures and this is especially true of Toronto for film lovers. So here I am apologizing that I missed the Kathleen Turner Mini-Film Festival because it happened during Hot Docs, the largest documentary film festival in North America. Taking us northern movie lovers from our post-Oscar hibernation, this festival also begins our new movie year.

I first started going to the festival in 2010, a year full of political films, although not as preachy as the word implies. 2011 had creatively-filmed spotlights on the bittersweet lives of its subjects. But this year's docs are more difficult to enjoy, if that's even an option. Let me explain. An example is The Invisible War, which had its international premiere last Friday.

It's...

the latest groundbreaking investigative documentary by award-winning director Kirby Dick, is about one of America’s most shameful and best kept secrets: the epidemic of rape -

 

No! Although it has 'prestige doc' potential.

Then there's Outing, also having its international premiere last Friday, its synopsis reading

Since turning 15, a shy, sensitive youth has struggled with a growing awareness of his own unimaginable desire: his sexual attraction to children.

"Jeff"Oh come on now, really? (UPDATE: the screenings for this movie have sold out, leaving its availability status for those who dare join the rush lines). These movies are just the tip of a creepy ass iceberg. There's a selection called Sexy Baby for Christ's sakes, adding another title to the trend of Docs That Make Me Uncomfortable. Then again why am I avoiding these movies but have no qualms on signing up for 'Nightvision,' a package of midnight screenings, that include passes for the Jeffrey Dahmer doc called...Jeff (I blame Jeremy Renner).

[Slushy thoughts, less depressing stuff and James fucking Franco after the jump.]

These gut reactions prompt two slushy thoughts. The first, and I'm projecting here, that avoiding documentaries with these kinds of subjects makes the (non?) viewer feel like a philistine. Documentaries are the antithesis of fiction and therefore of pretend, fantasy and escapism. Is this reluctance a sign that most viewers would like to avoid what they're already reading in the news? They're entitled to have these mental road blocks. Second, that it reminds me of reviews of a few festival movies years back, where critics would say things like 'It's a very captivating and you should see it but I can't tell you what it's about because you'd end up not seeing it.' Critics have the lion's share of the choice of whether to tell their readers about a controversial movie's premise. But we can also wonder how programmers feel about their choices and responsibilities, not just involving how to tell their viewers what a movie is about, but putting those same films in their schedules in the fist place. They're just there to tell the truth and if some audiences turn their back on it, it's their loss.

Other movies in the festival include the buzzy The Queen of Versailles, about a 'Housewife' type running a luxurious house that's way too big for her family and selections from or about familiar names like Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, which I'll regrettably miss even though I'm an Art History major. We might hear about Ethel for the rest of the year despite its mixed critical reception because it's about the Kennedy matriarch. Bones Brigade: An Autobiography is Stacy Peralta's follow up to his award-winning Dogtown and Z-Boyz. The Hot Docs page for Finding North somehow has a screencap of Jeff Bridges and features music from T-Bone Burnett and The Civil Wars. About Face: The Supermodels Then and Now is sure to take me back to my fashion days. And one of the movies that comes with the 'Nightvision' package I have passes for is Francophrenia: Or Don't Kill Me, I Know Where the Baby Is, James Franco's meta-doc. It's fun looking at the letter/star grades that that movie is getting.

The first movie in 'Nightvision' is Glow: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling which -- someone speak up and tell me that you remember them, even if it makes you feel old! Although the movie shows the sexism that the female wrestlers of the 1980's faced, it actually puts a smile on the audience's faces. These women had fun. The Gorgeous Ladies also have surprise connections with Pia Zadora's husband, Jayne Mansfield's son and Sly Stallone's mother. One of the wrestlers gave me a movie idea that will finally win Gabby Sidibe an Oscar! The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling... might be giving me a sign that I shouldn't be so pessimistic and neurotic about the rest of the line-up. And that sign held true with the next film I saw, Tchoupitoulas. It handles its subject, three working class kids in New Orleans, more lovingly and honestly than other docs would.

I'll be back after the festival ends to list my favourites and maybe speculate about the docs that might get Oscar notices later this year. It's happened before.

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