2013 Hot Docs Preview: Ten Documentaries to Keep an Eye On


It’s time once again for non-fiction filmmakers and fans to converge on Toronto for Hot Docs, one of the premiere international film festivals for documentary films. This year’s festival kicks off tonight with the opening night screening of The Manor, the story of a family in Guelph who run one of Ontario’s longest-running strip clubs. It’s just one of the many offbeat topics that are covered by this year’s line-up, which also includes movies about legendary recording studios, dirt bike gangs, young girls training to be Kung Fu masters, and, of course, Sasquatch. No matter what you’re into, there’s a good chance there’s a movie for you here. After the jump, check out ten of our recommended picks at the 2013 Hot Docs film festival.

12 O’Clock Boys

Premiering earlier this year at SXSW, 12 O’Clock Boys focuses on a gang of illegal dirt bikers from a tough neighbourhood in Baltimore. The story is told through the eyes of Pug, a young boy from the area who dreams of one day joining them. Oscilloscope has already acquired the North American rights to the film and the cinematography on display in the trailer looks gorgeous.


One of two films at Hot Docs this year from acclaimed filmmaker A.J. Schnack (Kurt Cobain About a Son), Caucus looks at the lead-up to last year’s U.S. presidential election as it follows seven Republican leadership hopefuls. It seems like an interesting follow-up to his last film Convention, which documented the other side of the coin by covering the 2008 Democratic National Convention. I’m not always drawn to political documentaries, but this looks to be both funny and revealing.


Directed by Alex Winter of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure fame, this movie tracks the rise and fall of Napster and the digital revolution that followed. It’s hard to believe that a decade has already passed, but it seems like this is a story that still deserves to be told. Downloaded also features interviews with plenty of industry insiders and big name musicians including Henry Rollins, The Beastie Boys and Chuck D.

Dragon Girls

The Shaolin Tagou Kung Fu School is the largest Kung Fu school in China, and this documentary zeroes in on three young female students out of a crowd of 27,000. We follow the arduous training process and all of the sacrifices that are required for this to happen. In a society that demands conformity and absolute perfection, does the end result make it all worthwhile?

The Expedition to the End of the World

Not to be confused with Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World, this Danish documentary follows a team of artists and scientists who travel to the North Pole once a year. Their goal is equal parts exploration and adventure, and the imagery looks absolutely stunning. Based on the music in the trailer, I think it’s safe to assume that this isn’t your average nature doc.

Interior. Leather. Bar.

This is one of the many experimental projects that James Franco has undertaken in between starring in big blockbusters like Oz: The Great and Powerful. The basic premise is that they try to remake the 40 minutes of gay S&M sex scenes that were rumoured to have been cut from William Friedkin’s 1980 film Cruising. However, that’s just a starting point for exploring sexuality and the line between performance and real-life.

The Kill Team

Oscar-nominated director Dan Krauss digs into the subject of one of the largest military investigations in U.S. history. A platoon of soldiers stationed in Kandahar are accused of essentially killing Afghan civilians for sport. U.S. Army Specialist Adam Winfield is the conflicted whistleblower whose decisions ultimately lead to a tense court case and media frenzy.

Muscle Shoals

Just like Dave Grohl’s Sound City, this movies traces the history of a legendary recording facility called FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) Studios. Founded in the late ’50s, it has become a cornerstone of American music, bringing together black and white artists to create an influential soul sound that combined blues, country, gospel and rock and roll. Premiering at Sundance earlier this year, Muscle Shoals arguably packs even more star power than Grohl’s film including appearances from Aretha Franklin, Bono and Mick Jagger.

Shooting Bigfoot

Despite the lack of substantial evidence over the years, there is no shortage of folks who still firmly believe in the existence of Bigfoot. This doc follows three such groups as they head out into the field in search of proof of the legendary creature. As you would expect, Shooting Bigfoot treats its subject matter with a sense of humour, but at the same time, it also attempts to immerse viewers in the thrill of the hunt.

The Unbelievers

As religion continues to be a touchy subject around the world, hardcore atheists like Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss have embraced their roles as crusaders for science and reason. This movie follows them on a sold out speaking tour where they make the case for rational approaches to current issues. Featuring interviews with famous atheists like Ricky Gervais and Werner Herzog, it doesn’t seem like a particularly balanced film but it should still satisfy those who are already converted.