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#HotDocs14: Third Batch of Reviews

April 26, 2014

By John Corrado

Hot Docs Poster

Welcome to my third set of Hot Docs capsule reviews, as we find ourselves right in the middle of the first weekend of the documentary film festival.

Yesterday I published reviews of The Joe Show, Love Me, Divide in Concord, Alfred and Jakobine, Tough Love and The Sheik.  Below are my thoughts on six more films, including two that premiered yesterday, three that are just starting their festival runs today and a very high profile one that premieres tomorrow evening as a Scotiabank Big Ideas presentation.

Please come back tomorrow and during the rest of the festival for even more capsule reviews, and you can follow on Twitter for more up to date thoughts on what I’m seeing.  You can get more information on Hot Docs and purchase tickets right here.  Enjoy!

Four Letters Apart – Children in the Age of ADHD: The number of kids being diagnosed with ADHD is quickly on the rise, many of them automatically put on Ritalin.  But one school in Denmark is doing things differently, offering breaks and exercises that help their attention, and Four Letters Apart: Children in the Age of ADHD gains unprecedented access to the personal lives of these students.  The kids have all been given the same diagnosis, but many of them also have low self esteem and anger management problems that are stemming from other issues.  Although you could question the ethics of showing these kids bullying each other and in moments of emotional vulnerability, the film offers an interesting glimpse into how their challenges and problems are being handled.  This is a thought provoking and provocative look at what the diagnosis really means.

Friday, April 25th – 3:45 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Sunday, April 27th – 9:30 PM @ ROM Theatre
Sunday, May 4th – 6:00 PM @ Scotiabank Theatre

The Basement Satellite: Hojun Song is a South Korean artist who dreams of launching the first civilian satellite into space, spending five years soldering together his small cubic creation, while trying to sell enough t-shirts to pay for the cost of achieving liftoff.  We follow pretty much every step of his laborious process, and because of this The Basement Satellite feels overlong at 108 minutes and starts slow, as many scenes are filled with technical jargon.  But with some editing, this could easily find a bigger audience.  Things pick up considerably in the more engaging second half, as the film becomes a somewhat interesting look at failing and still following your dreams.

Friday, April 25th – 6:45 PM @ Scotiabank Theatre
Saturday, April 26th – 12:00 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Friday, May 2nd – 9:00 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre

The Homestretch: Rocque has nowhere to live while finishing high school, and is graciously staying with his kindhearted Spanish teacher, Maria Rivera.  Kacey is not accepted at home by her mom and grandma because of her sexuality, and is living at a shelter in the heart of Chicago that welcomes LGBT youth.  Anthony is working to finish his exams, so that he can get a job and regain custody of his young son.  Compassionately directed by Anne de Mare and Kirsten Kelly, their stories come together beautifully in The Homestretch.  With intimate access to their pain and inspiring moments of accomplishment, this is a compelling and powerful look at the growing number of homeless youth in Chicago, with subjects who grab our hearts.

The Homestretch screens with the eight minute Toronto film Steve, a touching black and white short directed by Jesse McCracken that plays as a good companion piece to the feature, following his foster brother Steve Playford as he recounts his troubled past through voiceover.

Saturday, April 26th – 3:00 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Monday, April 28th – 3:30 PM @ ROM Theatre
Sunday, May 4th – 7:00 PM @ Scotiabank Theatre

The Notorious Mr. Bout: As the Soviet Union fell, Viktor Bout made it rich by investing in cargo planes, and setting up a business that shipped underground merchandise to other countries.  This included supplying weapons and ammunition to Africa and the Middle East, which made him the subject of an American sting operation, ultimately leading to his arrest.  Vikot Bout remains a morally shady figure who was too focused on his own drive for money to question the cargo he was shipping, with his ego prompting him to constantly have a camera running.  Although there aren’t many surprises for those who already know the story, which was adapted with Nicholas Cage for the 2005 film Lord of War, the real footage is often fascinating to watch.  A good mix of interviews and home movies, edited together by directors Tony Gerber and Maxim Pozdorvkin, The Notorious Mr. Bout offers a complex look at this infamous arms dealer.

Saturday, April 26th – 7:00 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Sunday, April 27th – 1:45 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Sunday, May 4th – 7:00 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Doc of the Dead: With the amount of attention that zombies are currently getting in pop culture, from The Walking Dead to World War Z, you could be forgiven for thinking the zombie apocalypse is a real thing.  Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe, Doc of the Dead starts as an informative history of zombie folklore and is at its best and most entertaining when focusing on the cinematic side of things, including interviews with George A. Romero and Shaun of the Dead star Simon Pegg.  But things becomes off-putting when the focus switches to the ways that zombie culture is increasingly on the rise, providing a disturbing look at the fetishists and survivalists who are seriously taking things too far.  With a tone that mixes satire and celebration, ending with theories for the potential of a real zombie apocalypse, Doc of the Dead sometimes awkwardly plays like a fusion of documentary and horror filmmaking.  But there are some worthwhile scenes and genre fans are sure to get a lot out of the experience.

Saturday, April 26th – 11:59 PM @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Sunday, April 27th – 9:30 PM @ Hart House Theatre
Saturday, May 3rd – 9:45 PM @ Royal Cinema

I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story: Who knew that the man behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch had such an interesting life?  Though archival footage and revealing interviews, I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story introduces us to a more personal side of the iconic puppeteer, from his abusive childhood to his emotional struggles throughout his legendary career on Sesame Street.  Although the story loses focus for a few minutes in the last act with the disturbingly needless mention of a body being found on his property, the film is always heartfelt and refreshingly more mature than audiences might expect.  A fascinating look at the history of the classic show and what goes into bringing these beloved Muppets to life, I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story is an emotional and inspirational look at the man underneath two of the most iconic characters of all time.

Sunday, April 27th – 6:00 PM @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (Scotiabank Big Ideas)
Monday, April 28th – 11:00 AM @ Isabel Bader Theatre
Wednesday, April 30th – 1:30 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Thursday, May 1st – 1:30 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Sunday, May 4th – 4:00 PM @ Revue Cinema

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