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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

What to See at Hot Docs 2013

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Hot Docs, Toronto’s beloved annual documentary festival, begins April 25 and runs until May 7. We’ll be reviewing some films here over the next couple of weeks, but in the meantime, here our top urbanist picks, as well as a longer list of films that deal with cities, use of space, and the Canadian landscape.

Top picks:

Alias “Street rap thrives in the Toronto neighborhoods of Regent Park, Don Mills, and Jane and Finch where the music and lyrics are the voice of power and protest of marginalized communities growing up in urban poverty. Michelle Latimer makes her feature doc debut with a powerfully cinematic, observational doc that captures the realities of five Toronto rappers trying to escape the hustle of drugs and danger through their music.”

Another Night on Earth “It’s late at night in Cairo and the city is buzzing with traffic in this, one of the most congested cities in the world. The man behind the wheel is one of 12 taxi drivers whose conversations with unsuspecting passengers were recorded by director David Munoz soon after Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power.”

The Human Scale “Human Scale: It’s a ticking time bomb. The number of people living in cities will nearly double in the next 40 years, and there isn’t enough time to build the needed infrastructure. According to revolutionary Danish city planner Jan Gehl, even the largest of mega cities must be re-thought and re-designed on a small scale: the human scale. ”

The Impermanence of the Ordinary “Photographer Patrick Cummins documents a history of Toronto by capturing the changing surfaces of buildings over time. With over 40,000 photographs of architectural details, such as storefront signage, facades and structural renovations, taken since 1978, he continues to revisit, photograph and contrast the subtle and drastic changes to the exterior of buildings.” (Short, screening with Spring & Arnaud)

Tiny: A Story About Living Small “A small—but growing—movement of tiny-house dwellers believes a smaller house equals a bigger life. Couple and first-time filmmakers Christopher Smith and Merete Mueller test their DIY abilities and their sense of personal space when Christopher indulges his dream of constructing a fully detached house with a footprint smaller than a parking space.” (Co-presented by Spacing, screening with Home)


Other picks:

12 O’Clock Boys “This is a strikingly beautiful portrait of Pug, a young boy from a tough Baltimore neighbourhood who has a single goal: to join the 12 O’Clock Boys, a gang of illegal dirt bikers who dominate the area. Forbidden to chase them for fear of risking accidents the police attempt to combat the bikers but find themselves continually tormented and provoked.”

Brave New River “From a raging torrent to a restricted rumble, the Rupert River’s drastic transformation is inextricably connected to the Cree people who have called it home for centuries. Since the 1970s, hydroelectric development in the James Bay territory has been a divisive topic in Quebec.”

Continental “In 1968, homosexuality was illegal in NYC. Gay bars were dark, dirty, dangerous and mostly controlled by the syndicate. But then along came Steve Ostrow, opera singer and entrepreneur, with a grand vision. From the minute Ostrow opened the elegant Continental Bath and Health Club in the legendary Ansonia Hotel, it was a beacon for the hip, the beautiful and the infamous.”

Dear Valued Guests “The Regency Motel was a staple of downtown Columbia, Missouri, until it was demolished, the most recent victim of so-called “revitalization.” Columbia residents are quick to share unflattering stories of the run-down concrete monstrosity, but not without a heavy dose of fond nostalgia.” (Short, screening with The Women and the Passenger)

Everybody Street “…explores the passion that compelled Freedman to spend years riding in squad cars during the most violent years in the city; Bruce Gilden’s drive to thrust his camera in people’s faces to capture a moment; and Martha Cooper’s dedication to chasing graffiti on passing subway cars in the Bronx. The film is a definitive look at the iconic visionaries of this often imitated art form.” (Screening with Flo)

Hill of Pleasures “The Hill of Pleasures, one of Rio de Janeiro’s poorest slums, is a community with no rules. After 30 years of lawlessness, a young group of newly appointed police officers faces an overwhelming task: taking back control of this community where uniforms mean nothing and only guns carry authority….This observational doc, beautifully shot against one of the world’s most stunning views, reveals a community living in the midst of uncertainty at a time of pivotal change.”

In Saint-Sauveur Neighbourhood “This short film is a unique portrait of residents in Saint-Sauveur, a neighborhood tucked away from the tourist sites of Quebec City and untouched by gentrification. While people struggle to open a tightly sealed jar with mysterious contents, they candidly share secrets about those they would kill for money.” (Short, screening with Dead or Alive).

Occupy: The Movie “Tackling the complexity of how the movement manifested and providing cogent context to what caused its genesis, Corey Ogilvie presents a clear and compelling account of the Zuccotti Park settlement without getting lost in empty slogans, violent conflicts or proselytizing activists.”

Packing up the Wagon “Wagon Wheel, “Home of the Club House,” is a Winnipeg institution famous for its four-inch-thick sandwich made with in-house roasted turkey. Regulars pay their respects to a diner that barely changed since opening in the 1950s, and place their final orders before one of the city’s last bastions against the homogeneity of fast-food franchises is torn down—ironically, to make way for a parking lot.” (Screening with The Auctioneer)

Petropolis “An unexpected collaboration between Mettler and Greenpeace that occurred while researching clouds for another film results in this astounding overview of the Alberta tar sands, the world’s second largest oil reserve. Encompassing an area approximately the size of England, there’s a surprising—and terrifying—artistry in the workings of this billion-dollar industry.” (Screening with Eastern Avenue)

Searching for Bill “Bob Maser travels from New Orleans to Detroit to reclaim his car and track down Bill, the elusive grifter who stole it. Under the dashboard, Bob finds the thief’s journal detailing his crimes, confidence tricks and victims. Bill’s clues take Bob cross-country, from Detroit to Illinois, Slab City to Los Angeles, in search of answers.” (Screening with Leonardo)

Special Ed “When his artistic vision conflicts with city bylaws,Ed is inspired to run for parliament and mayor in an effort to save his properties from demolition. It can all appear wildly eccentric and idealistic, but in a city like Winnipeg and with an artist like Ackerman, you can’t help but admire his conviction.” (Screening with Citizens Against Basswood)

Vegas “In the middle of the Mojave Desert, a city of neon shimmers like a mirage. But the closer you get, the more you see through the false image. The glitz, glamour and gambling are all just smoke and mirrors. At the peak of the economic crisis, three Las Vegas residents find their luck has run dry and struggle just to get by.” (Screening with Unplugged)

We Cause Scenes “Charlie Todd, an actor and comedian who arrived in New York City with two suitcases and high hopes of making it big, is frustrated by the lack of available work. He decides to take his act to the streets, subway cars and parks. Charlie starts off small, with a Ben Folds impersonation here, a pants-less subway ride there. His mischievous, unauthorized happenings make people feel happy and jolt them out of their monotonous routines … for the most part.”