The 2009 Hot Docs lineup has officially been announced and I’m extremely excited. For one, this will be a good opportunity to catch up on many of the films I missed at Sundance. Also, I’m currently not working, so I will have all of free time to dedicate to the festival. NICE. Luckily, there’s a shit ton of movies that I’m interested in, so it won’t be hard to fill out my schedule (It never really is). I’ve posted some crucial picks below, but you can also check out the full schedule for yourself over at the Hot Docs website. What are you looking forward to this year?
From telephones to toothpicks, nearly everything that fills our world is designed. Objects look and work the way they do because someone made them that way. Director Gary Hustwit examines industrial design’s sweeping cultural impact with the same curiosity and cinematic craft of his graphic design hit, Helvetica. International stars including Karim Rashid, Marc Newson, Apple’s Jonathan Ive, and Braun’s Dieter Rams share their philosophies and fab products, bringing the driving forces of the field into perfectly composed focus: “good” industrial design makes the product supreme, but the design invisible. In an age where forms cannot possibly resemble the myriad of functions they now perform, however, what will our world look like? How does design’s drive for “new and improved” reconcile with environmental sustainability? And how do individuals express themselves through mass-produced “stuff”? Objectified is a fascinating look at our relationship with objects and the people who design them. Myrocia Watamaniuk.
“I can’t accept that it happened for a reason, nor can I really accept that there is no reason. The only way to carry on is to be humble, and a little bit in awe of these things you can’t really understand,” observes James O’Reilly, contemplating a lightning strike. Accidents, chance, fate, and the elusive quest for understanding underpin Jennifer Baichwal’s elegant and captivating new work, an exploration of the metaphysical effects of being struck by lightning. For the writer Paul Auster, involved in a strike at age 14, it deeply affected his life and art. “It opened up a whole realm of speculation that I’ve continued to live with ever since,” says Auster. The improvisational guitarist Fred Frith underscores how accidents spark “the beginning of something.” Indeed, as a visually and aurally seductive reverie to storytelling, our attempt to make sense of things, Act of God may be Baichwal’s cinematic ars poetica. Sean Farnel.
You see an average of 5,000 ads every day. Most of them suck. A handful are good. Only a few look and feel like-and indeed really are-art. The most innovative advertising campaigns of our time and the creative rebels behind them are the fascinating subjects of acclaimed filmmaker Doug Pray’s Art & Copy. Slick footage and stories from industry legends chart the creative revolution that sees a splinter group shift from merely moving product to moving culture. Phyllis K. Robinson empowers the “Me generation” with a Clairol slogan and Hal Riney re-elects Reagan with “It’s morning in America.” Yes, they sell widgets, but just as artists do, they also tap zeitgeists and rouse emotion: Lee Clow’s “Think different” tagline grows more than Apples and Dan Wieden’s “Just do it” makes athletes of us all. Pray’s captivating tribute- like an ad itself-sells you on the undeniable art of advertising. Myrocia Watamaniuk.
Life in the tiny rural village of Glod, Romania is pretty uneventful for 17-year-old Carmen. She works in her father’s bar, waiting on layabouts, watching Spanish soap operas, and planning a life far, far away. But when crews from Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat film arrive, everything changes. Speaking no English, the townsfolk mistake it for a real documentary, and respected villagers like Carmen’s father and grandfather happily mug for the camera. When they see themselves portrayed on screen as Kazakhstani whores, thieves, and abortionists, the village is horrified. Cue revenge: big city lawyers channel their outrage into a $30-million lawsuit against the studio. Cue drama: fantasies of fantastic wealth spread like wildfire. Even Carmen begins to reconsider her prospects in Glod, but village greed and suspicion soon catch up to her. Director Mercedes Stalenhoef uncovers a story befitting Hollywood in this darkly comic film about pride, betrayal, and Borat. Myrocia Watamaniuk
Directed by Pavel Medvedev
A surreal, cosmic trip compiled primarily from the previously unseen archives of the Soviet space program, Ascension is a hypnotic montage of remarkable beauty, discovery, and weirdness. Where else can you see early rocket launches, footage of training tests, and experiments and artifacts from a bygone era of space exploration intercut with experimental animation films and archival images of China’s rise from agricultural society to industrial neophyte? Comprised almost entirely of found footage, Ascension paints an alternately amusing, beguiling, and chilling portrait of the things mankind was willing to do to launch into the stratosphere. Compulsory viewing for cinephiles and retro sci-fi geeks.
Winner of the Sundance 2009 jury award, We Live In Public is both a cautionary tale and a fascinating account of the decade-long exploits of technological and social visionary Josh Harris, “the greatest Internet pioneer you’ve never heard of.” Harris, often called the “Warhol of the Web,” made a small fortune during the dot-com boom of the 1990s. With that money he founded Pseudo.com, the first Internet television network, and conducted several other prescient projects including the controversial 1999 experiment that filmed 100 people living together in an underground bunker for 30 days. However, it was his last project that was most foreboding; Harris and his girlfriend lived for six months under 24-hour Web surveillance, an experiment that would lead to his undoing. Harris foresaw the future of life online. He knew that, just like he had, others would willingly trade their privacy for the connection and recognition they so deeply desire. Shannon Abel.
In December 2004, BBC World viewers tuned in to receive the surprising but welcome news that Dow Chemical was fully accepting responsibility for the 1984 Bhopal disaster, a toxic gas leak in which 18,000 people were killed. Even better, Dow spokesman ‘Jude Finisterra’ announced a $12-billion aid package for the people of Bhopal. The broadcast was seen by millions. The Yes Men had struck again. Gonzo journalists, media pranksters, Swiftian satirists, the Yes Men are Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno. They pose as corporate spokespersons, make uncanny replicas of company websites, and infamously published a spot-on parody of the New York Times. Among the headlines: “Iraq War Ends” and “Nation Sets Its Sights On Building Sane Economy.” It’s screwball nonfiction with a pointed purpose. Can they find a way to defeat the cult of greed and save civilization from its excesses? Yes, they can. Sean Farnel.
Slamdance award-winner Zombie Girl: The Movie chronicles the two-year journey of irrepressible Austin tween Emily Hagins to complete her directorial debut, the horror film Zombie Girl. Emily and her mom have been horror and sci-fi junkies for years, so naturally when Emily writes a script for a zombie movie, Mom is right behind her to help build sets, production manage, and fund Emily’s vision. The support and encouragement Emily receives from her family and her community is astounding. However, not all is smooth sailing. Emily and Mom clash over the direction of the film. And that’s just one obstacle Emily must face. Real life stuff like homework and financial woes also get in the way. But Emily’s enviable creative passion and drive keep the production going. She negotiates actors, extras, and even her Mom’s feelings like a pro. Is Emily the next Wes Craven or Peter Jackson? Only time will tell. Shannon Abel.
Directed by Byung-Gil Jung
Anyone with an admiration for Asian action films knows that the genre’s acrobatic stunt work is decidedly more realistic than the cushy, impressionistic green-screen stunts of Hollywood fare (workplace safety standards evidently aren’t the same overseas). And no one knows this better than Jung Byung-Gil, a perpetual dreamer and movie junkie who is determined to become the next Stephen Chow. A delightfully sweet and self-deprecating look at one man’s transition from film geek to stunt man, Action Boys follows Jung and several of his classmates as they audition for and attend the Seoul Action School. The grueling training program takes its toll (only seven of the 34 students who begin the program graduate) but the survivors earn spots in such cult Korean action pics as City of Violence and The Host. Action Boys is an endearing, tongue-in-cheek look at where your love for the movies can take you.