Five must-see films from Hot Docs 2013
Who Is Dayani Cristal? plays at this year's Hot Docs
Bigger and arguably better than ever, the 20th annual Hot Docs begins tonight, featuring two weeks of evocative, fascinating and at times unnerving looks into the world around us. From anarchistic collectives to prison states to explorations of mental illness and the sex trade, Hot Docs offers a wide range of compelling films. The trouble is finding the right one (or dozen).
There are many to choose from; below, we offer a few top picks.
Hot Docs’ opening night film is discomforting and unforgettable. As told by an indecisive son, a portrait of a very human and often unattractive family unfolds before us. Shawney is uncertain about his family business: a strip club and hotel in Guelph, Ontario. His father is stubborn, his mother is frail, his brother lives in his parent’s basement and their employees have been jailed for drugs and assault. This is the cast of characters we follow for three years as Shawney tries to help his family, his business and himself.
April 25, 9:30 p.m., Bloor Hot Docs Cinema; April 29, 12 p.m., TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
The Defector: Escape from North Korea
From director Ann Shin, this stunning and tension-filled doc follows a smuggler named Dragon as he leads a group of North Korean defectors from their totalitarian state to freedom in Thailand. With hidden cameras and point-of-view re-creations, Shin’s access is astounding, and the film is instantly captivating.
Apr 27, 9 p.m., Scotiabank 4; Apr 29, 3:30 p.m. Scotiabank 3; May 4, 6:30 p.m., The Regent
NCR: Not Criminally Responsible
This powerful Canadian entrant delves into mental illness and the ways in which our society struggles to deal with it. Sean Clifton is at the centre; a man recovering from mental disorder that saw him attack a woman outside a shopping mall in Cornwall, Ontario over a decade ago. We follow Clifton from the hospital to his home, all while hearing the reactions of his victim and her family, who try to cope with the trauma of the incident and the fact that Clifton (who is not criminally responsible) is now free.
April 28, 9:30 p.m., Isabel Bader Theatre; Apr 30, 3:30 p.m. Scotiabank 3; May 5, 1 p.m., TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Who Is Dayani Cristal?
A stunning look at immigration policy in the United States, this film — from director Marc Silver and producer/narrator Gael Garcia Bernal — puts a compelling and human face on the struggle faced by many trying to get into the United States. In one half of the film, Silver interviews the people who are tasked with the job of identifying the bodies of migrant hopefuls who died in the desert while crossing the border. One such body is marked with a tattoo that reads “Dayani Cristal.” Silver looks to find out who he is and connect with his family, while Bernal himself recreates the trek this man and so many others made through Mexico to seek freedom on the other side of a fence.
April 27, 12 p.m., Bloor Hot Docs Cinema; April 29, 4 p.m., Isabel Bader Theatre; May 5, 9:30 p.m., TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Terms and Conditions May Apply
Cullen Hoback’s documentary is startling, informative and instantly uncomfortable. In a meticulous and humourous fashion, Hoback goes through the ever-changing world of online privacy, exploring not only what personal information gets put online, but why companies are so interested in obtaining it. Even if you already think nothing is private in the online world, there are far more staggering revelations in this film, which leads up to a fascinating encounter between Hoback and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
April 26, 1:30 p.m., Isabel Bader Theatre; April 28 6 p.m., The ROM Theatre; May 3, 2 p.m., Hart House Theatre