Hot Docs 2012: Best of the Fest & Festival Score Card

We Are Wisconsin

Another great festival has come to an end. I must congratulate the programmers at Hot Docs for serving up an excellent line-up of films this year. I attended twenty-six screenings during the festival and enjoyed almost every one of them. Furthermore, the screenings were consistently jam packed with audiences hungry for intelligent filmmaking. As several of the directors said while introducing their film, it’s amazing how Hot Docs can fill a theatre on a sunny weekday afternoon with people eager to see a documentary. So here’s a big thanks to all the staff, volunteers, filmmakers and fellow moviegoers for such a great festival!

When it comes to honouring one of these films with the title of ‘Best of the Fest’, though, I think it’s a tough call. (The programming was just so good.) It’s a toss-up between The Imposter and We Are Wisconsin for the number one spot. I staked my claim for The Imposter early on, calling it both the best film of the festival and the best film of the year so far after seeing it on the fifth day of the festival. I stand by those statements because it was the best film I’d seen up to that point. Then I saw We Are Wisconsin two days later and realized that I might have spoken too soon. It’s hard to choose between the two films because they’re extremely different. The Imposter is an impeccably crafted piece of story-telling that playfully describes a story almost too outrageous to believe. We Are Wisconsin, on the other hand, is a film that feels to have been made in the heat of a moment and is all the better for it, with how passionately it tells its story. So what do you choose, then?

After mulling it over, I must declare that for Hot Docs 2012, my pick for ‘Best of the Fest’ goes to We Are Wisconsin. My praise for the master-class whodunit The Imposter is unfazed, though, as you’ll note in the star ratings below. Wisconsin deserves the title for how perfectly it captures the cultural and political atmosphere of contemporary America. The fiery conviction of its subjects is inspiring and I think that Wisconsin is a film that can really make a difference if it reaches a wide enough audience. And judging by the fact that Wisconsin was the first – and only – film to receive a standing ovation at the screenings I attended, director Amie Williams and her collaborators should feel confident that their story resonates with audiences.

Best of the Fest: We Are Wisconsin
Runner-up: The Imposter
Best Canadian Doc: Legend of a Warrior
Best Short Doc: Petra’s Poem
Best Cinematography: China Heavyweight (honourable mention: The Prophet)
The Imposter

Additionally, here is my scorecard of all the films I saw during Hot Docs 2012. There are 26 features in all and 6 short films. All ratings are out of five stars and all titles link to reviews of the films.
Boxing Girls of Kabul
Canned Dreams
China Heavyweight½
Despite the Gods
The Final Member
Fire Academy (short)
Fortune in the Throat (short)
The Frog Princes
Her Master's Voice½
The Imposter
The Invisible War½
The Job½
The Language of Love (short)
Legend of a Warrior½
Manhood (short) ½
Peace Out
Petra's Poem (short)
Ping Pong
Pot Country (short)
The Prophet
Record Breaker (short)
Shadows of Liberty½
Smoke Traders ½
Theo Fleury: Playing with Fire½
We Are Wisconsin

Finally, today also saw the announcement of the final two awards of the festival. Chasing Ice won the Audience Award and The Imposter scooped the Filmmakers Award. Details from the release:
Hot Docs has wrapped its most successful Festival to date with audience numbers reaching an estimated 165,000. The 11-day event featured 395 public screenings of 189 films on 14 screens across Toronto, an internationally renowned conference and market for documentary professionals, and Docs for Schools, a phenomenally popular education program for youth. New this year, Hot Docs partnered with Cineplex Entertainment to simulcast the Canadian premieres of two Canadian documentary films to 37 cinemas across the country. A total of 143 screenings went rush, and the box office saw a ten per cent increase in revenue. The Festival welcomed nearly 200 filmmakers and special guest subjects from across Canada and around the world to present their films and take part in special post-screening Q&A sessions with audiences. Official film selections were chosen from a total of 2085 films submitted to the Festival.

"In these challenging times for Canadian doc-makers, our audience numbers have broken all previous records,” say Chris McDonald, Hot Docs executive director. “This country has a global reputation for outstanding documentary filmmaking, and Toronto audiences are quite possibly the best in the world. We need to support our filmmakers and their contributions to Canadian culture as best we can. As was so eloquently argued by director Kevin McMahon this weekend, documentary should be Canada’s national art form.”

After the final screening yesterday, audience votes were tallied for the People's Choice Award. The winner is CHASING ICE (D: Jeff Orlowski, USA), which follows renowned National Geographic photographer James Balog on a harsh Arctic expedition where he captures a multi-year record of the world’s changing glaciers. New this year, a cash prize for the People’s Choice Award winner was crowd-funded from audiences through Hot Docs’ Doc Ignite (www.hotdocs.ca/docignite) platform. Currently in excess of $4000, the public can further contribute to this cash prize until Monday, May 14.

The top ten audience favourites as determined by audience vote are:

1.         CHASING ICE (D: Jeff Orlowski, USA)   
2.         BIG BOYS GONES BANANAS!* (D: Fredrik Gertten, Sweden)
3.         G-DOG (D: Freida Mock, USA)
4.         WE ARE WISCONSIN (D: Amie Williams, USA)
5.         LIFE IN STILLS (D: Tamar Tal, Israel)
6.         BROOKLYN CASTLE (D: Katie Dellamaggiore, USA)
7.         5 BROKEN CAMERAS (D: Guy Davidi, Emad Burnat; France, Israel, Palestine)   
8.         JASON BECKER, NOT DEAD YET (D: Jessie Vile, UK) 
9.         CALL ME KUCHU (D:Malika Zouhali-Worrall, Katherine Fairfax Wright; USA)
10.       THE WORLD BEFORE HER (D: Nisha Pahuja; Canada, Germany, USA, UK)

Also during this year's Hot Docs Festival, attending filmmakers with official selections in the Festival were invited to vote for their favourite film. The winner of the 2012 Filmmakers Award is THE IMPOSTER (D: Bart Layton, UK).

A full week of industry programming entitled Doc to the Future was attended by 2279 delegates from around the world. Hot Docs mounted a roster of four workshops, 10 conference sessions, 20 networking and market events, three Kickstart panels for emerging filmmakers, 12 micro meetings, the Doc Summit, International Co-Production Day, and the Hot Docs Awards Presentation. The Hot Docs Forum, Hot Docs' key international co-financing market event, saw two days of brisk pitching, networking and deal-making. In total, 25 projects representing 14 countries were presented to a panel of over 170 key commissioning editors and funders. Hot Docs also hosted six official delegations from China, Germany, Israel, the Nordic region, South Africa, and the UK.

Doc for Schools, Hot Docs' education program that runs during the Festival and offers free in-theatre and in-school screenings of select Festival films, reached a record number of students in 2012. Close to 73,000 students participated in the program, including schools in Toronto and throughout Ontario.