The Dork Shelf Guide to Hot Docs 2014

Hot Docs 2014 Logo

Coming out of last year’s anniversary celebration, the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival kicks off its 21st year this Thursday with the opening night film, The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, and 204 other features and shorts falling in behind it across the remaining ten days.

One of the largest film festivals in the world and the biggest showcase of documentary filmmaking in North America, Hot Docs doesn’t come with too many themes this year that spring immediately to mind (or at least not as evident of one as in past years) leading to one of their most eclectic lineups yet. There’s literally something for everyone this year, even people who normally can’t be bothered with something as “stuffy” as a documentary.

It’s one of the most fun times of year to be a film fan in the city of Toronto. Many of these films will generate awards buzz or make return engagements in theatre and on television, but for roughly half of these selections it might be the only chance for you to see something truly amazing. Documentaries are being made all the time on important issues, interesting people, and telling untold, sometimes outrageous true stories, but it’s hard for these films to gain a foothold. The history of all film is rooted in documenting everyday life, yet it tends to be unjustly shifted to the side in favour of more fanciful streamlined blockbusters and the latest indie film sensations. Now with the summer blockbuster season looming over everyone’s heads, the late April and early May Hot Docs festival schedule is the perfect way to maintain some semblance of culture before Hollywood drains it all away over the next several months.

Hot Docs has settled into a nice groove in recent years, engaging with film fans from every community and walk of life. The subject matter of the different films will certainly speak to a wide range of cinematic proclivities and preferences, but they’ve also mastered the art of community engagement. Hot Docs brings in tons of special guests every year to talk about films start dialogues. Screenings before 5pm everyday are free for students and seniors. Late night Nightvision screenings are discount rated blasts for edgier fare (with discount, all encompassing ticketing packages). On the final weekend of the festival Hot Docs still brings some of the festival’s finest films outside of the downtown core (where most films screen at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, the TIFF Bell Lightbox, the Scotiabank Theatre, and around the U of T downtown campus and the ROM) and showcase screenings at The Fox in the East End, The Revue in the West, and The Regent up North. Their industry programming and pitch sessions are the stuff of legend, often leading to many groundbreaking films finally getting funding and for emerging filmmakers to hone their business skills.  These seemingly little, but generous touches set Hot Docs apart from every other major and minor festival in the city. As much as the festival brings in, it gives back just as much.


Of course, there are also the normal switch ups to keep the programming from getting stagnant every years. This year brings a focus on the country of Denmark and the documentaries being produced there, a program that features probably the most eclectic grouping of films from any national based selections in years past. There’s also Love, Factually, looking at humanity’s most unquantifiable and confounding emotions, and Mystery, Myth, and Legend, which is about the very art of storytelling as it pertains to society and history. The Scotiabank Big Ideas series also returns with four high profile screenings and talks from documentary subjects that are true once in a lifetime opportunities.

But you can read all about that and find out anything and everything you need to know about Hot Docs from the festival website. So with all that out of the way, here is our comprehensive guide to this year’s festivals featuring reviews of all the latest films, looks at some of the awesome special presentations and events that have been lined up, and interviews with filmmakers chatting about their work. Expect this page to be updated daily with new reviews and interviews through the festival’s final Sunday on May 4th. And be sure to keep up with our Twitter and Facebook this year (and follow the festival on Facebook and Twitter while you’re at it) as we will be giving out our Hot Docs Best Bets every day and to stay tuned for some exclusive ticket giveaways!

REVIEWS (to be updated with new titles regularly)

112 Weddings – Love, Factually (Peter Counter)


Absences – World Showcase

Actress – International Spectrum

Advanced Style – Next

The Agreement – Made in Denmark


Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case – Made in Denmark

Alfred and Jakobine – Love, Factually

Art and Craft – Nightvision

The Backward Class – Canadian Spectrum


The Basement Satellite – Next (Kirk Haviland)

Before the Last Curtain Falls – Canadian Spectrum (Kirk Haviland)

Beyond Clueless – Nightvision

Bintou – World Showcase (Dave Voigt)


Bronx Obama – World Showcase (Noah Taylor)

Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart – Special Presentations (Phil Brown)

Children 404 – Special Presentations

Come Worry With Us! – Next

The Creator of the Jungle – Next

The Darkside – Mystery, Myth, and Legend (Phil Brown)

David & Me – Canadian Spectrum

Demonstration – Special Presentations

A Different Kind of Boy – Made in Denmark (Peter Counter)

Divide in Concord – World Showcase

Doc of the Dead – Nightvision (Phil Brown)

Domino Effect – Love, Factually (Kirk Haviland)

A Dress Rehearsal for an Execution – Canadian Spectrum (Dave Voigt)

The Engineer – International Spectrum (Dave Voigt)

Everything Will Be – Canadian Spectrum

Fed Up – Special Presentations

Focus on Infinity – World Showcase (Peter Counter)

From the Bottom of the Lake – Next

Giuseppe Makes a Movie – Nightvision

The Great Invisible – Special Presentations

Guidelines – Canadian Spectrum

Happiness – Special Presentations

Happy Valley – Special Presentations

Harmontown – Nightvision/Special Events (Phil Brown)

The Homestretch – World Showcase

An Honest Liar – World Showcase (Kirk Haviland)

Hotline – World Showcase (Peter Counter)

I am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story – Special Presentations/Scotiabank Big Ideas

The Immortalists – World Showcase (Noah Taylor)

In Country – World Showcase

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz – Special Presentations/Opening Night Gala/Scotiabank Big Ideas

I’ve Seen the Unicorn – Canadian Spectrum (Dave Voigt)

The Joe Show – World Showcase (Phil Brown)

Joy of Man’s Desiring – Canadian Spectrum

Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story – Canadian Spectrum

Kung Fu Elliot – Canadian Spectrum (Phil Brown)

Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story – Special Presentations

The Last Season – World Showcase

Life After Death – World Showcase

Love & Engineering – Love, Factually (Dave Voigt)

Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere – Mystery, Myth, and Legend (Phil Brown)

Love Me – Love, Factually (Kirk Haviland)

Mad as Hell – Next (Peter Counter)

Mateo – Next (Dave Voigt)

Mugshot – Next

The Notorious Mr. Bout – Special Presentations (Phil Brown)

Out of Mind, Out of Sight – Canadian Spectrum (Peter Counter)

The Overnighters – Special Presentation

The Possibilities are Endless – Next (Kirk Haviland)

Pulp – Nightvision (Noah Taylor)

Red Lines – World Showcase

Rich Hill – Special Presentations

The Secret Trial 5 – Canadian Spectrum

Self(Less) Portrait – Canadian Spectrum (Peter Counter)

The Sheik – Special Presentations (Phil Brown)

Sleepless in New York – Love, Factually

Songs for Alexis – Made in Denmark

Super Duper Alice Cooper – Special Presentations/Hot Docs Live

The Theory of Happiness – Canadian Spectrum (Peter Counter)

To Be Takei – Special Presentations

Vessel – World Showcase

Whitey: The United States v. James J. Bulger – Special Presentations

The Writer with No Hands – Nightvision (Phil Brown)


Neil Berkeley – Director – Harmontown

Kris Kaczor – Director – Divide in Concord

Dennis Mohr – DirectorMugshot

Adam Rifkin – Director – Giuseppe Makes a Movie