We have been a lot quieter around here this year about HotDocs. After nearly daily updates last year, we have been very pressed for time this year: there's a lot going on behind the scenes at UrbanToronto which you learn more about soon. At the same time, HotDocs 2011 has far fewer films that are specifically urban-issue or architecturally themed than last year, and there is nearly nothing playing about Toronto itself.
That is not to say that there are not a great number of excellent films at HotDocs this year, or that UrbanToronto members would only be interested in films about urban issues, architecture, or Toronto. It is just that those are UrbanToronto's areas of interest, and other media outlets are better at covering the festival on whole.
Some films within our area of interest have not fit UrbanToronto's publication schedule. Battle for Brooklyn, for instance, is an excellent film detailing the abuse of Eminent Domain, or the ability of a government to seize land from private landowners for the benefit of the public. Set, obviously, in Brooklyn, and filmed over the last half dozen years, Battle recounts the fight at community group Develop Don't Destroy wages against the powers that want to redevelop the Atlantic Yards area of their borough for a basketball stadium and several towers. Its screenings were Saturday and Sunday, and it's the perfect cautionary tale for anyone fascinated with the way cities develop and redevelop. With no more screenings at the festival, we can only hope that this deserving film materializes in theatres on or the telly sometime in the future. Just keep 'Battle for Brooklyn' in kind for future quality viewing should you find it being screened sometime.
Battle for Brooklyn
In contrast, we can highlight another film that you might enjoy, and which you actually have two more chances to see. St-Henri, The 26th of August puts over a dozen filmmakers into the Montreal neighbourhood on the first day of school last year, and introduces us to a baker's douzaine of engaging characters, from the ordinary to the eccentric. St-Henri reminds us of the richness of experiences which are waiting to be claimed by urbanites on a diverse city. This very warm film will cause you to wonder more about what may be around the corner from you. St-Henri is playing next on Thursday, 12.30 at the Cumberland, and on Sunday, 6.00 at the ROM. All of the details necessary for you to see it can be found at the link at the top of this paragraph.
St-Henri, The 26th of August
Another Thursday screening, which we cannot vouch for yet, but you know, 90% of everything here is as least good of not better than good, is Foreign Parts, a film about junkyards and salvage shops in the shadow of New York's Mets Stadium, Owners struggle to stay afloat amidst the gentrification going on around them. That's a story not unfamiliar to business owners on either side of Toronto's downtown, as the King-Spadina and King-Parliament areas quickly redevelop. Click the link abouve for more info about it.
Not quite so on-message, but not a complete 180° for UrbanToronto, is yet another Thursday screening, this one at 4 PM at the Cumberland. Abendland was shot all over Europe, exclusively after dark, in cities, towns, fields, along borders, railway tracks, in hospitals, morgues, video surveillance centres, raves, protests, deportations... all sorts of places and events for which acclaimed filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter was granted extraordinary access. Unfolding without narration, the film is nevertheless absolutely mesmerizing. Highly recommended to those who want to know what goes on behind the scenes to keep Europe functioning. Should you go, you may find me there drinking it all in a second time.
All HotDocs screenings before 6.00 PM are free to students and seniors. Take advantage of that!