Go big or go home. That seemed to be the mantra from newly installed Hot Docs director of programming Shane Smith after he announced the full lineup for this year's film festival Tuesday. With 232 titles spread across 12 programs, this year's film fest represents a significant boost from last year's edition in both size and scope.
"With films from a festival high of 51 countries, this year's Hot Docs truly does span the globe, bringing Toronto audiences the best in documentaries from at home and abroad," Smith said in a statement.
While 2015's festival delivered 210 shorts and features and included a number of high-profile premieres, this year's expanded slate promises an even more ambitious lineup, including zeitgeist-catching profiles (O.J.: Made in America), interdisciplinary work that breaks the documentary mould (Brent Green and Sam Green: Live Cinema) and even a rare foray into narrative fiction (the Canadian mockumentary Operation Avalanche).
"Documentaries are at a very exciting moment in their evolution and history," Smith told The Globe and Mail this past August, when his appointment was announced. (The former director of special projects for the Toronto International Film Festival took the helm of Hot Docs after Charlotte Cook departed to launch Field of Vision, a "filmmaker-driven visual journalism film unit.") "These new technologies and hybrid documentary forms – animated works, mixed genre, documentary arts … I'm very excited about the potential to bring them to Toronto audiences."
One festival program that intends to deliver on this promise is DocX, which will include traditional screenings as well as live performances, interactive installations, exhibitions and the ever-expanding field of virtual reality. Highlights include Cyrus Sundar Singh's Brothers in the Kitchen, a "site-specific documentary hybrid" that will be performed inside a fully functional restaurant set up inside the Isabel Bader Theatre; Robinder Uppal and Marc Serpa Francouer's The World in Ten Blocks, an interactive installation where audiences explore the streets of Toronto's Bloorcourt neighbourhood; the aforementioned Brent Green and Sam Green: Live Cinema, a one-night-only event that combines cinema and live music; and The Globe and Mail's VR project Surviving Solitary, which immerses users in the experience of solitary confinement in Canadian jails.
"We're excited to provide a platform for these artists and organizations that are pushing the boundaries of what documentary can do," Sarafina DiFelice, associate director of programming, said in a statement.
The festival will also feature some of the world's best-known documentarians working in the traditional form. Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru comes from acclaimed filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Paradise Lost, the Metallica documentary Some Kind of Monster) and tells the story of one of the world's best-known inspirational speakers. Werner Herzog's Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World explores the Internet as only the German master can. And sports documentarian Ezra Edelman (ESPN's 30 for 30 series) delivers the nearly eight-hour epic O.J.: Made in America, which examines the so-called trial of the century just as FX winds down its miniseries on the same topic.
While the festival places a high priority on Canadian filmmakers, another country will also grab the spotlight this year, thanks to the Made in Australia program. Eva Orner's Chasing Asylum promises to drop a few bombshells about Australia's approach to asylum seekers; Hollie Fifer's The Opposition goes behind the scenes of the fight to build sustainable industry in Papua New Guinea; and Aaron Petersen's doc Zach's Ceremony is being sold as a tender coming-of-age tale.