By Adam Cook
Gurrumul, 2018, dir. Paul Damien Williams
The largest and most highly regarded documentary film festival in North America, this year Hot Docs had nearly 250 films from around the world. The festival wrapped up a couple of months ago, and now the Bell Media Hot Docs Showcase is taking the festival on the road across Canada and in select international cities. From July 6th to 9th, five of the best documentaries of the year will be playing at Vancity Theatre.
We spoke to Hot Docs programming manager Jessica Gyll, who will be in Vancouver to present the films along with some special guests, to see what the standouts are from what she says was the most outspoken Hot Docs line-up yet.
VIFF: Can you tell us about how the Bell Media Hot Docs Showcase began and what excites you about this initiative?
Jessica Gyll: The Bell Media Hot Docs Showcase is a remarkable opportunity to bring festival highlights to cities across Canada, and as of last year internationally as well. As Hot Docs grows we are not just focusing on the festival in Toronto, but also on ways in which we can connect with documentary audiences across Canada.
VIFF: At Vancity Theatre, five films from this year’s festival will be presented. How was this selection made from a lineup of hundreds?
Gyll: We work closely with the Vancity Theatre team to choose the right films. We aim to bring films that were not only popular at the festival, but also films that will hopefully connect with the audience, and may not have a chance to play in Vancouver otherwise.
The Silver Branch, dir. Katrina Costello
VIFF: Of course five films don’t tell the whole story, what do you see as being what made the 2018 festival and lineup distinctive?
Gyll: This year marked Hot Docs’ 25th Year Anniversary and we really wanted the programme to be our most outstanding and outspoken yet. The lineup featured 247 films and 16 interdisciplinary projects, making it not only, I think, our strongest year, but also our biggest. We also achieved gender parity with exactly 50% female and 50% male filmmakers.
VIFF: Transformer won this year’s Audience Award at Hot Docs, what is it that made this film in particular connect with viewers?
Gyll: Transformer had a great festival – the team won both the Audience Award and the Rogers Audience Award for highest rated Canadian feature film, taking home a $50,000 cash prize. It’s thoughtful and honest, while having a different tone and pace than other trans coming out stories we’ve seen in the past. We were very lucky to have the subject of the film, Janae Kroc, join us at the festival. I think that immediate and intimate interaction is what really touched the audience.
VIFF: One of the most inspiring stories explored in this year’s festival was that of Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, who passed away a year ago. How did audiences react to this powerful but bittersweet film?
Gyll: Music docs tend to do well at the festival, but Gurrumul specifically seemed to stand out with the audience this year – it landed in the Top 20 Audience Favourites. It tells the story of Indigenous Australian musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu who was born blind, has a shy nature, but went on to become the most commercially successful Indigenous Australian musician of all time. Director Paul Damien Williams has over 10 years of footage, everything from Gurrumul touring and hanging out backstage with Sting, to being at home with his loving family in Northern Australia.
VIFF: Do you have a standout favourite?
Gyll: I always say, like dogs, I like all our films equally. But for this showcase I am looking forward to the Afghan Cycles screening. The filmmaker, Sarah Menzies, will be joining us in person for the screening. Vancouver is a very active and bike-friendly city so I think the audience will really connect with the story of these brave young women.