If you're reading UrbanToronto, there's a good chance you'd be comfortable being called an Urban Enthusiast, and if we're right about that, then Hot Docs has a serious helping of city-related films this year to satisfy your hunger for all things urban. If you've been to Hot Docs before, you'll be particularly impressed with this year's selection, and if you've never been before, 2017 is the year to jump right in.
This year, Hot Docs runs from Thursday, April 27 to Sunday, May 7 in cinemas throughout the Downtown, and in some further flung locations. Individual tickets for most films cost $17, but you can bring the price down by purchasing 6, 10, or 20-packs for reduced prices, or go nuts and get a premium pass and see as many films as you can get to. (Surrendering to the projectionist is not the worst way you could spend 11 days in April and May.)
The box office details are all online waiting for you here, along with the full roster of 240 films, and while you'll no doubt find plenty of films which will appeal to your particular interests, here's a quick look at the ones that should entice your urban urges. Click on the film names to bring up the screening venues and dates.
The late Jim Stewart was a Toronto mathematician who loved curves and music, and whose university text books provided him the income to build a house that was a tribute to both. Designed by Shim-Sutcliffe, Integral House is undoubtedly the most talked about and photographed residence in Toronto of the last decade. Many people were lucky enough to attend a musical performance at the Rosedale home (Stewart had spaces designed for just such events), but now everyone can revel in the space and get to know Stewart in Integral Man, a directorial debut for landscape architect Joseph Clement.
The Villaways is a 1970s-built TCHC development on the west side of Leslie Street in North York. Now being redeveloped with a mix of market rate and affordable housing, the residents are having to relocate while construction takes place. In Unarmed Verses, 12-year old Francine Valentine, wise beyond her years, joins a local music program for youth, and eloquently expresses what growing up is like in one of Toronto's marginalized communities in the midst of disruption.
Toronto's developing housing crisis is the number one story in the city these days, but Vancouver's real estate market has been in crises mode for a few years already. In Vancouver: No Fixed Address, director Charles Wilkinson (whose feature Haida Gwaii: On The Edge Of The World won best Canadian Feature at Hot Docs in 2015) looks at Vancouverites with property and without, and considers how the qualities that made the city such an attractive place to live have also brought about the lack of supply in the housing market that now threatens liveability. Are there lessons here for Toronto, and if so, we will act on them?
It's not only the big cities that are faced with housing issues. Closer to home, Motel brings us to Niagara Falls where one of the honeymoon city's numerous strip motels—now bypassed by most visitors in favour of the huge corporate hotel chain towers that loom over the falls—was turned into affordable housing. In Jesse McCaracken's feature, the building's managers find that they don't just have a structure to care for, but vulnerable people who need a community to provide them with the necessities of life.
The small but rich Persian Gulf state of Qatar will host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, and to accomplish that, 1.6 million migrant workers are involved with building the stadiums. They've partly been lured there by the promise that they can play in their own tournament, The Workers Cup, but the conditions that they deal with have raised concern across the world. Director Adam Sobel's film tells a story of modern slavery in the service of excess.
In what sound like the complete flip side of The Workers Cup, documentarian Tan Pin Pin trains her camera on Singapore in what promises to be the most contemplative film about cities at Hot Docs this year. Ignoring the hustle and bustle of her city to focus on timeless scenes, In Time To Come upends the typical urban narrative to find the quieter, unheralded moments that also mark the modern metropolis.
Buenos Aires has been transformed over the last decades years by giant murals, some are which are considered to be among the very best in the world, as Argentine artists have expressed years worth of political repression and economic upheaval. In White Walls Say Nothing, we meet the artists who have helped brighten the city and propel it towards a more promising future.
On the same wavelength, but restricted to one street artist, Shadowman looks at Richard Hambleton, a contemporary of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat (who remain famous street artists of their time), who dropped from public sight when addictions took their toll on him. The Shadowman works were a sensation in 1970s New York, and the film catches up with Hambleton at a point where he's getting his life back together, and looking to re-establish his place in the New York street art scene.
State of Exception is the result of director Jason O'Hara having embedded himself for six years within the communities of Rio de Janeiro that are fighting the destruction of their neighbourhoods for the sports arenas built to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. The events have now moved on, and the vulnerable populations of other cities are experiencing the same forces that may leave them with nothing. O'Hara looks to spread the knowledge of what happened here so that things might be different in the future.
The Norilsk Nickel Company would like Russians to believe that this city in arctic Siberia is one of the country's best places to live and work, but locals are not of the same mind. A Moon of Nickel and Ice explores this little known bleak and polluted city, originally built by Soviet prisoners.
Baltimore, Maryland has a massive rat problem, but it's not the only challenge for the virtually segregated city. The plague of rodents is the lens through which Rat Film examines issues of economic disparity in the city, making a sociological study of urban development, and suggesting that the United States has some domestic conditions to confront that would not be unfamiliar in third world countries.
Finally, there's a free event taking place in the Galleria at Brookfield Place through the 11 day run called DocX: Virtual Reality. Available to enjoy between 10 AM and 6 PM each day (although finishing up for good at 2 PM on Sunday the 7th), you will be able to slip on VR googles and enjoy 3D documentary environments from 3 to 30 minutes in length in 10 different settings. While one of the experiences will bring you into the Obama White House for 22 minutes, we are highlighting This is What the Future Looked Like, a 6-minute visit to geodesic domes built across the world by iconoclast Buckminster Fuller, including a trip through the former American Dome at Expo '67 in Montreal.
So, it's quite the selection of urban issues and architectural offerings in this year's festival, and possibly just the start of what else may interest you on the Hot Docs screens. You'll find everything you need online, or you can pop down to the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on Bloor at Bathurst to pick up this year's screening schedule. Don't wait too long to get organized; screenings do fill up in advance (one of the Integral Man screenings is already Rush Only!). Have fun!