Have you seen Don McKellar?

Top 5 under the radar Hot Docs films

The sheer joy of Hot Docs is experiencing the magnitude of non-fiction films on display. There are a large number of films included at the festival, (232 at last count), though with some later inclusions…who knows? That’s not even counting shorts, retrospectives, neighbourhood screenings, DocX, family-friendly screenings, managing multiple venues the experience can be pretty daunting. It is inevitable that certain films can fall under the radar. But if this is the case, then start here for our top five films that must be watched at the 2016 festival.

The Apology


The NFB has a long track record of absorbing documentaries, but this film from Tiffany Hsiung breaks the realm of traditional expectations. Shot with an all-female crew, this probing look at Japanese “comfort women”, who were not actually Japanese, explores the state of the women years later, as the Japanese government has never actually issued the titular apology. The story is particularly interesting when it focuses upon Grandma Gil, an octogenarian Korean women, who will be present at the screening. A must-see film!

Hotel Coolgardie


What is advertised as a story of sexism among two Finnish women that work at the bar in the Denver City Hotel in Coolgardie is so much more. While the previous description is apt, the film is extremely melancholy as the director, Pete Gleeson, has managed to capture a time and place, that while extremely flawed, is almost from a different world, especially when considering what came after the events that were recorded by Gleeson and his crew. A marvel, and an insight into a part of Western Australia that isn’t frequented often.

I Am the Blues


The inclusion of I Am the Blues into a piece about under the radar films seems unnecessary, as the film has now gone rush for its first two screenings. But Daniel Cross and his team have managed to capture a movement, a roots revival, called “gutbucket” from the American South of Mississippi and Louisiana. While the film is a celebration of the trailblazers, it also serves as a reminder that the mainstream acceptance of hip-hop is not far removed from delta blues. The pioneers themselves have floated under the radar far too long.

The Pearl of Africa


What may be lost in the irony of the title is that the Pearl of Africa is a nickname for Uganda. This is due to the sheer amount of tribes, but also to the natural wonders, swamps, rivers, animal life, but not an acceptance of trans people. Through the haze of the surgery undertaken by one of the first out trans women Cleopatra Kambugu and through the relationship with her boyfriend Nelson, the viewer sees that Uganda is not so shiny when it comes to LGBT acceptance. Canadian Jonny von Wallström adapts his popular web series into a pearl of a film.

Wizard Mode


While the outsider theme is particularly present during the festival, this portrait of Robert Gagno, from Nathan Drillot and Jeff Petry, is more “insider” than it seems. Billed as a film about autism and pinball, the focus is as much about Gagno looking out into the world, and perhaps struggling to understand a world that does not involve flashing lights and sounds. It’s an intimate feeling, and the Sensory Friendly Screening on May 7th should be extremely enlightening.

Hot Docs runs from April 28th to May 8th. Visit hotdocs.ca for showtimes.