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#HotDocs15: First Batch of Reviews

April 23, 2015

By John Corrado

Hot Docs 2015 PosterThe 22nd edition of Hot Docs is now upon us.  Things kick off tonight with the international premiere of Tig, and the festival will be going strong until May 3rd, screening an impressive total of 210 documentaries from countries around the world.

I’ve already seen over twenty of these films, and can safely say that there’s some great stuff coming up.  Below are six of my top picks out of the ones I’ve already seen, which should give you a good taste of what to expect from the next eleven days.

Another of my top picks is a short film called The Gnomist, about a park in Kansas where tiny doors and elaborate little homes started appearing, igniting collective imagination about the creatures that could be living there.  With magic and emotion packed into every scene of the 25 minute running time, it’s a wonderful and lovely little film.

Believe me, I’m still just scratching the surface of what’s worth seeing.  My next set of reviews will be coming tomorrow, and please check back for a ton more throughout the festival.  More information on tickets and showtimes can be found through the links in the film titles.  Enjoy!

Tig: Diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer, while still grieving the tragic death of her mother and recovering from a life-threatening stomach infection, standup comedian Tig Notaro faced the depressing irony of her situation with humour, fearlessly opening her act with the words “good evening, I have cancer.”  The set became an overnight sensation that skyrocketed her to fame, just as she was going through the worst chapter of her life.  Directors Kristina Goolsby and Ashley York have beautifully captured all the unexpected twists and turns that came next, following Tig Notaro from the aftermath of her double mastectomy and that now iconic set, to her anniversary show a year later, intimately showing all the ups and downs that came in between, and how they affected her new material.  Because of this, Tig is one of those documentaries that takes us through all the emotions.  The film manages to be laugh out loud funny through the moments of acerbic humour on display, but this is also a deeply emotional and unexpectedly inspiring portrait of someone trying to move forward after surviving cancer.

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck: Assembled from old home movies, interviews with his family and friends, and even animated segments taken right from his journal entries, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck offers the definitive portrait of this tortured artist, and a gripping exploration of drug addiction and severe mental illness.  Following the Nirvana bandleader from his troubled childhood, to his mainstream success with the release of Nevermind, and tumultuous marriage to Courtney Love, director Brett Morgan brilliantly edits together moments from Kurt Cobain’s tragically short life into a compelling and emotionally affective narrative.  The film does run a little long at 132 minutes, and at times the experience can be overwhelming.  But with the abundance of invaluable footage on display, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck gives us a thrilling and never before seen glimpse inside his mind, that is equal parts disturbing and fascinating.  And the soundtrack rocks hard, especially when played super loud in a theatre.

Welcome to Leith: The small town of Leith, North Dakota has just two dozen residents, who all live in quiet harmony with each other, and only one operating business.  But when a dangerous group of white supremacists start buying properties there with plans to turn the almost literal ghost town into a neo-Nazi breeding ground, the small but resilient community find themselves facing a tough legal battle that they weren’t prepared to fight.  Directors Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker have captured incredibly revealing footage from both sides, fearlessly exploring the fine line between free speech and hate speech, as this shocking story compellingly unfolds right before our eyes.  Hauntingly filmed and wrought with simmering tension, Welcome to Leith is a blood boiling real life thriller, with terrifying repercussions that are felt long after the credits roll.

Sweet Micky for President: Striking the perfect sweet spot between great entertainment and fascinating politics, Sweet Micky for President is already the one to beat for this year’s festival.  After their devastating 2010 earthquake, and years of dealing with corrupt governments, the time came for Haiti to elect a new leader.  Enter Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, a flamboyant pop star who instantly becomes the underdog frontrunner in the presidential election, in a campaign spearheaded by fellow musician Praz Michel, formerly of the Fugees.  Director Ben Patterson gains intimate access to all the key players behind this exciting and unpredictable election, and the editing between interviews and archival footage is seamless throughout, compellingly showing every step of their campaign and ratcheting up genuine suspense, as the historic outcome is finally revealed.  Filled with engaging behind the scenes politics, and set to a rousing soundtrack, Sweet Micky for President is a riveting crowdpleaser.

Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi: When severely depressed university student Sunil Tripathi disappeared from his Rhode Island apartment back in March of 2013, his family and friends turned to social media to help find him, a search driven by their undying love.  But tragedy struck a month later when a Reddit user incorrectly linked his picture to one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings, forever tying Sunil Tripathi’s name to a crime he didn’t commit, and leading to a modern witch hunt that overshadowed the emotional truth of his disappearance.  Director Neal Broffman crafts the narrative into a gripping real life mystery, and Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi is a remarkable film on multiple levels, offering a fascinating study of mob mentality and how the internet can essentially hang an innocent victim without any evidence.  But most importantly, this is a heartbreaking look at depression, that provides an emotionally gutting portrait of a caring young man who didn’t deserve to become a victim.

All the Time in the World: Feeling overwhelmed with the increasing pace of their lives, Suzanne Crocker and her husband Gerard Parsons took time off from work, and brought their three young kids to live in a wooden cabin in the remote wilderness of Northern Canada for nine months.  Adopting vegetarian diets and going completely off the grid, their plan is to live off the land without relying on any technology or clocks, allowing their bodies to naturally adapt to the changing seasons and rhythms of the sun.  Directed by Suzanne Crocker, and filmed only with the help of her family, All the Time in the World is a pretty remarkable achievement, capturing both the breathtaking beauty of the natural landscape, and the surprising success of their social experiment.  Beautifully filmed and completely endearing, this is an inspiring look at voluntary simplicity and how it brings a family closer together, that will leave you wanting to take time off and live in the wilderness for a few months.

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