Toronto’s 2011 Hot Docs Film Festival is now officially underway, having kicked off the proceedings last night with a screening of Morgan Spurlock’s The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. Over the next week we will be catching some of the many great documentaries playing this year, so you can expect some reviews to turn up on Film Junk and The Documentary Blog in the near future. However, if you’re interested in attending some screenings yourself, I thought it might be worthwhile to offer up a quick preview of what’s playing so you can try and order some tickets before it’s too late. Check out our top picks of the fest, complete with trailers or video clips where possible, listed after the jump!
Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey
Directed by: Constance Marks
Synopsis: The film traces Kevin Clash’s rise from his modest beginnings in Baltimore to his current success as the man behind Sesame Street’s Elmo, one of the world’s most recognizable and adored characters.
Directed by: James Marsh (Man on Wire)
Synopsis: From the Oscar-winning team behind Man on Wire comes the story of Nim, the chimpanzee who in the 1970s became the focus of a landmark experiment which aimed to show that an ape could learn to communicate with language if raised and nurtured like a human child.
Directed by: Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker (Gunner Palace)
Synopsis: Over the last decade, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has grown from a controversial no-holds-barred gladiatorial sideshow into a billion dollar phenomenon eclipsing boxing as the dominant combat sport in the world. Fightville is about the art and sport of fighting: a microcosm of life, a physical manifestation of that other brutal contest called the American Dream, where men are not born, but built through self determination, hard work and faith.
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop
Directed by: Rodman Flender (Idle Hands)
Synopsis: After a much-publicized separation with his former employers, did Conan O’Brien hit the road on a 32-City tour to connect with his fans or fill a void within himself? Filmmaker Rodman Flender followed O’Brien on his Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour and returned with an intimate portrait of an artist trained in improvisation, captured at the most improvisational time of his career.
The Bully Project
Directed by: Lee Hirsch
Synopsis: This year, over 5 million American kids will be bullied at school, online, on the bus, at home, through their cell phones and on the streets of their towns, making it the most common form of violence young people in this country experience. The Bully Project is the first feature documentary film to show how we’ve all been affected by bullying, whether we’ve been victims, perpetrators or stood silent witness.
Directed by: Steve James (Hoop Dreams)
Synopsis: The Interrupters tells the moving and surprising stories of three Violence Interrupters who try to protect their Chicago communities from the violence they once employed.
Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest
Directed by: Michael Rapaport
Synopsis: Having forged a 20-year run as one of the most innovative and influential hip hop bands of all time, the Queens NY collective known as A Tribe Called Quest have kept a generation hungry for more of their groundbreaking music since their much publicized breakup in 1998. Michael Rapaport documents the inner workings and behind the scenes drama that follows the band to this day.
Hell and Back Again
Directed by: Danfung Dennis
Synopsis: What does it mean to lead men in war? What does it mean to come home? Hell and Back Again is a cinematically revolutionary film that asks and answers these questions with a power and intimacy no previous film about the conflict in Afghanistan has been able to achieve.
Directed by: Tristan Patterson
Synopsis: The transmissions of a lost kid, falling in love, in the suburbs of Fullerton, California. Featuring skateboarding, the usual drugs, and stray glimpses of unusual beauty.
Directed by: Alison Ellwood and Alex Gibney (Gonzo, Casino Jack, Taxi to the Dark Side)
Synopsis: In 1964, Ken Kesey, celebrated author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, assembled a ragtag crew of friends and lovers known as the Merry Pranksters to take an LSD-fueled road trip from California to the New York World’s Fair and captured it on camera. More than 40 years later, Gibney and Ellwood re-imagine Kesey’s original film, audio tapes and photographs into one of the year’s trippiest and most creative time capsules.
Directed by: Jay Cheel
Synopsis: An apt mix of humour and humanity, Beauty Day is a feature length documentary which chronicles the life and times of cable television star Ralph Zavadil. The film combines broad comedic beats underlined by a subdued, introspective philosophizing on life.
Directed by: Michael Barnett
Synopsis: A journey inside the world of real life caped crusaders. From all over America, these self-proclaimed crime fighters don masks, homemade costumes and elaborate utility belts in an attempt to bring justice to evildoers everywhere.
The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
Directed by: Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me)
Synopsis: From the billboards in Times Square to the barren streets of São Paulo, documentarian Morgan Spurlock shines a light on the world of product placement, marketing and advertising through his new film, fully financed by the very product placement the movie explores on screen.
The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975
Directed by: Göran Olsson
Synopsis: From 1967 to 1975, Swedish journalists traveled to the United States to document the black power movement in America. For over 30 years, their 16mm tapes sat undiscovered in a basement in Sweden. Now, director Göran Hugo Olsson compiles their work into a powerful documentary that chronicles the movement’s strength and evolution with never-before-seen footage of leaders such as Stokely Carmichael, Bobby Seale, Huey P. Newton, Angela Davis and Eldridge Cleaver.
Directed by: Dani Menkin and Yonatan Nir
Synopsis: When told by doctors that dolphin-assisted therapy is the last treatment option for his son, Morad, before the boy is committed to a psychiatric institution, his father sells everything, leaving his job and family to move to Dolphin Reef on the Red Sea, vowing not to return unless the boy achieves full recovery.
The Pirate Tapes
Directed by: Rock Baijnauth, Andrew Moniz, Roger Singh, Matvei Zhivov
Synopsis: A tale of violence, piracy and environmental disaster spirals into a life-threatening situation when Mohamed, a young Somali-Canadian, joins an armed pirate cell with a hidden camera. But when a rival clan murders the pirate boss, Mohamed ends up in a horrific jail in danger of execution.
Directed by: Matt Gallagher
Synopsis: The stakes are high and risk is everything for the men who play the odds for a living in this insider’s safari through Toronto’s illegal gambling clubs, Vegas casinos, online poker rooms and tournaments that tout million-dollar purses. As Gallagher tries with Texas Hold ‘Em to support his family through a heartbreaking medical crisis, a cast of charismatic gamblers take us into their lives and passion for the game.
Ola Svensson Superstar
Directed by: Stefan Berg
Synopsis: Ola Salo, front man for Swedish glam rock band The Ark is used to strutting his stuff in gold lamé, so taking a year off to lead the Malmö Opera’s revival of Jesus Christ Superstar doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. Director Stefan Berg expertly balances Spinal Tap parody with earnest confessions by the loner lead singer.