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The Globe and Mail

Hot Docs festival aims at celebrity in special presentations

The Special Presentations at this year's Hot Docs show such an emphasis on celebrity, the documentary festival risks being confused with its more glamorous fall cousin The Toronto International Film Festival.

Among the celebrity-driven films are the recent Sundance documentary Becoming Chaz, about Cher's daughter's gender reassignment, a documentary on 90-year-old trouper Carol Channing and a film on Conan O'Brien's tour while in television exile. Actor Michael Rapaport ( Small Time Crooks) goes behind the camera to shoot the rock reunion doc Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest. There are profiles of chess master Bobby Fischer, the late South African singer Miriam Makeba, Toronto songwriter Ron Sexsmith and a German-made portrait of provocative Toronto director Bruce LaBruce, most recently known for his gay zombie films.

Meanwhile, The Hollywood Complex examines a hotel where families of would-be child stars stay during television's pilot season and Vodka Factory looks at a Russian factory worker who dreams of being a television star.

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When announcing the film list Tuesday, the festival's director of programming, Sean Farnel, noted that the 26-film Special Presentations program represent "the closest documentary gets to glitz and glamour" though rooted in real life.

Other more conventional documentary films announced yesterday include an Israeli film on dolphin therapy ( Dolphin Boy), a Danish film about the connection between cellphones and African conflicts ( Blood in the Mobile), a portrait of a Korean rickshaw puller ( My Barefoot Friend) and an American film about high-school bullying ( The Bully Project). The festival also includes Project Nim, from Man on Wire director James Marsh, about the life of a chimpanzee.

As well, the festival has announced eight films in its national spotlight program Made In Italy, which includes a cinéma vérité look at security measures at Milan's airport ( The Castle) and a film about three men from different countries who claim to be the reincarnation of Jesus ( I am Jesus).

The full list of more than 170 Hot Docs films will be announced on March 22. The festival runs from April 28 to May 8.

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