Hot Docs ended with a sense of triumph. Although recent budget cuts have made the playing field rough and treacherous for doc filmmakers and producers, we managed to maintain a sense of solidarity throughout.
The phrase 'record attendance' was often repeated. It was boasted that there were films from over 70 different countries. Most of all, there was a feeling in the air that documentaries remain vital and large receptive audiences exist. This year's Hot Docs was alive and kicking, and a powerful force to be reckoned with.
The awards gala was, thankfully, without pomp and excess. Doc filmmakers are a shy, reserved breed: there were no musical numbers, red carpets or teary speeches here. Under an hour, and hosted by the golden boy of Canadian Radio, a man of wit and notorious hipness, Mr. Jian Ghomeshi. Jian’s show Q on the CBC went viral a few years back when he famously clashed with actor Billy Bob Thorton. In Canada, he’s adored and reviled in equal measure, but he kept the awards flying by smoothly.
Highlights from the awards show saw director Nisha Pahuja take top prize for Best Canadian Feature. Her film, The World Before Her clearly had traction and buzz this year, with long rush lines snaking around blocks to see it. The doc chronicles two different yet similar forces in Modern India - the Miss India pageant, and a woman's camp for a right-wing Hindu Nationalist group. The film's strength comes from Pahuja's access to the workings of each institution.
Both the pagaent and the Durgha Vahini Hindu nationalist group have some interesting things in common - they both aim to empower Indian women through unconventional and controversial means, and they both showcase the limited options for women in Indian society.
The best International feature went to Call Me Kuchu, the story of Ugandan gay activist, David Kato, who campaigns fiercely against the brutal Anti-Homosexuality Bill that almost passed in his country. The director, Malika Zouhali-Worrall and Katherine Fairfax Wright paid eulogy to the fallen activist in their acceptance speech; he was murdered half-way through their shooting, weeks after securing a victory in their case. Their award honoured him and reminded us all of the relevance of social and political docs.
Other docs awarded included The Boxing Girls of Kabul, The Law in These Parts and the mid-length documentary My Thai Bride. Hot Doc's prestigious Don Haig Award went to Montreal filmmaker Mia Donovan, whose debut doc Inside Lara Roxx, was one of the buzz films at last year's festival.
Of course there were films that didn't receive awards that continued to be talked about. Queen of Versailles, the film about Jackie and David Siegel, billionaires who decide to build a house to rival Versailles in France, was on everyone's lips. The Imposter, as well, continued to be raved about during my time there. Both films seem to have picked up distribution deals, so we should all have a chance to catch them in the future.
As I loaded up a car with my bulky luggage, and set in for a five hour drive away from Toronto and back to Montreal, my car mates and I spent half the time discussing the films and people at the festival, exchanging notes on what we saw - what stuck and what was lackluster, while eating chips and other road snacks. If there is any surer sign of a festival's strength, I can't think of one.
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