Hot Docs to Open North America's Biggest Doc Fest with "Ritchie Boys"
by Brian Brooks
North America's largest documentary festival, Hot Docs, has announced its slate of 106 documentaries for its 11th annual festival, taking place in Toronto April 23 to May 2. Opening the festival is the world premiere of Christian Bauer's "The Ritchie Boys," which screens as part of the event's International Showcase including 36 titles by filmmakers from 25 countries. "The Ritchie Boys," a joint Canadian and German production, follows the story of World War II-era German Jews who formed an elite U.S. intelligence unit that provided insight into the Nazi mentality, and their subsequent story of espionage and intrigue.
From the United States, Ruth Leitman's "Lipstick & Dynamite, Piss & Vinegar: The First Ladies of Wrestling" will also have its world premiere in the section. The film focuses on the story of young women who were enticed by fame and fortune into professional wrestling in the 1950s, paving the way for the present-day female stars in the WWE. Morgan Spurlock's Sundance 2004 winner, "Super Size Me," a journey into a one month experiment in eating three-square meals per day of McDonald's will have its Canadian debut, along with fellow Sundance alum "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster" by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. "Metallica" captures the popular metal band as they attempt their first new album in years by hiring a therapist to help the group see through their recent setbacks.
Conflicts in the Middle East, not surprisingly, feature prominently in this year's Hot Docs line up. Yoav Shamir's New Directors/New Films doc "Checkpoint," an insider's close up of the military checkpoints separating the Gaza Strip and West Bank from Israel will have its Canadian premiere. Also screening is late director James Miller's Canadian premiere of "Death in Gaza." The doc, captured at the expense of Miller's life, takes a look at young Palestinians growing up amidst the most war-torn area of Gaza where martyrdom is the greatest achievement.
Political thriller "The Take" by Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein opens the festival's Canadian Spectrum on April 24th. The film, a world premiere, investigates a radical movement in Argentina in which workers return to bankrupt businesses and operate the enterprises without their bosses. Also in the section, which includes 16 features, 10 "mid-length" and four short documentaries, is the world premiere of François Prevost and Hugo Latuilippe's "What Remains of Us." The doc, set in present-day Tibet, captures the reactions of people there who risk imprisonment to see a message from the Dalai Lama on a video tape that has been smuggled into the Chinese-occupied country. The section will also host the world premiere of Hubert Davis' "Hardwood," an intimate look at the slums of Chicago and Vancouver, while exploring the relationships of former Harlem Globetrotter Mel Davis, and his relationship to his two families. In all, Canadian Spectrum will screen 14 world premieres, one North American premiere, and three Canadian premieres.
Hot Docs' Toronto Documentary Forum returns for its fifth year April 28-29, featuring a program that helps doc filmmakers pitch their projects to raise financing in the international market. Over 80 international commissioning editors working in the social, cultural and political documentary fields will attend TDF, which is a separately accredited program within Hot Docs. During the two day event, 36 pre-selected projects will be co-pitched by their independent producer and lead broadcaster to attending commissioning editors and acquisitions executives. This year, 120 entries competed for the allotted fifteen-minute pitch spots.
In other Hot Docs highlights, Canadian producer/writer/broadcast journalist Michael Maclear will receive this year's 'Outstanding Achievement Award and Retrospective, featuring the world premiere of "Vietnam: Ghosts of War." Maclear was the first Western correspondent to report the conflict from North Vietnam, and his film retraces his time spent there, while documenting what he calls the "arrogance and ignorance" of great power wars relating that era to today's war in Iraq.
This year, Hot Docs will spotlight docs from the Netherlands with six North American and two Canadian premieres as well as six films from South Africa, in celebration of the country's 10 years of democracy. Hot Docs will close with the Canadian premiere of "Control Room," a recent winner at the Full Frame Documentary Festival in North Carolina. The film focuses on Arab news network Al Jazeera last year as the U.S. prepared to launch its invasion of Iraq, documenting the organization's reporting of events and the personalities behind the coverage (which was greatly maligned by members of the Bush Administration).
[ For more information, visit the festival web site at: http://www.hotdocs.ca ]