The Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival doesn’t kick off for another month, but if you want to see the most buzzed about titles, you need to get your tickets pronto. The opening night film, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, has already gone rush, and a bunch of others are likely to follow suit very soon. If you already know what you want to see, stop procrastinating and get your order in. If you don’t, here’s a quick run-down of the titles you’re likely to regret missing:
The Queen of Versailles: A look at the financial downturn from the perspective of the 1%, this doc was a big word-of-mouth favourite at Sundance last January. It looks at the lives of real estate mogul David Siegel and his ex-model wife, Jackie, who made headlines a few years back for building the largest and most expensive house in the world: a 90,000-square-foot dream palace on the outskirts of Orlando. But when the downturn hit, that dream palace became a money-sucking nightmare. Director Lauren Greenfield had the great luck to begin filming pre-downturn, allowing us to experience this rags-to-riches-to-rags story precisely as it unfolded.
The Imposter: Anyone who read David Grann’s 2008 New Yorker article on Frédéric Bourdin will know what to expect from this doc, but everyone else should prepare to be astounded. In 1994, a 13-year-old Texan boy mysteriously disappears, only to show up almost four years later, in Spain, claiming abduction. Overjoyed to have him back, his family chooses to ignore one niggling detail: this boy doesn’t look or sound all that much like their son. If you think you can guess where the story’s going, guess again. Directed by Bart Layton, this one got raves at Austin’s SXSW festival.
Tchoupitoulas: Another SXSW favourite, this semi-staged doc follows three young boys as they wander the city of New Orleans alone at night. (The title refers to a street running along the Mississippi River.) Filmmaker brothers Bill and Turner Ross engineered the central concept, but everything the boys encounter — jazz musicians, rappers, exotic dancers — is legit and unscripted. The film is reportedly a beautiful cinematic collage and one of the most unorthodox films ever made about the Big Easy. Just don’t expect much in the way of narrative.
Marley: This highly anticipated look at reggae legend Bob Marley has been long-in-the-coming. Initially, Martin Scorsese was attached to direct, then Jonathan Demme came on, producing a film the financiers were not happy with. Finally, Scottish director Kevin Macdonald (One Day in September, Touching the Void) stepped in, filmed a bunch of new material, and came up with this. The initial reviews out of the Berlin Film Festival were enthusiastic, the reviews out of Sundance slightly less so. In any case, this is being touted as the definitive look at Marley’s life, so you better believe the fans will be out in force.
Indie Game: The Movie: HBO and Hollywood uber-producer Scott Rudin recently bought the remake rights to this Canadian doc (they’re going to turn it into a comedy series), and if they saw something in it, you probably will too. First-time directors Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky look at several “indie” video game developers who attempt to wow the world — as well as the big game companies — with their craftsmanship. According to early reviews, the movie strikes chords with solitary creators of all stripes, not just game developers.
The Invisible War: Noted muckraker Kirby Dick (Outrage, This Film is Not Yet Rated) is back with this sure-to-be-controversial look at rape within the American military. According to the press notes, Dick sets out to show that sexual assault of female soldiers by male colleagues is far more common than the public has been led to believe, and that the number of incidents in the past decade may number in the hundreds of thousands. Though the hot-potato film landed a distributor after winning the audience award for best doc at Sundance, the subject matter may keep it from being widely screened, so see it now.
Detropia: This largely pictorial doc, about the rapid, near-apocalyptic decline of Detroit City, may not have the buzz of the above titles, but who needs buzz when the directors are Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing (Jesus Camp, 12th & Delaware), arguably the two most talented and underrated documentary filmmakers working today. In a bit of a departure for the duo, this film is in the “city symphony” style of Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera or Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke. Those are lofty comparisons, but here’s betting Grady and Ewing can live up to them.
Scott MacDonald writes about cinema for Toronto Standard.