Hot Docs 2013: our 15 top recommended films

Hot Docs 2013: our 15 top recommended films

Every year the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival brings us films that educate us, enrage us, inspire us and move us. There is something about documentary filmmaking that compels us to take time off work, buy tickets packs (of full festival passes) and spend every waking moment digesting these films.

Is it because Hot Docs connects us to other places and people in a way that the average fiction film can simply never do? Is it because we come out changed, for better or for worse?

This question is simply unanswerable, but it seems that Hot Docs inspires a kind of devotion in its patrons that few other festivals can even hope to compel.

And no matter how many films we see, it always feels like we missed something. How can we possibly choose?!

This year Hot Docs boasts 205 feature-length and short films, and Toronto Film Scene has seen 68 of them so far. While not all our reviews are up and available yet (subscribe to TFS to make sure you don’t miss even one!), we wanted to make sure we recommended a few gems you will definitely want to get tickets to before the festival starts.

Here are our top 15 recommended films playing at Hot Docs 2013. (In alphabetical order, because we couldn’t choose!)

15 Reasons to Live

15-Reasons-to-Live

Alan Zweig’s latest film takes an episodic look at a neighbour’s list of reasons to live. Deeply funny and moving, this is a must-see, especially if you’re Canadian.

Screening: April 29, May 1, May 4

 

Anita

anita

In 1991, Anita Hill’s life changed forever when she was called to testify to allegations of sexual harassment by her boss, Clarence Thomas, a Supreme Court nominee. This film handles both the defense Hill never got to put on, while also answering the question, “Is Anita okay?” Read our review here.

Screening: April 26, April 27, May 4

 

Blood Brother

blood-brother

Filmmaker Steve Hoover documents what he thinks is a friend’s selfish and stupid decision: to move to India to work in an HIV care centre. Blood Brother is a beautiful film about how passion can be channeled into good and how people can be transformed by giving.

Screening: April 30, May 1, May 2

 

Buying Sex

buying-sex

This Canadian doc looks at both sides of the issue of prostitution: is it oppression or is it liberation? Women who work in the sex industry speak passionately about their experiences and opinions on this contentious topic.

Screening: May 1, May 3, May 5

 

Downloaded

downloaded

Everyone thinks they know the story behind Napster, but they simply don’t. Downloaded looks at the story of the world-changing technology that took down the music industry and changed the internet forever from the perspective of those who made it. Not a surprising recommendation, but one you shouldn’t ignore nonetheless.

Screening: April 27, April 28, May 3

 

Furever

furever

With a record number of pet owners in the world right now, it seems fitting that an industry would spring up to help them handle the loss of a pet. Furever looks at the myriad ways in which a pet owner can memorialize their animal, as well as some of the science surrounding why they would want to. Touching and funny, you should try to see this if you can.

Screening: April 27, April 29, May 5

 

Good ‘Ol Freda

good-ol-freda

This first-time insider look at the life of Freda Kelly, manager of The Beatles’ fan club from the time they formed until they broke up, Good ‘Ol Freda offers the kind of access to the band that fans (or anyone even remotely interested) could ask for. Get your tickets now. This one’s going to be hot.

Screening: April 27, April 28, May 4

 

The Great Hip Hop Hoax

great-hip-hop-hoax

When two talented kids from Scotland can’t get a recording contract (or even a meeting) because no one thinks the Scottish can rap, Gavin Bain and Billy Boyd put on fake accents and pretend to be from the US – where they are magically offered a recording contract almost instantly. The resulting film is what happens when they have to live the lie.

Screening: May 1, May 3, May 4

 

I Am Breathing

i-am-breathing

After the birth of a healthy baby boy, Neil Platt is diagnosed with ALS. Knowing that he only has a few months to live, he embarks on a journey to encompass everything he is in a letter to his one-year-old son. Don’t skip this one just because you think it will make you sad.

Screening: April 26, April 27, May 5

 

The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne

doris-payne

Doris Payne has everyone fooled: when you look at her, you see an elderly lady with great taste and style. In reality, however, she is an international jewel thief with a 60-year career that has netted her about $2 million. On trial for her latest heist (stealing a diamond ring from Macy’s), the film unravels the mystery behind the woman.

Screening: April 26, April 28, May 1

 

Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer

pussy-riot

Possibly the most important film at the festival this year, Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer looks at the group of Russian guerilla punk rockers and follows the trial of three members who quickly become political prisoners and beacons of just how terrible human rights are in Russian right now. Read our review here.

Screening: April 26, April 28, May 4

 

The Punk Singer

punk-singer

The Punk Singer is the story of Kathleen Hanna, founder of the Riot Grrrl movement in the ‘90s and her decision to stop performing in 2005. A great look at an often forgotten musician, this film will touch you and energize you at the same time.

Screening: April 29, May 1, May 3

 

Shooting Bigfoot

shooting-bigfoot

Do you think Bigfoot exists? Doesn’t matter, these guys do. Filmmaker Morgan Matthews follows a group of amateur cryptozoologists determined to find proof that Bigfoot exists. The result is pretty much what you would expect, only way, way more entertaining.

Screening: April 30, May 1, May 4

 

This Ain’t No Mouse Music

this-aint-no-mouse-music

Chris Strachwitz, founder of Arhoolie Records, fled Germany in 1947 only to find fame and notoriety in America. This is the story of a man who found some of the best in jazz, soul and blues and shared it with the world because it touched him. This is one of the best films of the festival, so absolutely do not miss it.

Screening: May 2, May 3

We can’t wait for the festival to start, and we would love to hear what you think of our picks or anything you see!

TFS loves Hot Docs

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About The Author

Like most people who write for the web, I've been obsessed with movies since I was very young. My favourite movies are The Social Network, Easy A and Garden State, but I try to spend my time broadening my film horizons. I'm the Publisher of Toronto Film Scene, and in my "spare" time, I'm a web designer and strategist. (Gotta support my movie habit somehow...)

2 Comments

  1. hannah brown

    The Trucker and the Fox is touching and compelling: a prize winning film maker in Iran who shows his films on a tarp thrown over his tanker truck to his fellow truckers is combatting depression by deciding to make another film with animals as actors whom he finds and trains. He has missed very much his best actor, a pretty fox who died in an accident, and replaces him with another to star in a film about two donkeys who are in love, but kept apart by a crow and a fox. We see his film making efforts with his animal actors, see how he has a modest following, and hilariously, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, with trucks hoping for cargo all around, three fellow truckers take part as film critics in a panel discussion. The animals are lovely, the face of the film maker so expressive, and it's a slice of real life which may have as its icing, some symbolic or political meaning — but only if you like. On its own, a delight of tenderness and absurdity.

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