Best of 2010 Hot Docs fest

LIZ BRAUN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:46 PM ET

A farmer in Kazakhstan fashions a shovel out of scrap from the space program.

In a slum in Rio, a garbage picker considers organizing a library for his fellow workers with the books he’s found in the trash.

The guys in Rush stand around in Kimonos, circa 1980. Seriously.

These are a few of the gobsmacking visuals that await you during Toronto’s 17th-annual Hot Docs festival, a celebration of all things documentary that is considered one of the most important film events of its kind.

Hot Docs begins today and runs through May 9, bringing the world to our fair city via 170 films from 40 countries. The movies cover dozens of timely topics — art, memoir, photography, love, mental health, culture, environment — and introduce a fantastic array of people, places and experiences.

Ticket and program information is at www.hotdocs.ca.

Here are some of the highlights:

BABIES

This film follows four babies from various spots around the globe for their entire first year of life. There are lots of differences around baby-raising from culture to culture, but the similarities are what makes this doc so fascinating. The infant in Namibia who plays with stones in the dirt reaches all the same milestones at the same time as the super-pampered babies in Japan and America. Go figure. From director Thomas Balmes.

THE PARKING LOT MOVIE

All about life in that tiny little booth. This wild-eyed study of the life of parking lot wranglers, fractured poets all, is often sobering but mostly funny, and it’s even going to be shown at a parking lot — namely, on the top level of the Cumberland parking garage on May 6, 8:00 p.m. The venue is so weird we just had to mention it. Meghan Eckman directs.

MADE IN INDIA

A movie about rent-a-wombs, medical tourism and maybe the future of the race. Made In India explores the growing industry of surrogacy in India. The film follows an American couple, Lisa and Brian, who pay a woman in India to carry their baby. When the couple from Texas travels to India for the procedure, the culture shock exists on both sides. Covering everything from the financial costs to the social, moral and political ramifications, this doc from co-directors Rebecca Haimowitz and Vaishali Sinha is a must-see proposition.

THE KIDS GROW UP

Here’s Lucy in the kitchen, pretending to be a ballerina, and hoping to drive an ice cream truck when she grows up. Now here’s Lucy leaving home for university. Home movies, courtesy of Dad — who happens to be documentary filmmaker Doug Block — introduce his only child and her life thus far, but this film is also a hugely engaging meditation on what family is all about.

KINGS OF PASTRY

Turns out sugar has a life of its own. The top honour in the world of pastry chefs is to earn the Meilleur Ouvrier de France title, and what’s involved is a three day competition that has to be seen to be believed. Sixteen chefs compete; the intense conversation about such items as a cream puff or nougatine may send you straight into the arms of dessert. The way these pastry chefs eat, sleep and dream pastry is a total eye-opener. From famed documentarians Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker.

MONICA AND DAVID

The story of a love affair between a man and a woman, both of whom have Down Syndrome. Monica and David are people you think you’re going to pity, but admiration is the emotion these two inspire. Both have remarkable mothers who raised their children on their own. Prepare to give up any preconceived notions you might have about what constitutes a handicap. This is a totally engaging film from Alexandra Codina.

BHUTTO

Directors Duane Baughman and Johnny O’Hara posit the Bhuttos as the Kennedys of Pakistan — and the late Benazir as the Golden Child — with some lip service given to their enemies. What’s clear is that the last job you’d ever want in the world is president or prime minister of Pakistan, since it seems to come with a near-automatic death sentence. This is a fine, scrupulously researched historical intro to one of the world’s largest countries and a

potential powderkeg.

IN THE NAME OF THE FAMILY

At times you don’t know who to be angry at in Shelley Saywel’s look at “honour killings,” which uses the Toronto case of Aqsa Parvez (the teen allegedly killed by her father) as a springboard for similar cases. On one hand, some of the people indicting the brutality are Muslims. But a scene in a mosque where young people opine things like, “She shouldn’t have acted that way,” is disturbing. It’s reminiscent of teen girl bloggers who defend Chris Brown.

RUSH: BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE

Metalheads Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn have put together one of the most exhaustive docs we’ve seen on any band. But that goes with trying to track the twisty career of high school friends who went from blues-rock to metal to prog-rock, all the while eschewing the rock lifestyle. Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson’s friendship is touching. But it’s the unfolding of the

hermitlike Neil Peart — the guy whose imagination gave the band the Byzantine lyrics that define it — that is a revelation for Rush fans and newbies alike.

THE STORY OF FURIOUS PETE

One alternates between being hungry and queasy watching George Tsioutsioulas’s profile of Furious Pete Czerwinski, a Mississauga kid who suffered from anorexia — and also went on to become a world class competitive eater. There’s the requisite expert testimony of how Pete represents the twin poles of North America’s tortured attitude toward food, and some photos and emotional memories of the previous life. But it’s the surreality of pounding down ribs, chicken wings, hot dogs and schnitzel in amounts suitable to a catered party of 20 that sticks.

LEAVE THEM LAUGHING

Ironically, John Zaritsky’s last doc, The Suicide Tourist, looked at an ALS sufferer who wanted to die. This one is about one who wants to live. Comedian/singer Carla Zilbersmith is in the last stages of Lou Gehrig’s disease, still kibbitzing about movie stars she wants to boff, exchanging rude death jokes with her son, and performing one last concert. Based on her blog, Zaritsky seamlessly uses a double to film the pre-diagnosis scenes. An evocative look at a life worth clinging to.

AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY

British filmmakers Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas spent more than three years putting together this terrific doc about the ultimate “comic’s comic” — a scalding ranter about corporate America and an untrustworthy government, who died at age 32 from cancer. This is a worthy tribute to one of the most independent thinkers in comedy.


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