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culture

Hot Docs Turns 21

The biggest nonfiction film festival in North America returns with glimpses of Aaron Swartz and George Takei, among others.

Still from The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz.

Just over two years after rechristening the Bloor Cinema in its name, Hot Docs took to the theatre this morning to announce its lineup for the upcoming 21st edition of North America’s largest festival devoted to nonfiction filmmaking. That reputation is borne out by the numbers: the fest will welcome a whopping 197 documentaries from 43 different countries.

Hot Docs kicks off on April 24 with the international premiere of Brian Knappenberger’s The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, which made waves at Sundance earlier this year. The doc tells the story of Swartz, a young programmer and internet activist who was integral to the development of both RSS and Reddit, and who committed suicide after a lengthy legal battle over his alleged wire fraud involving the release of academic articles from JSTOR.

Still from To Be Takei.

In addition to being the opener, the doc is also part of Scotiabank’s “Big Ideas” series, which aims to follow up films with stimulating discussions featuring a mix of subjects and experts. We’re willing to bet two of the other highlights of this programme will be The Case Against 8, about the activist couples who proved instrumental in the historic overturning of Proposition 8, and To Be Takei, a profile of George Takei that will be followed by a conversation with the man himself about things such as, but not limited to, his Star Trek days and current renaissance as an activist.

Though the Swartz doc is an obvious highlight, festivals as stuffed (some would say overstuffed) as Hot Docs often leave prospective audiences feeling like the curators of their own experience, deciding which films to see based more on the issues they cover than their makers’ directorial pedigrees. In that regard, the festival’s varied programmes are a useful orienteering aid, grouping titles by thematic and geographic interests. Some of the programmes that caught our eye include “Love, Factually,” featuring films about romance and sexuality, and “Mystery, Myth & Legend,” which ought to please those who go to documentaries for weird factoids and uncanny experiences.

Our own path through the stacked offerings would likely start with some of the 49 Canadian titles. We’re especially stoked to see Quebec filmmaker and TIFF favourite Denis Côté return to nonfiction with Joy of Man’s Desiring, a portrait of the labour of industrial workers. Recent festival honouree John Kastner is also back with Out of Mind, Out of Sight, another look at the infrastructure for mental health issues in Canada.

Among the international titles, our curiosity is most piqued by Robert Greene’s Actress, a portrait of The Wire’s Brandy Burre as she balances her professional and personal lives. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention Ryan Murdock’s Bronx Obama (found in the World Showcase programme), which purports to follow Louis Ortiz, an unemployed doppelgänger for the U.S. President who has sought to reinvent his own life since his double’s meteoric rise to political power.

Hot Docs runs from April 24 to May 4. For more information on ticketing and venues, visit the festival website.

CORRECTION: March 19, 2014, 8:15 AM This post originally stated that Hot Docs opens on April 21, when in fact it opens on April 24. We regret the error.

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