Hot Docs 2014: Wrap-up and Picks for 'Best of the Fest'

I am Big Bird: The Carrol Spinney Story
That’s a wrap for Hot Docs 2014! I’m sad to see another great festival end, but I must tip my hat to the Hot Docs team once again. This year’s festival was swell. The selection of films was consistently good from a strong opening night choice of The Internet’s Own Boy to a diverse range of Canadian and international programming. This year’s Hot Docs also featured a range of boundary-pushing documentaries that offered exciting experiments in form that often blurred the line between truth and fiction with films such as Actress finding truth in performance while other films like Point and Shoot blending art and activism. These films ask audiences to engage with some of the fundamental questions of documentary, and the eleven days of enlightened moviegoing are what film festivals are all about.

I especially enjoyed this year’s festival, as it gave me a chance to branch out from this here blog and become part of another community. I hope to contribute to the Point of View team in future festivals and I’m thankful for the opportunity they gave me in being a part of their team! There are still a few more reviews from POV to come, as I submitted reviews for From the Bottom of the Lake, Sacro GRA, and Divide in Concord, so I’ll post links to those when they’re available.

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.

I am Big Bird is my pick for 'Best of the Fest'

“Best of the Fest”: I am Big Bird

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!

What are your Hot Docs highlights?