“Though new discoveries from the wide world of non-fiction filmmaking inevitably get the lion’s share of attention, Hot Docs continues to be a strong showcase for more time-tested fare as well,” writes Jason Anderson, reporting for the Star on the festival running through May 3 in Toronto. “A Montreal-based documentarian who previously won best Canadian feature awards at the fest in 2002 and 2003, Carole Laganière is the subject of Hot Docs’ annual focus on a Canadian filmmaker.” And the Redux program “includes a further selection of highly esteemed films from past years, including Chantal Akerman’s acutely personal New York memoir News from Home  and Pleasure at Her Majesty’s , a suitably raucous look at the Amnesty International benefit shows that would become a British comedy tradition.”
The Star‘s Peter Howell highlights the program of films by Patricio Guzmán, focusing on the “profoundly moving” Nostalgia for the Light (2010): “A director of boundless curiosity and empathy, Guzmán illuminates stark truths with impeccably observed images as he continues to study his troubled homeland while also branching into fantasy realms.” And Howell and Linda Barnard “pick the best bets from 210 documentaries,” writing up over 20 selections.
In the Hollywood Reporter, Etan Vlessing notes that Hot Docs “has implemented strict security measures for next week’s world premiere of U.S. gay Muslim director Parvez Sharma’s latest film, A Sinner in Mecca…. The follow-up to A Jihad for Love, a film about LGBT Muslims that bowed at the Toronto Film Festival in 2007, has Sharma making a pilgrimage to Mecca as an openly gay and devout Muslim. That spiritual journey put the director in harm’s way as he operated video cameras in Saudi Arabia, which is against the law. And being gay is also punishable by imprisonment, a public whipping and even beheading if uncovered by the Mutaween, Saudi Arabia’s Islamist religious police.”
Also in THR, Sheri Linden: “As one observer notes in the documentary Missing People, buried experiences tend to surface in middle age. For Martina Batan, the fascinating New Yorker at the center of the film, her collaboration with director David Shapiro is a key element in a long-delayed reckoning with a devastating event. Through her love of art, Batan, a gallerist by profession, has sublimated anguish over her brother’s 1978 murder. Shapiro, in turn, has made art of her very personal investigation, through a chronicle that’s intimate, gripping and sharply observed.”
At the Playlist, Kevin Jagernauth presents a clip from Warriors of the North: “Directed by Søren Steen Jespersen and Nasib Farah, the documentary chronicles Abdi, Hassan and Mohammed, three Muslim European youth born to immigrant parents who join the ranks of al-Shabaab. But as you’ll see in this scene, the story is not so simple, with Mohammed revealing what led him to find his way into the organization.”
“Hot Docs’ new DocX strand includes a free exhibit of four Canadian shorts using 3D stereoscopic video, Oculus Rift Technology and Samsung Gear VR headsets,” reports Jennie Punter for the Boston Herald. “‘We’ve been tracking a lot of the new work happening in the VR space, and despite increased media attention, it hasn’t had much public exhibition, at least not in Toronto,’ says Hot Docs executive director Brett Hendrie. Feedback from DocX auds will be a bonus for filmmakers approaching the challenge of creating narrative experience and character engagement in the VR world.”
Meantime, Now Toronto is posting daily recommendations.
Updates, 5/2: “Karen Guthrie’s The Closer We Get took the top honor on Friday night.” Etan Vlessing for the Hollywood Reporter: “Guthrie’s film about a 50-year marriage as told through the eyes of a reluctantly-dutiful daughter took the best international feature documentary trophy and a $10,000 prize. After eight days of premieres and deals at Hot Docs, the special jury prize for an international feature documentary went to The Living Fire, by Ukrainian director Ostap Kostyuk for her film about three generations of shepherds struggling with an encroaching outside world.”
- An honorable mention in the Special Jury Prize category: Adam Lough’s Hot Sugar’s Cold World.
- Best emerging international filmmaker award: Evangelia Kranioti’s Exotica, Erotica Etc.
- Best mid-length documentary went to Søren Steen Jespersen and Nasib Farah’s Warriors From the North. Special mention: Adam Benzine’s Lanzmann, about Claude Lanzmann (Shoah).
- Best Canadian feature documentary: Charles Wilkinson’s Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World.
- Best short: Eleanor Mortimer’s Territory. Special mention: Sona Kocharyan and Marine Kocharyan’s How to Cross (From Jiliz to Jiliz).
- The Special Jury Prize, Canadian Feature Documentary: Sophie Deraspe’s The Amina Profile.
- The Emerging Canadian Filmmaker Award: Ryan Mullins for Chameleon.
- Yosef Baraki’s Mina Walking.
Anthony Kaufman notes that, “while the scope of the festival demands an array of diverse documentaries, including a fair share of already proven pop-culture crowd-pleasers (Tig, Mavis!, Raiders!, Live from New York!) and the latest in accessible nonfiction journeys (Unbranded), a large majority of movies on display are challenging and formally groundbreaking documentaries that would get shorter shrift at other prominent North American festivals. For [Hot Docs director of programming Charlotte] Cook, then, Hot Docs isn’t just about expansiveness, but also advocacy.”
At Movie Mezzanine, Mallory Andrews and Corey Atad have opened a Hot Docs roundtable with a discussion of Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker’s Welcome to Leith.
“On the heels of a Tribeca Film Festival that had its largest contingent of female directors ever, Hot Docs is screening strong documentaries by strong women about strong women,” reports John Anderson for Thompson on Hollywood.
David Davidson has a brief review of Raiders!, about the completion of Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb’s shot-for-shot remake of Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark years after they began as teenagers. And: “In The Nightmare, [Rodney] Ascher explores the subliminal messages behind Danny’s hallucinations in The Shining and the nightmare secret society of Eyes Wide Shut.”
At the Film Experience, Amir Soltani reviews Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s Best of Enemies, which is about the rivalry between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, The Nightmare and Florian Hoffman’s The Dictator’s Hotel, which “visits a newly built but completely abandoned hotel in the Central African Republic, owned by Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi before his death.”
“It’s a good bet that you’ll never find yourself visiting Uncertain, Texas,” writes Frank Scheck in the Hollywood Reporter. “After all, this small town on the Texas/Louisiana border, population 94, is so remote that its sheriff admits, ‘It’s not on the way to anywhere… you have to be lost to find it.’ Fortunately, filmmakers Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands did manage to find it; the result is Uncertain, their fascinating documentary chronicling the lives of three of its troubled inhabitants.”
Anthony Kaufman writes up eight discoveries.