The world is such an amazing place. During the span of a few days I watched a Sri Lankan captain a freighter across the transatlantic, a chef gain his third Michelin star, Haitian dancers at Carnivale, a Buddhist play the role of Christ in a Passion Play, the sad life of an Elvis impersonator, and the mysterious disappearance of an eco-terrorist.
Hot Docs is the largest screening of documentaries in North America. The directors are often on hand before and after the screenings to give a behind-the-scenes view. Rob and I attended almost a month ago now, but am still thinking about the documentaries we saw:
- Transatlantic and Nan Lakou Kanaval
- Jesus Town USA
- For Grace
- Hadwin's Judgement
- Orion The Man Who Would be King
There were some traditional 'films'.... shot on film and not developed until much later, so the directors weren't entirely certain what they were capturing or how it might come together. Very few people work like this in today's digital age, where you can see what you've got immediately and adjust or plan accordingly. After the footage was developed for Kanaval there were a few reels that were overexposed, so the filmmakers worked with the lab to give those scenes an other-worldly effect. It may not have been premeditated but it was effective.
Digital shooting seems to lead to incredibly high shooting ratios. In the doc, For Grace, more than 300 hours were captured to produce 90 minutes; Jesus Town was 10 hours of shooting every day for 5 months with 2 cameras for the final 90 minutes. These films are shaped in the editing process as well. Even after deciding on the storyline, there are an infinite number of choices in how to tell the story.
With documentaries you don't always know how events will unfold. You might go in with preconceptions but have to be open to the twists of fate. Is the presence of a camera and crew changing the choices the subjects are making on the film? Can you control what will happen next?
We also saw a few docs that recounted events after-the-fact, so the art of the documentary was how it pieced together available found footage or first-hand interviews with people who had direct experience. So many different points of view. What really happened? Will we ever know?
For Grace was shot on 2 DSLR cameras and then edited on a desktop computer. You don't necessarily need to invest a huge amount of money in gear and crew to get incredible results. The film started as a video short for the Chicago Tribune lifestyle section.
Hadwin's Judgement re-enacted and re-imagined scenes brought to life using an actor and was inspired by a non-fiction book.
Orion, a Brit film, was on the festival circuit and had premiered within the previous week at Tribeca.
I'm signing up for the Doc Soup/Hot Docs combo. Great value per ticket price, but also a great way to expand my point of view.