From April 26 to May 6, Hot Docs in Toronto features a massive selection of films and documentaries that include glimpses into the lives of prolific artists and explorations of major urban centres. Here are five must-sees, including a doc about Ai Weiwei and another on Detroit.
1 Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Director Alison Klayman follows China’s renowned dissident artist as he expresses his feelings about his country’s staunch censorship laws. Ai Weiwei, who collaborated with Herzog & de Meuron on the Beijing National Stadium and is currently working with the duo on this year’s Serpentine Pavilion, in London, fuses activism and art – taunting authorities and inspiring millions. Screening information here.
Ravaged by the shuttering of automobile factories and the recession, Detroit has reportedly lost 50 per cent of its manufacturing jobs, causing a quarter of its population to follow suit. Apartment buildings opposite Comerica Park stand abandoned while hundreds of neglected homes are razed. Convinced that the deterioration of the legendary Motor City hints at what’s to come in other major American cities, directors Heidi Ewing (of Farmington Hills, MI) and Rachel Grady explore Detroit through the lives of several locals, including an auto union rep, a group of artists and a gang of illegal scrappers. Screening information here.
3 Herman’s House
Filmed over five years, this doc follows artist/activist Jackie Sumell as she corresponds with Herman Wallace, a Black Panther member falsely accused of murdering a prison guard who has been living in solitary confinement in Louisiana’s Angola prison for 40 years. In 2001, Sumell wrote to Wallace, asking, “What kind of house does a man who has lived in a six-foot-by-nine-foot cell for over 30 years dream of?” While his answer was initially designed to inform an exhibiton installation, Wallace asks Sumell to make his dream home come true. Screening information here.
This submission from Norway takes a look at the eccentric pop art artist Hariton Pushwagner, acclaimed for his paintings that depict a world plagued by pollution, tyranny and perpetual destruction. Homeless and fighting a legal battle with a former assistant, the artist lets viewers examine his career, which is guided by paranoia and the need to control. Screening information here.
5 Los Angeles Plays Itself
The winding highways, beachside landscapes and mid-century and historial buildings of Los Angeles have been immortalized on film since the invention of cinema. Director Thom Andersen provides a plethora of clips from a wide range of movies, including Rebel Without a Cause, The Big Lebowski and Blade Runner, and marks the roles played by iconic landmarks and neighbourhoods – like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House and Bunker Hill – with additional commentary about race relations, transportation and public space. Screening informationhere.
Hot Docs runs until May 6 at various theatres throughout Toronto.