Hot Docs 2013 with Arash

Published by the Alternate Dream

Toronto’s awesome documentary festival is coming and I will be covering it

It is that time of the year again: Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary festival, will open on April 25. The festival, now in its 20th year, will run until May 5, mostly at the old, huge and popular cinema near the Bloor & Bathurst intersection which, having been recently acquired by the festival, is now christened Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.

Hot Docs seems to never stop expanding and this year it will screen a record 205 documentaries from 43 countries in 11 programs. I have covered the Hot Docs for the Farsi-language newspaper, Shahrvand, for a few years now but this year, for the first time, I will also run a Hot Docs blog in English. So, stay tuned as I hope to update here daily by reviews, news, interviews and more.

Now, a bit about some of the films this year.

For the first time in a decade, the festival opens with a debut feature by a Canadian filmmaker. Shawney Cohen’s The Manor is a story of “sex, drugs and family feuds” made by a Guelph strip club manager who has decided to tell the story of his family and its shattered lives in this film.

Prominent among this year’s screening programs is the Scotiabank Big Ideas series where big names are to come and present some docs. Among them is the controversial scientist and outspoken Atheist Richard Dawkins who, together with the equally outspoken physicist Lawrence Krauss, is there to present The Unbelievers (USA, 2013). The film is a diary of their trips around the globe as they put forward their ideas on science and reason, in their own rock-star fashion.

Also part of this series is law professor Anita Hill, subject of Anita (USA, 2013) which narrates the story of her allegation against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Hill became a national figure when she accused Thomas of having made harassing sexual statements to her, when she worked as his assistant at the U.S. Department of Education. Thomas ended up getting approved by the Congress and still sits on the bench but Anita changed just about everything around workplace sexual harassment in the US. No surprise that this is probably the hottest doc this year.

In the same series, there is another Canadian celebrity, lieutenant-general-cum-author-humanitarian Romeo Dallaire who was the commander of the ill-fated UN peacekeeping force that failed to stop the Rwandan genocide in 1993-4. He is the subject of Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children (Canada, 2012) which is about his new mission: a trip to four countries in Africa with the declared hope of ending the use of child soldiers there.

But one doesn’t exactly go to Hot Docs for all the celebrities. Pros know that the best gems are usually the ones you didn’t really look out for. When it comes to documentaries, many people make the mistake of choosing what to watch solely on the basis of the subject. But one could make a great film out of a lousy subject or ruin a great subject by a lousy film. As many of the best doc-makers are not famous or virtually unknown, a lot of times what to watch is a hit and miss.

So, I am not going to pick some films to recommend out of the crowded field of 205 films. All I can say is that if they made it to Hot Docs, they are usually of a certain quality. Additionally, many of the films that won awards at the prestigious Sundance festival, just a couple of months ago, are in Hot Docs now.

This year there are films on as many subjects as you can imagine. For political animals like myself, there are films on Occupy Wall Street movement, the Pussy Riot revolutionaries in Russia, Richard Nixon, Republican primaries of last tear or, of course, the Arab revolution and its continuation. But whether you are into spectacularity of pop culture or the quirky weirdos that always make a good doc, or you just want to get to see some shots from other societies around the globe, there is something for you this year.

Check out the full listings and the schedule at and let’s Hot Doc!

I will be seeing as many films as possible everyday and this page will be updated regularly. I will be getting interviews as well. If there are people you are particularly interested in interviewing, let me know.

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