|I am Big Bird: The Carrol Spinney Story|
Barbara Kopple chats HARLAN COUNTY USA at @hotdocs! #HotDocs14 pic.twitter.com/bjILqgnA7R
— Pat Mullen (@cinemablogrpher) May 2, 2014
Another Hot Docs highlight this year was the retrospective screening of Harlan County U.S.A. with two-time Oscar winner Barbara Kopple participating in an extended Q&A on her landmark 1976 film. Harlan is one of the best documentaries ever made, so hearing Kopple discuss her engagement with the people of Harlan County was inspiring. Much like the TIFF screening of the Big Chill, the screening of Harlan was an opportunity to revisit a landmark that shaped film to where it is today.
The festival itself seemed to expand upon the film experience by offering greater interactive opportunities with filmmakers and audiences. The Scotiabank Big Ideas screenings, for example, marked two highlights of this year’s festival by bringing in subjects like George Takei, Carrol Spinney, and Oscar the Grouch to discuss their respective films. The added bonus of receiving insights from a film’s subjects/filmmakers greatly adds to the festival experience, so this year’s Hot Docs had more than just great films to inspire audiences.
There is one truly great film, though, that easily captured my attention during the festival. That film, of course, is I am Big Bird: The Carrol Spinney Story, which takes my pick for “Best of the Fest” in a runaway win. this spectaculalry assembled and layered film hits all the right notes of emotion and nostalgia. I'd be surprised if anyone who grew up under Big Bird's wing isn't moved by this film. Big Bird might be one of the few hot docs from the festival to keep an eye on in the months and award season to come, as are some of the festival’s stronger hits like The Overnighters, Point and Shoot, and Keep on Keepin’ On, the latter of which might be the film most worth watching since the Weinstein Company’s Radius-TWC is behind it and they took fellow music doc 20 Feet from Stardom all the way to the Oscars last year.
Oscars are hardly the end game when it comes to documentary, though, so it’s worth giving a shout out to the best films of the festival that best captured the spirit of documentary by engaging with style and stories.
My picks for the Top Ten best films of Hot Docs 2014, in alphabetical order, are:
(Robert Greene, USA)
(Lina Plioplyte, USA)
(Julia Kwan, Canada)
(Thomas Balmès, France/Finland)
(Chad Walker, Dave LaMattina; USA)
(Marie-Josée St-Pierre, Canada)
(Alan Hicks, USA)
(Jesse Moss, USA)
(Marshall Curry, USA)
(Amar Wala, Canada)
Other festival prizes:
Best of the Fest: I am Big Bird
Best Canadian Feature: Everything Will Be
Best Short Film: Jutra (honourable mention: Still Life)
Best Cinematography: Happiness
Worst Film: Beyond Clueless (so disappointing!)
That’s it! Thanks to all the programmers, Hot Docs staff/volunteers, venue folks, publicists, and especially the team at POV for making this another great festival! (And, as always, thanks to Brian for the couch!!!) See you again at #HotDocs15!