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Hot Docs 2011: 5 capsule reviews, including “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”

April 28, 2011

By John C.

The 18th annual Hot Docs Film Festival kicks off this evening, with the Toronto premiere of Morgan Spurlock’s brilliant documentary, POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.  From April 28th to May 8th, the documentary festival will screen 199 films from 43 different countries on 12 screens across Toronto.  Please get more information on the festival and purchase tickets here.

There are many promising documentaries being screened, including ones like Project Nim and Hell and Back Again which I look forward to seeing over the next 11 days.  Below are my brief thoughts on 5 very diverse films that I’ve already had the chance to preview, starting with tonight’s opening selection.  Let’s call it “Five Movies, One View.”  Please come back next Tuesday and Friday for more capsule reviews, as well as at the end of the festival for my complete wrap-up of events.  I hope you all find something to see over the next 11 days.  Enjoy!

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold:  Presented by POM Wonderful, Morgan Spurlock’s The Greatest Movie Ever Sold was funded entirely by product placement and advertising.  It may not sound like the workings of the “docbuster” he set out to make, but his trips to corporate offices and pitches for the project provide solid and thought-provoking entertainment.  Some have argued that a greater truth is never reached, but the fact that Spurlock even got the film made proves his point brilliantly.  This is a largely fascinating and equally hilarious look at the inside world of advertising and moviemaking, and we can all drink a bottle of 100% pomegranate juice to that.

Thursday, April 28th – 6:30 PM @ Winter Garden Theatre

Friday, April 29th – 4:15 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre

The National Parks Project:  A collaboration of numerous Canadian artists, The National Parks Project should more correctly be billed as a series of short films rather than an actual documentary.  But at its best the film allows us to indulge in the immense beauty of Canada’s 13 national parks.  The 13 short films contained here are often beautifully shot and the accompanying music by varied Canadian musicians give them a quiet and relaxing feel.  However, at 127-minutes the languid and often random pace of the film will be best enjoyed in natural segments.

Saturday, April 30th – 9:30 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Monday, May 2nd – 9:15 PM @ The Royal Cinema

Buck:  Buck Brannaman is considered by many to be a real-life horse whisperer, and makes for an inspiring subject in director Cindy Meehl’s thoroughly satisfying documentary.  Mercilessly beaten by his father as a child, Brannaman is able to understand and relate to even the most unbroken horses, showing compassion for the abuse they receive in most common training.  His methods are gentle, but firm, and work wonders in all but a few tragic cases.  A must-see for animal lovers, Buck is a beautifully shot film that shows horses as a mirror into our own souls.

Tuesday, May 3rd – 6:30 PM @ Bloor Cinema

Thursday, May 5th – 1:15 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre

Sunday, May 8th – 4:15 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre

The Bully Project:  An intimate view of severe bullying at American schools, director Lee Hirsch’s The Bully Project follows an interesting group of kids in different states and small towns, giving us a raw and unforgettable look at the abuse they receive on a daily level.  Interviews with parents and classmates of students who are bullied or have committed suicide are heart wrenching and deeply emotionally effecting, leaving us drained and desperately wanting to make a difference.  Heartbreaking and powerful, The Bully Project represents the effects of documentary filmmaking at its finest.

Wednesday, May 4 – 7:00 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre

Friday, May 6 – 4:15 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey:  Growing up in Baltimore, Kevin Clash was enchanted by TV shows like Sesame Street and The Muppet Show.  Inspired by the great Jim Henson, his dream was always to create his own puppets and characters.  Director Constance Marks’ wonderful documentary, Being Elmo, charts Clash’s inspiring rise to fame and how he came to be the “father” of Sesame Street’s most beloved Muppet, Elmo.  With revealing interviews and archival footage, Being Elmo: A Pupeteer’s Journey is a moving and inspirational nostalgia trip for older kids and adults, that will easily emerge as a personal favourite of the festival.

Friday, May 6th – 7:15 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre

Saturday, May 7th – 7:15 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre

Sunday, May 8th – 4:30 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

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