The great films keep right on coming! Here’s another half-dozen we’d recommend.
Handle With Care: The Legend of The Notic Streetball Crew (6/8)
Back in the early 2000s, Canada was producing some of the most amazing young basketball talent in the world… but most people didn’t know anything about it. “The Notic” was a group of immensely talented Vancouver-area kids tearing up the courts with their creativity, skill and super-flashy, envelope-pushing plays (much to the consternation of their school-team coaches). Handle With Care’s co-directors, Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux and Kirk Thomas, were just teens themselves at the time, and the expansive library of VHS footage they shot (and homemade “mixtapes” they edited together) documenting The Notic’s prowess forms the basis for this doc some 20 years later. Bonding over their shared experiences as immigrants and first-gen Canadians, as well as their shared love of the sport, The Notic wowed fans at competitions, gained international attention and helped its gifted young members forge a de-facto family. The film is a joyful celebration of that basketball brotherhood, as Schaulin-Rioux and Thomas catch up with all their old friends to reminisce about the good times, make amends for past slights, and marvel at what they accomplished — and overcame — together, having never lost the love for the game or each other.
Hunting in Packs (6/8)
Um, if this doc hasn’t yet been snapped up as a pilot for a documentary series, lemme be the first to say: someone needs to snap this up and turn it into a documentary series. Because the wealth of material and potential in documenting the personal and professional lives of women politicians around the globe is too ripe not to pick — and it all makes for very compelling viewing. Reminiscent of Knock Down the House (which I saw, and loved, at Hot Docs 2019), director Chloe Sosa-Sims’ film follows UK MP Jess Phillips, U.S. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and Canadian MP Michelle Rempel Garner as each one pushes for legislation on a core issue and prepares for a critical election. Dealing with everything from online trolling to death threats is nothing new for these women, whose tenacity and determination in the face of overt sexism and disrespect (from their peers and the public alike) is something to be admired, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum. Balanced, insightful and entertaining, Sims’ doc illustrates the double standards that exist in politics, and tips its hat to the hardworking women willing to challenge the status quo. (Seriously, though, this needs to be a show. For real.)
Nelly & Nadine (7/8)
Some of the most haunting images to unspool at the festival can be found in the archival footage of female concentration-camp prisoners returning home after being liberated, which opens this beautifully poignant doc from director Magnus Gertten. In the film, which features an incredibly moving score by composer Martha Belsvik Stavrum, Gertten traces the story of its titular heroines — French opera-singer Nelly and Chinese ambassador’s-daughter Nadine — who met and fell in love while imprisoned at Ravensbrück in the final years of WWII. Aided by Nelly’s granddaughter and a trove of old photos, diaries and reels of 8mm film documenting the couple’s decades-long relationship, Gertten pieces together the couple’s love story, both inside the camp and in their post-war life together in Venezuela. In the process, the film not only helps shine a light on a number of largely unknown or long-hidden chapters in lesbian and feminist history, it illustrates — and celebrates — the enduring power of love in the face of extreme adversity.
Queer My Friends (7/8)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: for me, one of the marks of a great documentary is its ability to get me emotionally invested in its subject(s). And this very sweet, very small, very personal film documenting the relationship between director Ah-hyun Seo and one of her best friends does exactly that — and quickly. Assembled from footage shot by Ah-hyun over more than 10 years, the doc is a tender exploration of self-discovery, self-acceptance and self-awareness, as fellow Christian-school grads Ah-hyun and Kang-won try to navigate the world as young adults. Things get a bit more complicated when Kang-won comes out as gay, and he struggles to reconcile his faith with his sexuality while a jobless Ah-hyun tries to find direction and purpose in her life. Through it all — including Kang-won joining the U.S. military and bouncing from country to country — Ah-hyun has her camera at the ready, capturing her friend as his emotional baggage begins to consume him. The more I watched, the more invested I became, to the point that I started to worry where the film was going after Kang-won makes a passing comment about feeling suicidal. A wonderful and engaging look at friendship, Queer My Friends is, at its core, a quiet and effective film about self-discovery, self-acceptance and self-awareness.
Shooting War (6/8)
The very first frame of director Patrick Dell’s look at photojournalists specializing in war photography warns that some of the images that follow may be disturbing. Sensitive viewers, take heed — he’s not kidding. And while the photos may be hard to look at, they’re a critical component of this collection of interviews, gathered during a panel event hosted by The Globe & Mail newspaper. The photos punctuate the accounts of the individuals who shot them: photographers whose work documents the realities of war, and who train their lenses on tragedy, death and destruction as a way of telling the stories of those affected by conflict. From veteran Tim Page to four-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Carol Guzy and comparative newbie Laurence Geai, the photographers share their experiences in the field, covering conflicts from Vietnam to Syria and all points in between. Along with Dr. Anthony Feinstein, a neuropsychiatrist specializing in mental trauma, they also discuss the psychological impact of their work, and how they manage their fear, emotions and, in some cases, PTSD. A straightforward and eye-opening film, Shooting War delivers first-hand insight from its subjects, but lets their images (disturbing or otherwise) do much of the proverbial talking.
The Thief Collector (7/8)
What’s the best remedy for a Hot Docs-induced crying headache? Cleansing your emotional palate with a cheeky, lighthearted doc like this entertaining gem from director Allison Otto, that’s what! From Scott Grossman’s zippy animated opening credits to hilarious “re-enactors” Scott Grossman and Sarah Minnich, the film — which tells the story of New Mexico teachers-come-art-thieves Jerry and Rita Alter — is fun from the get-go. See, the Alters were a seemingly mild-mannered, travel-loving couple who were, in fact, at the center of one of the FBI’s Top 10 art crimes in the 1980s: in 1985, they stole a $160 million Willem de Kooning painting (Woman-Ochre) right out of its frame… and then casually hung it in their home, where it stayed for some 30 years until being discovered by a pair of antiques dealers clearing out the Alters’ house after their deaths. Otto combines archival photos and footage of the couple, interviews with some of their family members and friends, and the aforementioned delightful re-enactments to assemble a fascinating and totally outrageous heist tale that gets more delicious with every new plot twist.