Picks for Hot Docs 2013

This is the first year since moving to Toronto that I am not shutting absolutely everything down for Hot Docs. Normally I’m a fixture at the Forum and festival proper. This year I am instead working feverishly to produce my next project, a collaborative doc called Finding Family which we’ll be starting this summer as we travel across Canada.

Nevertheless, you can’t keep a bear from honey, so here are the films I’ll be seeking out in the downtime.

The Ghosts in Our Machine. This activist selection attempts to show the unique personalities of animals. Lynne Ferney’s words say it best: “this powerful film will spark important conversations about the relationships between human and nonhuman animals on our shrinking planet.”

Charles Wilkinson’s Oil Sands Karaoke. Charles came and sat in at my studio for an interview last year, and I found him to be a very interesting, quiet and unassuming filmmaker. Although I am opposed to tar sands development, so many of my friends and family make a living from oil, so I personally identify with the struggles presented in this film. I am happy to see that Charles continues to tell stories about the interplay between the environment and human needs in a complex and interesting way.

Next, Michelle Latimer’s Alias is set in Regent Park. Having first watched docs about it, then later worked in that neighborhood and seen it develop, I hope this tale about local rappers and the music business will pose interesting questions about this neighborhood in transition.

The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne. About an aged jewel thief. What’s not to love?

Speaking of the aged, since seeing the fascinating Gert’s Secret, I’ve become a fan of prolific Canadian John Kastner’s ponderous looks at society. This year his offering is NCR: Not Criminally Responsible. Fascinated to see how this master filmmaker’s always sensitive but keenly probing eye looks at the very timely issue of mental health and justice.

The Defector A very rare and personal look inside the underground railroad from North Korea to China using hidden cameras and what I was told on Saturday by people who attended, “deftly directed recreations.”

Who Is Dayani Cristal? Another take on the human cost of illegal migration, this film features movie star Gael García Bernal, who recreates a dead man’s travels from Honduras through Guatemala and Mexico.

A Whole Lott More. Lott industries is a small car parts manufacturer – not the most exciting start for a story, perhaps. Where it gets interesting is that all 1200 employees have developmental disabilities and the company competes successfully with traditional businesses. Since I saw this project pitched, the auto industry has crumbled, and so the film will offer a fascinating window into how such a unique business coped with crisis.

Tiny: A Story About Living Small. Couple Christopher Smith and Merete Mueller’s adventure, pursuing (his) dream of constructing a house with a footprint smaller than a parking space.

The Human Scale. Preoccupied with questions about how we should build for the future, I am interested on this European take on the matter, which integrates “thinkers, architects and urban planners,” who are preoccupied with questions of “human needs for inclusion and intimacy.” Can urban planning be a solution to modern alienation?

William And The Windmill. Again on the green tip, this film is about a Malawian teenager who “builds a windmill from junk and saves his family from famine.” The film follows him into the world of “speaking tours and Ivy League expectations.”

What films are you seeking out at Hot Docs this year?