Hot Docs

The 20th anniversary of Hot Docs -- the largest documentary film festival in North America -- comes to a close this weekend after a discovery-filled 11 days where many notable docs made their festival debuts ahead of what will surely be healthy stints on the circuit.

Indiewire offers up 10 of such films -- all world premieres -- below, all of which you should definitely look out for at a film festival near you (and hopefully also in theaters):

"American Commune"
In 1970, a countercultural caravan of 300 people left San Francisco to return back to nature, ultimately landing in rural Tennessee. There, under the leadership of spiritual mentor Stephen Gaskin, The Farm was established, an experiment in communal living that attracted 10,000 curious visitors at its height. Filmmaker siblings Rena Mundo Croshere and Nadine Mundo were born there, the children of the rocky union between a Beverly Hills Jewish girl and a Bronx-born Puerto Rican. Like many other members of The Farm, the Mundos left in the mid 1980s amid massive shakeups and quickly assimilated into "normal" society. Two decades later, they return, exploring their personal history and that of the larger alternative community of which they were once a part. The sisters make ideal guides into the world of the legendary commune - their first-hand perspective, combined with interviews with other former members and fantastic archival footage, conveys an intimate and tangible sense of the would-be revolutionary spirit at play on The Farm and in Gaskin's teachings, hand-in-hand with the more sobering reality of the challenges that made such a vision ultimately unsustainable. [Basil Tsiokos]

The 2012 Republican Primary may seem like old news by now, with even Mitt Romney being a long-gone memory, but AJ Schnack's film "Caucus" brings us back to that time in full color.  In the electoral season's first contest -- the Iowa Caucus -- the voters in one state in America's Heartland dominate national media attention and candidates' energy.  The Iowa Caucus was the time when Michele Bachmann's surge was overtaken by Rick Perry's and then Herman Cain's and then, ultimately, Rick Santorum's.  It was a confusing time for the nation's political commentators, and Schnack's film doesn't make any more clear why those poll numbers were on a roller coaster.  What it shows instead is each candidate trying out their campaign strategy in Iowa's characteristic county fairs, bars, and Republican clubs.  Following the lineage of "Primary" and "The War Room," "Caucus" is all the more striking in showing our nation's politicians -- mostly because opportunities for unguarded moments are so rare in an age when any slip-up goes viral on YouTube. [Bryce J. Renninger]

"The Ghost in Our Machine"
"The Ghost in Our Machine"
"The Ghosts In Our Machine"
The "ghosts" in Liz Marshall's film are various animals, used by humans for food, clothing, or research, as captured by documentary photographer Jo-Anne McArthur as part of her advocacy work to force us to confront our beliefs about animal sentience and rights. Making her way, often clandestinely, into factory farms and other sites of what she views as animal exploitation, McArthur bears witness through the haunting still photographs she takes of deplorable conditions and frightened creatures - but she faces an uphill battle to find a mass audience for her work, since it is too disturbing for most magazine editors. That's exactly her point, to provoke the viewer into empathizing with the various species on display - from dairy cows condemned to death after just a couple of years of milking, to minks raised in sparse cells for their fur. As a needed counterpoint in an often disturbing film, Marshall shows McArthur in more peaceful surroundings in a farm sanctuary in upstate New York which takes in abused animals and often saves others from unnecessary death. Marshall succeeds in creating a portrait of a driven activist that shies away from outright polemics to perhaps preach beyond the converted. [Basil Tsiokos]

"I Will Be Murdered"
Shortly before his death, Guatemalan attorney Rodrigo Rosenberg, whose clients were recently assassinated, recorded a video accusing President Alvaro Colom of his murder. After his execution, his confidante released the video and it became a nationwide sensation, leading to calls for Colom to resign. Public pressure forced an in-depth investigation in a country where 98% of murders go unsolved, but what the head of the taskforce found is wholly unexpected. Justin Webster crafts an investigative documentary that humanizes its victim even as it reveals genuinely surprising details about his case. Despite its twists and turns, the various nefarious figures that pop up, and the competing theories thrown in and out, Webster maintains a clarity of storytelling that might all too easily have become a muddled mess in other hands. What results is an absolutely stranger than fiction tale of lives cut short by corruption and secrets, and a demonstration of the power of the public to demand an end to impunity for even its highest elected officials. [Basil Tsiokos]