Groups of cheery volunteers in green t-shirts congregated outside Toronto’s movie theatres last week as the annual HotDocs Film Festival celebrated its twentieth anniversary with 220 documentaries from around the world.
Founded in 1993 by the Documentary Organization of Canada, the festival was initially created to promote Canadian documentaries, but has since expanded to include international submissions. The festival’s popularity has been steadily increasing and recently claimed the title of North America’s largest documentary film festival.
Each year, HotDocs screens over 180 films, many of which can be found in theatres downtown, including the Tiff Bell Lightbox and the historic Bloor Cinema, as well as right on U of T campus at the Isabel Bader Theatre, Hart House, and the ROM.
Films in at Hot Docs showcase a broad range of topics, from politically-conscious expositions to ventures in remote corners of the earth. The Varsity reviewed three of the documentaries at the festival.
Veteran director Carole Laganière debuted Absences, a film that documents the stories of four individuals’ unique experiences with loss. It featured Langanière’s own gradual loss of her mother to Alzheimer’s; author Deni Béchard’s discovery of his family’s past in Quebec; Nathalie Bergeron’s desperate search for her missing sister, six years after her disappearance; and Ines Hajrovic, a Croatian-Canadian who returns to her childhood home to reunite with the mother who left her years before. Absences switches between its different protagonists, intertwining their experiences through their shared feeling of loss. Its portrayal of various narrators is never heavy-handed, leaving the audience to come to their own conclusions.
A documentary with a particularly promising concept is Danic Champoux’s Self(less) Portrait. The film consists of 50 people — each sitting one by one against a white background, slowly revealing different experiences that have made up their lives. The film provides intimate portraits of people in the age of social media, where boundaries of what can and cannot be shared are constantly in flux. The film shows the diversity and pain of human experience, although is unable to dwell on any character for an extended period time, based on the sheer number of narrators. Self(less) Portrait succeeds in giving insight into the lives of a wide spectrum of people in an honest and open way.
Finally, there wasn’t a more light, fun, or crowd-pleasing doc to be found at the festival than 112 Weddings. Wedding photographer Doug Block revisits nine of the countless couples that he filmed throughout his career. The film gives an honest look at what marriage means for different people. Block shines an optimistic light on the institution of marriage, regardless of whether or not it is lasting, and asks the audience to reconsider the meaning of success when it comes to spending your life with someone.