Hot Docs 2021 – over 200 films stream virtually April 29 to May 9, 2021
Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival 2021 is being presented online from April 29-May 9 at hotdocs.ca, which will also be available across Canada for the first time. From 2,300 film submissions, this year’s slate presents 219 films from 66 countries in 12 programs.
With such a wide spectrum to choose from, there’s something for everyone. As part of theBUZZ’s extensive coverage, we’ve focused on three specific sub-genres, compiled of themed topics – Canadian, Nightvision, and Music. Read on for our recommendations.
Notable films include the world premieres of: opening night film A.rtificial I.mmortality, which reveals how our memories can be digitized and uploaded into digital clones, preserving our personality and spirit without the limitations of a physical body; Dropstones, an emotional film about a mother who returns to Newfoundland’s stunning Fogo Island to raise her two sons after fleeing an abusive relationship years ago; Spirit to Soar, a follow up to journalist Tanya Talaga’s award-winning book, which sees her return to Thunder Bay after the inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations high school students; Hell or Clean Water, the fascinating story of a Newfoundland diver who dedicates himself to cleaning up the province’s polluted shores by himself; and Grey Roads, a thoughtful journey that follows the filmmaker back to his hometown to document its dissolution while trying to reconnect with his father and grandfather, his own family left there.
Set on a remote island in the north Atlantic, Dropstones is an intimate family portrait that follows a matriarch shortly after she has returned to the home she once yearned to escape. After fleeing an abusive relationship, Sonya now finds herself depending on the traditions of her island as she tries to raise her two sons into good men. Taking place over the course of a year, Dropstones is a coming-of-age tale that illuminates both the hardships and the beauties of calling this singular place home.
BUZZ – like watching a home movie, this documentary brings you inside the life of Sonya, her family, friends, and work colleagues. Great views of isolated Fogo Island, off the coast of Newfoundland, a place few ever will visit.
Hell or Clean Water
In what appears to be a Sisyphean task, Newfoundland diver Shawn Bath has devoted himself to cleaning up the ocean floor one rotting tire at a time. He’s already removed 15,000 pounds of garbage single-handedly. Through decades of commercial fishing and tourism, these Atlantic harbours became trash receptacles treated with an out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude. Bath was self-admittedly part of the problem until he could no longer ignore the waste covering the sea floor as he collected sea urchins to make a living. On the brink of bankruptcy and a break-up, his obsessive endeavour catches the attention of locals and a controversial non-profit organization who would like to assist him in scaling up his operations. Driven by passion and held back by bureaucracy, this inspiring story highlights the enormity of human-caused environmental damage and the power of an individual’s determination to make the world a better place.
BUZZ – this should be seen by many worldwide, and gain more attention (and funding) from governmental organizations. This is a global issue being tackled on a small scale in one tiny part of Canada, by a few determined individuals to make the world a better place to live.
Toronto filmmaker Jesse McCracken grew up in rural Ontario with two very different images of masculinity: one embodied by his father, a brash, hardworking and hard-living member of the motorcycle crew Redneck Riders; the other, his soft-spoken, community-oriented maternal grandfather. When his parents divorce and his mother leaves, Jesse returns to investigate his feelings of nostalgia for both his family and his hometown. The small town of Markdale has changed, no longer a thriving place but now a sleepy bedroom community for Toronto commuters. Jesse’s own family, too, is undergoing a transition, one that Jesse’s voice-over tries to make sense of. The question he poses—”What makes a good man?”—is answered very differently by both father and grandfather. Beautifully shot in black and white, this sensitive film debates what’s lost and gained in this dual portrait of a changing family and town.
BUZZ – very personal story about Jesse and his rough-around-the-edges, yet caring and compassionate father. It’s the story how people who are different from each other can get along by opening their minds to change. This is a story that can be told from any small town. Great use of black and white visuals as well.
Features future cult classics, includes the world premieres of: Acts of Love, in which the gay filmmaker relocates to Chicago and uses dating apps to cast new lovers in an amorphous project; Bloom Up – A Swinger Couple Story, about an average middle-aged Italian couple who live out their unbridled sexual fantasies by night in the swinging scene. The program also features the international premieres of: Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest, in which a man attempts to be the first in the world to play an arcade machine from the early ‘80s for 100 consecutive hours; and Dark Blossom, about a trio of Danish goth friends whose friendship is threatened after one of them falls in love. The program also includes the North American premiere of Lost Boys, about the filmmaker’s journey through the sordid nightlife of Bangkok and Phnom Penh seeking answers to the mysterious disappearance of two friends.
Acts of Love
When his older boyfriend loses interest in him, filmmaker Isidore Bethel relocates to Chicago and uses dating apps to cast new lovers in an amorphous project about attraction, rejection, compatibility and attachment. His mom hates the concept and offers her honest opinions throughout the process. Her amusing role as a sounding board prevents the experiment from becoming an aimless and narcissistic way of dealing with a break-up. Blending pop-up photos, scripted and unscripted scenes, this hybrid picks up on the vulnerability and protections men put up in sexual scenarios, and discovers a meaning of love where investment in a relationship isn’t measured by a partner’s commitment but by your own—to pleasing yourself. Who you love can be determined by who fits you best, whose body is your landscape and how well you travel together. The director searches for love in the other, and with the help of his mother, finds it within himself.
BUZZ – very strange self-spotlight documentary on the filmmaker Isidore who interviews various individuals in different scenarios, from their homes and restaurants, to sex clubs. Still not sure of the purpose of this for viewers, as it seems like more a therapy session for Isidore, and his mother whose voice can be heard via phone conversations throughout.
Bloom Up – A Swinger Couple Story
Hermes and Betta are a middle-aged Italian couple who run the neighbourhood pet store by day, but by night arrange extravagant sexual encounters with multiple partners. As swingers, this loving and deeply entwined couple allows one another to freely explore their desires and sexual cravings with trust and respect. With uncanny beauty in the camerawork, the director and cinematographer Mauro Russo Rouge’s lens leaves nothing to the imagination. Up close and personal, we plunge into the back rooms of clubs, the intimacy of homes and the wide-open spaces of the night skies, bearing witness to the couple’s carnal pursuits. But even the deepest relationships and strongest connections are at times tested. Will their hunger for the taste of others ultimately drive a wedge between them?
BUZZ – If you’re unaware of the straight swinger scene, you might find something of interest here, otherwise not worthy of your time to watch this slow-paced documentary that goes nowhere fast.
Three young outsider Goths express their strong friendship through a shared love of darkness, macabre make-up & fashion, and social media expression. They channel a shared fascination with death to combat loneliness,inner demons, and the prejudices of small town life. But when one of them falls in love and plans an escape from the countryside, their deep bond is inexorably threatened. Josephine has a tough time making friends in the small town where she grew up. But her loneliness lifts once she starts live streaming and embraces a “girly goth” alter ego. She clicks with two flamboyant goths online: Jay, a Christian with a skyscraping mohawk, and Nightmare, a gay, half-Pakistani musician. Together, they form a tight-knit trinity of support and share a fascination with death and dark fashion. But when rosy romantic love blooms, will it break their moribund bond? This incisive lookbook of selfies and social media videos dissects how style can express individuality and identity, while paradoxically inhibiting it. Can these friends accept each other as they grow up and out of their dark disguises? A visually inspiring film about fitting in and standing out, Dark Blossom identifies intolerance, social control and mediocrity among a group of image-conscious outsiders who embrace difference as long as it is mirrored back to them.
BUZZ – although billed as a Goth documentary, this veers off quickly into a different realm altogether, with the worshiping of dead carcasses. There are several cool visuals of people and club scenes, and the concept of being an outsider is pushed to the limit here, especially within a small town environment.
Ten years after the success of their documentary Reindeerspotting: Escape from Santaland, Joonas, Jani and Antti celebrate Jani’s release from jail with a trip to Southeast Asia, where they spiral into old habits during a bottomless bender of sex and drugs. While Joonas returns home, Jani and Antti remain in Cambodia, smashing bar girls and slamming Ya Ba and Ice, before disappearing. Joonas returns to Bangkok and Phnom Penh, scouring his footage and claustrophobic hotel rooms for signs of his missing friends. “But the truth of what happened cannot be seen from the outside,” and this investigation looks beyond leads and leans inwards. Lost Boys builds eerie atmosphere and captures the ghost—of a missing person, moment, high—by locating the presence and absence of his partners in crime and addiction itself, in potent visual language. Joonas scans and re-scans rooms, so that a room-within-a-room is recorded with an infinity mirror effect—where hotel rooms become prison cells and a camera lens becomes a hole that can never be filled.
BUZZ – this is a very real depiction of two young men who quickly succumb to the lure of easy sex and drugs in Thailand and Cambodia. The scenes of despair and destruction are real as the camera continues to roll while these two try to reach the next big high. One dies from apparent suicide, while the other can’t recall what happened due to partial psychosis. Once you start, you can’t stop watching this one to the end.
Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary festival, conference and market, is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing and celebrating the art of documentary and to creating production opportunities for documentary filmmakers. Hot Docs will present its 28th annual edition online from April 29-May 9, 2021. Be sure to check out the Hot Docs collection on Crave as well, screening year round.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.hotdocs.ca. Single tickets to screenings are $13 each and $11.50 for members. A Festival 5-pack is $55 and $49.50 for members, a Festival 12-pack $125 and $112.50 for members, and an Unlimited Festival Pass is $259 and $233.10 for members.
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.