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Hot Docs 2013: Five Capsule Reviews, including “The Manor”

April 25, 2013

By John C.

Hot Docs 2013 PosterThe 20th edition of the Hot Docs film festival kicks off tonight with the world premiere of The Manor, and will run for the next eleven days, screening a total of 205 feature documentaries at eleven theatres across Toronto.  I’ve already had the chance to preview numerous films and I can safely tell you that there is plenty of good stuff coming to the city over the next little while, including many that I look forward to seeing at the festival.

Below are my thoughts on five of my personal favourites out of the ones that I have already seen, a handful of wildly different films that are all highly recommended during the festival.  For anyone doing Hot Docs, try not to miss these ones.  My next set of capsule reviews will be coming tomorrow, and more will be coming throughout the weekend, so watch out for those.  You can get more information on the festival and purchase tickets right here.  Enjoy!

The Manor:  Although The Manor is the opening night selection, this intimate portrait of a uniquely dysfunctional family is easily already among my personal favourites of the festival.  When Shawney Cohen was six, his father Roger invested in the family business, a strip club in Guelph, Ontario where he was raised with his younger brother Sammy.  Turning the camera on himself and his eccentric family, Shawney returns to the Manor as an adult, to tend the strip club while his severely overweight Dad goes in for stomach surgery, and his severely underweight Mom struggles to finally confront her eating disorders.  But even as things keep taking a turn for the worse, we never get the sense that this Jewish family doesn’t love each other in their own ways.  As an incredibly entertaining documentary that seamlessly moves between comedy and tragedy, The Manor is priceless.

Thursday, April 25th – 7:00 PM @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Thursday, April 25th – 9:30 PM @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Monday, April 29th – 12:00 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer:  Back in early 2012, three Russian women were arrested for being part of a rebel protest group that staged “a punk prayer” inside the Cathedral in Moscow, wearing balaclavas and using rock music to protest leader Vladimir Putin and the inseparable relationship between church and state.  Their act of protest sparked outrage amongst the supporters of the government, but their detainment provoked an even bigger outcry, creating the “Free Pussy Riot” movement and powerful acts of support throughout the world.  Directed by Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin, the film follows the group from their staged protests right through to the elongated court case, offering a balanced view of their important political message.  Both as a documentary and an activist call to action, Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer rocks.  This is one of the best and most important films at the festival.

Friday, April 26th – 2:00 PM @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Sunday, April 28th – 4:30 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre

Saturday, May 4th – 7:00 PM @ Scotiabank Theatre

Tiny: A Story About Living Small:  Christopher Smith has always dreamed of building a tiny house, joining a growing movement of the ultimate downsizing.  With his girlfriend Merete Mueller, and a large plot of land in Colorado, Tiny: A Story About Living Small follows the young couple as they embark on a journey to construct their new house, which is no bigger than the bed of a truck.  The interviews with other people who have adopted the lifestyle really help us fall in love with the idea, and the fact that the central couple also directed the film just makes it all the more impressive.  Clocking in at just over an hour, Tiny: A Story About Living Small is an absolute delight from beginning to end, a thoughtful and inspirational redefinition of home and how we can reduce the impact that all of our lives have on the environment.  This is a wonderful and lovingly crafted little film that is highly recommended at the festival.  Screening with the 11 minute short film Home.

Sunday, April 28th – 9:15 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Monday, April 29th – 4:00 PM @ Scotiabank Theatre

Sunday, May 5th – 1:30 PM @ The Revue

Muscle Shoals:  When Lynard Skynard sang “Muscle Shoals has the Swampers” at the end of their iconic classic “Sweet Home Alabama,” they were referring to the small backwater town in Alabama that was home to FAME Recording Studios and their excellent backup band.  As a music fan, Muscle Shoals left me wanting to stand up and cheer.  Founded by Rick Hall in the 1950s, the studio became legendary for launching the careers of soul singers like Clarence Carter and Wilson Pickett, and reinventing the way people saw Aretha Franklin.  When The Rolling Stones recorded their classics “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses” at the studio in 1971, they always wanted to return.  There was just something in the mud around the place.  With the performances providing an awesome soundtrack to the film, Muscle Shoals is a beautifully shot and incredibly informative documentary that has invaluable interviews with pretty much everyone involved and is required viewing for classic music fans.

Tuesday, April 30th – 9:15 PM @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Friday, May 3rd – 6:15 PM @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Saturday, May 4th – 9:00 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre

I Will Be Murdered:  When Guatemalan lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg was killed in 2009, the only clue he left was a video predicting his own death, claiming it came at the hands of the President.  Although Guatemala is a country that sees approximately seventeen murders a day, a high percentage of them remaining unsolved, this case captured international attention.  What followed was an investigation that unravelled a twisted conspiracy plot, meticulously explained in I Will Be Murdered.  Directed as a thriller by Justin Webster, this is a stunning film that shares a shocking and multilayered mystery, shedding fascinating light on deeply rooted corruption in a world where literally nothing is as it seems.  With an intricate real life plot that keeps turning in on itself, I Will Be Murdered is a masterpiece of documentary filmmaking, that should be seen knowing as little about the story as possible.

Wednesday, May 1st – 3:30 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Saturday, May 4th – 8:00 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 4

Sunday, May 5th – 9:00 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

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