It's been a little over a week since I returned home to Los Angeles after this year's edition of Hot Docs. I'm a big fan of Hot Docs - it's my fourth year running at the Toronto festival - and I think it might have been my best experience yet.
Part of this is due to the opening of the TIFF Bell Lightbox. I wasn't at TIFF last year (in fact, cost and timing has combined to make it impossible for me to attend since my own ABOUT A SON premiered there in 2006), so this was my first opportunity to view the new space. Let me add my voice to the chorus of those who find the new(ish) building remarkable. In spite of the fact that the gleaming cinema complex is a bit of a hike from the central action of the Hot Docs festival (which remains the Rogers Industry Center on the Victoria College Campus) and seems completely removed from any industry hobnobbing, I was more than content to hunker down in the space for a full day, taking time to get great food and wine in the midst of screenings in the building's technically top-notch theaters.
In fact, being completely removed from industry hobnobbing was actually a selling point.
One of the things that I've found at festivals, and I only have myself to blame here, is that when I actually tuck myself into back-to-back-to back screenings, I have some of my best experiences. I'm as guilty as anyone of being attracted to the shiny allure of the undiscovered mixer or meal or moment to rest. But my day at the Lightbox and away from the industry element of the festival helped crystalize this for me.
It didn't hurt that I saw some terrific films. In fact, I've been pretty lucky this year in that I was asked to serve on juries for the Miami and Ashland Film Festivals and that afforded me the opportunity to see a number of this year's most talked-about films - particularly a majority of this year's Sundance crop. The two juries I was on gave awards to THE INTERRUPTERS (Grand Jury) and IF A TREE FALLS (Special Jury) at Miami and to HOW TO DIE IN OREGON (Grand Jury) at Ashland. From these fests, I was also a big fan of James Marsh's latest, PROJECT NIM. All four were on the docket at Hot Docs as well.
But in Toronto, my great favorites were two terrific portrait films: Asif Kapadia's SENNA, about the Formula One champion racer Ayrton Senna, and Cindy Meehl's BUCK, the audience favorite about Buck Brannaman, the "real life horse whisperer".