The best of Hot Docs


Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha
Getting her life together: Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha. Compliments of Mongrel Media.

• Rather than viewing films from in front of the screen, I spent last month mostly behind the camera. I was shooting climate scientist Andrew Weaver’s successful bid to become Canada’s first Green elected to a provincial legislature for my documentary Running on Climate. However, while I haven’t been able to preview films coming out, I’m happy to report there’s some good stuff lined up for June.

Perhaps most in keeping with the summery mood is Joss Whedon’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s dark romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing (opens June 21). The director of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and recent blockbuster The Avengers shot the modernized version of the drama over 12 days at his Santa Monica mansion with a cast that will be familiar to Whedon fans from his previous projects. While the setting is a contemporary one and the accents are North American, Whedon keeps to the original Elizabethan text while adding many of his own flourishes, including shooting the whole thing in stylish black-and-white.

Black-and-white films appear to be hip now as Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha (out 21st) also shows. The NYC-set film borrows stylistically from the French “New Wave” as it follows Greta Gerwig as the gawky, but disarmingly charming, twenty-something struggling to move beyond her youth and get her life together.

A selection of seven Hot Docs documentaries is coming to Vancity Theatre in mid-June. “The Best of Hot Docs” (runs June 21-23) includes Blackfish, which looks at the killer whale entertainment industry and, in particular, a BC orca involved in a number of human deaths. I Am Breathing is a tender story of a dying father leaving a time capsule for his baby son. Terms and Conditions May Apply exposes what it calls “the greatest heist in history” and examines how big tech is exploiting online tools for mega-profits and deep surveillance. In Anita, Anita Hill revisits her landmark sexual harassment trial of 20 years ago. The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne profiles the notorious and unrepentant jewel thief. The Continental is a portrait of New York City’s gay hotspot of the seventies – the Continental Baths. And Finding the Funk is an exploration of funk music genre. (More details at

Judging by the trailer and early reviews, Richard Rowley’s hard-hitting Dirty Wars looks like a thoroughly compelling investigation into the US government’s growing use of covert warfare. The documentary begins with war journalist Jeremy Scahill, who, frustrated with the embedded media reports, begins probing a night raid on a family celebrating the birth of a child in a remote corner of Afghanistan in 2010. US officials called the incident, which included two pregnant women among the fatalities, a “Taliban honour killing.” However, eyewitnesses claim to have seen US soldiers cutting bullets from the bodies. But why? As Scahill investigates further, he finds himself on the trail of JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command), a shadowy outfit made up of foot soldiers, designated to hunt down, capture or kill individuals considered to be enemies. And that list seems an ever-growing one that reaches from Afghanistan to Yemen and Somalia.

Other films to look out for: Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, the third in a trilogy starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke (out on the 7th) and Fill the Void, a drama about an orthodox, Jewish-arranged marriage set in Tel Aviv (out on 21st).

Robert Alstead is making the documentary Running on Climate (

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