Hot Docs, North America’s largest International Documentary Festival opens its doors April 25th – May 5. Held in Toronto each year, the festival buzzes with filmmakers and industry agents sharing their untold stories and bringing issues to light for all the world to see and judge for themselves. This year boosts 205 films form 43 different countries.
I’ve always had a soft spot for the documentary filmmaker. Rarely is there any lure of glitter, glamour or fame but walks a fine line between storytelling and investigative journalism. Highlights include kung-fu girls, shady internet pirates, rented families and Elvis’ appetite just to name a few.
The Defector: Escape from North Korea (CANADA)
Hidden cameras follow 2 women defected from North Korea in their journey through China to freedom in South Korea. It’s an intense journey filled with suspicion and doubt where even director Ann Shin finds herself unsure and uncertain having to place her safety in the hands of the smuggler. It’s amazing how well shot and pieced together via various animated transitions were, whilst keeping cameras hidden and identities obscured. The subjects, including the director, seem to know the gravity of the stake involved if they get caught. The Defector: Escape from North Korea puts a human face for all the players involved risking their lives for the better and hope of their country.
A well renowned and respected artist and a rising photographer contemplate how Chinese art would’ve been without influence from the West. In a culture where modernization is slowly taking over tradition, both feel the Eastern way of viewing the world is slowly making way for Western values. A very deeply thoughtful documentary in where old and new Chinese art and culture is critically discussed not by outsiders and the standard of their lens, but by its own people.
Dragon Girls (GERMANY)
Cameras follow 3 girls enrolled at the Tagu Kung Fu boarding school, home to 20,000 students in China next to the Shaolin Temple Monastery over the course of several months. While some girls request to be enrolled, others are sent as punishment by their parents which makes for a somewhat tense atmosphere. Not exactly the girl power story one would be expecting from a doc of this title, rather it illuminates the girls hopes and dreams, matched with the impending reality each of them may be facing despite their efforts.
The Burger and the King (USA)
Ever wondered what kind of diet Elvis Presley had? From his poor childhood to his life of excess and consumption, The Burger and the King speaks to those who knew Elvis’ and his simple, yet bizarre culinary cravings. Heart clogging and at times grotesque, it’s a unique whimsical look at the life of Elvis via his stomach. You’ll want to eat a salad after.
TPB – AFK: The Pirate Bay – Away From Keyboard (SWEDEN)
A fly on the wall documentary following the 3 faces behind the operations of The Pirate Bay, the world’s largest online file sharing platform and their legal battle with Hollywood. Questions arise during trial debate how government entities should deal with copyrights in the age of Internet. Should the 3 be sued for the millions of dollars of revenue claimed to be lost and serve jail time? Is this the next level of freedom of speech? Will creativity and innovation be stifled if consumers are unable to share and share freely?
Note: You could probably watch this online somewhere.
Terms and Conditions May Apply (USA)
This horror filled documentary takes a look through the terms and conditions to every website visited, phone call made, or app downloaded. In fact much of the legalese, purposefully designed to dissuade the average consumer from reading, suggests that government organizations and entities have the right to monitor your every move in the interest of national security. Under much scrutiny, the film seems to focus on Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, which overnight changed their privacy settings and neglected to inform its subscribers in a timely manner. Truly, it’s a terrifying look at the dangerous slope the world has opted into by simply clicking that they agree.
Rent-A-Family Inc. (DENMARK)
In a society where embarrassment is cardinal faux pas, Ryuichi runs “I Want to Cheer You Up Ltd.” making a business out of posing as friends and family members saving his clients from embarrassing social situations. He is so good that even his family is unaware of his business but thinks he has a 9 to 5 job and is just like every other salary man. Ironically, he too is also embarrassed about his business to even tell his wife which has slowly distanced them. It’s a surprising doc filled with nuances between his rented life and his real life.