MCN Blogs
Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

Looking back, looking forward: HotDocs 2009-2010

My first mistake was traveling with a fractured rib. I’d planned to cover films and panels in great detail at HotDocs 2009, but when every sneeze, cough or laugh is accompanied by a sharp rebuke from deep inside, it becomes daunting. For two days before my flight, I’d been in the hospital for all kinds of tests, all of which came up clean. I was determined not to cancel my trip to HotDocs. The prognosis was a relief, especially considering that only about six weeks earlier, I’d been at another documentary festival, the Thessaloniki International, where walking past a political rally held by a right-wing party led to trouble. Taken for “an anarchist infiltrator,” I got a beating in the Square of Heavenly Wisdom that could have been deadly, if not for the intercession of a couple of concerned riot police.
(I wrote about that incident here.) Still, I thought I’d be fine, I’d be blogger-on-the-spot, with reviews and stills and videos on a tick-tock timely basis, a tough enough prospect, as every online writer soon discovers, even without stabbing pain. (I was grateful for the strangers I met who had read my Thessaloniki story and for their kind empathy, even if most wrongly assumed that the rib and the Greek incident were related.) I’ll be attending the last four days of HotDocs 2010; my fingers are crossed. Reporting on the opening weekend’s panels and activities makes me envious. I’m hoping it’ll still be valuable to observe the waning days rather than the friendly frenzy of meeting and greeting that makes HotDocs such an important festival for documentary makers and programmers to attend.
What perspective does a year offer, rather than the hot-hot-heat of insta-posting? Checking into my hotel the first rainy afternoon, James Toback was just down the hall, the door ajar, and he was loudly, proudly regaling the bellman with Michael Tyson stories. I thought better of a hello. In the evening, there was a Brit party in Kensington, where my friend from Sheffield’s DocFest, Hussain Currimbhoy ran interference while I held my rib. A bracing bit of perspective was immediately at hand when Yung Chang [left]introduced Nimisha Mukerji and Philip Lyall, the filmmakers of 65redroses, and their subject, Eva Markvoort ([right]. Eva had been a lifetime sufferer of cystic fibrosis, and the fierce documentary is a heartbreaker. More perspective: Eva passed away less than a month ago, at the age of 25.
Overcast Yorkville
Autumn’s Toronto International is abandoning its Yorkville origins, moving further south in the city, including at their new headquarters. Even with the first months of economic trouble, the sky in the area around most of the HotDocs programming was shadowed with construction cranes.
Still: spring. Spring in Toronto, a lovely time.
Mila Aung-Thwin
The Rogers Industry Centre is located in a building on the Victoria College campus, and collegiate (collegial?) informality rules. Mila Aung-Thwin, from Eyesteel Film, catches sun and WiFi.
Andy Astra Thom
Conversations are rich, even if you were to only eavesdrop on the likes of Andy Bichelbaum (The Yes Men Fix The World), Astra Taylor (The Examined Life) and Thom Powers, TIFF documentary programmer and creator and host of the Stranger Than Fiction documentary series in New York.
For two days, filmmakers pitch at the Toronto Documentary Forum, with fifteen minutes to convince the commissioning editors around this table that their work deserves their channel’s cash. Eugene Jarecki is one of the most impressive pitch artists I’ve ever witnessed. A highlight in 2009 was a slightly nervous Christopher Hitchens talking up a film about his lecture tour casting doubts on God.
The late nights are sometimes comfortingly inexplicable.
And language barriers are no barrier over drinks.
Cat ladies
Logistical mayhem is eased by the Doc Shop, where films in the festival, as well as films that were submitted did not make the cut, are available to view on an extremely well-designed system, feeding from a closed server onto rooms full of stations lit by iMac screens. Postcards and buttons are sometimes clever enough to convince you a film like Cat Ladies is worth a peek.
Cumberland Rush
Meanwhile, rain. Rush lines. Eager filmgoers. Terrific films, serious-minded and giddy alike. Thursday’s opening night film was Babies, or, “March Of The Zygotes.” And the cycle begins for HotDocs 2010… [An extended slideshow of forty-seven HotDocs 2009 photos is here; my 2008 photos-and-text report for Variety is here.]

Comments are closed.

Movie City Indie

Quote Unquotesee all »

“Roger Ebert claimed that the re-editing of The Brown Bunny after Cannes allowed him a difference of opinion so vast that he first called it the worst film in history and eventually gave it a thumbs up. This is both far fetched and an outright lie. The truth is, unlike the many claims that the unfinished film that showed at Cannes was 24 minutes shorter than the finished film, it was only 8 minutes shorter. The running time I filled out on the Cannes submission form was arbitrary. The running time I chose was just a number I liked. I had no idea where in the process I would actually be when I needed to stop cutting to meet the screening deadline. So whatever running time was printed in the program, I promise you, was not the actual running time. And the cuts I made to finish the film after Cannes were not many. I shortened the opening race scene once I was able to do so digitally. After rewatching the last 4 minutes of the film over and over again, somewhere within those 4 minutes, I froze the picture and just ended the film there, cutting out everything after that point, which was about 3 minutes. Originally in the salt flats scene, the motorcycle returned from the white. I removed the return portion of that shot, which seemed too literal. And I cut a scene of me putting on a sweater. That’s pretty much it. Plus the usual frame here, frame there, final tweaks. If you didn’t like the unfinished film at Cannes, you didn’t like the finished film, and vice versa. Roger Ebert made up his story and his premise because after calling my film literally the worst film ever made, he eventually realized it was not in his best interest to be stuck with that mantra. Stuck with a brutal, dismissive review of a film that other, more serious critics eventually felt differently about. He also took attention away from what he actually did at the press screening. It is outrageous that a single critic disrupted a press screening for a film chosen in main competition at such a high profile festival and even more outrageous that Ebert was ever allowed into another screening at Cannes. His ranting, moaning and eventual loud singing happened within the first 20 minutes, completely disrupting and manipulating the press screening of my film. Afterwards, at the first public screening, booing, laughing and hissing started during the open credits, even before the first scene of the film. The public, who had heard and read rumors about the Ebert incident and about me personally, heckled from frame one and never stopped. To make things weirder, I got a record-setting standing ovation from the supporters of the film who were trying to show up the distractors who had been disrupting the film. It was not the cut nor the film itself that drew blood. It was something suspicious about me. Something offensive to certain ideologues.”
~ Vincent Gallo

“I think [technology has[ its made my life faster, it’s made the ability to succeed easier. But has that made my life better? Is it better now than it was in the eighties or seventies? I don’t think we are happier. Maybe because I’m 55, I really am asking these questions… I really want to do meaningful things! This is also the time that I really want to focus on directing. I think that I will act less and less. I’ve been doing it for 52 years. It’s a long time to do one thing and I feel like there are a lot of stories that I got out of my system that I don’t need to tell anymore. I don’t need to ever do The Accused again! That is never going to happen again! You hit these milestones as an actor, and then you say, ‘Now what? Now what do I have to say?'”
~ Jodie Foster