Hot Docs slate has arty slant

Canadian documentary fest began April 17

Although documentaries have stumbled recently in theatrical release, attendees at the 15th annual Hot Docs Canadian Intl. Film Festival were more concerned with making art than wringing their hands over box office.

The largest doc festival in North America, which includes a full-service marketplace and the Forum (the must-attend pre-financing pitch event), Hot Docs kicked off April 17 with Sundance fave “Anvil!” about a Toronto metal band, and the world preem of “Air India 182,” Canadian Sturla Gunnersson’s reconstruction docudrama about the most lethal act of air terrorism before 9/11. The fest expects more than 80,000 admissions to its 170 films (up from 130 last year) by the April 27 closing night.

While films exploring conflict, like Errol Morris’ Abu Ghraib analysis “Standard Operating Procedure” (opening in Canada May 2) are still a draw, pics selling out screenings include “The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins” (New Zealand), about world renowned artist Vanessa Beecroft’s obsessive pursuit to adopt orphaned twins; and the world preems of Canadian docs “As Slow as Possible,” a nearly blind author’s journey to Germany to hear a note change in a John Cage composition designed to be played over 639 years; and “Flicker,” in which beat icon Brion Gysin’s Dream Machine inspires others to muse on art and consciousness.

The sold-out world-preem screenings of “All Together Now,” a Beatles-powered behind-the-scenes peak at Cirque du Soleil’s latest production, also wowed auds.

Magnolia Pictures senior VP Tom Quinn screened “Bigger Strong Faster*,” on the worldwide steroid phenom, and Sundance winner “Man on Wire,” about tightrope walker Philippe Petit.

“It’s a difficult marketplace now, and maybe there weren’t a lot of uplifting subjects last year,” Quinn says. “But both these films are event- and subject-driven and have great playability as a group experience.”

Art-focused docs from the mainstream and experimental ends of the spectrum are also presented in Hot Docs’ new permanent program, Next. “We were seeing a lot of interesting nonfiction films by artists working in other visual media, but it was hard finding places for those films,” explains Hot Docs director of programming Sean Farnel. “The experimental work allows us to bring more rigor into our programming and attract new audiences.”

To complement the experimental fare, the program includes more conventional doc fest pics and potential theatricals like “Waiting for Hockney,” “Dreams With Sharp Teeth” (on writer Harlan Ellison) and “Who’s Afraid of Kathy Acker,” all major draws this year.

Farnel says, “Next is our playground and lab, and allows us to show cool retrospective work, loose and creative in our programming.”

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