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What to see at Hot Docs this weekend

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Culture & Entertainment

What to see at Hot Docs this weekend

[caption id="attachment_21843" align="aligncenter" width="620"] "Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere"[/caption] Toronto’s Hot Docs film festival winds up this weekend, and it’s a perfect time to catch up with the big-buzz titles, most of which are set to screen at least once more. I’ve seen a bunch already, and would recommend at least a couple of them unreservedly. Unfortunately, my favourite film of the fest to date, Amir Bar-Lev’s Happy Valley—about the Jerry Sandusky–Joe Paterno sex abuse scandal—isn’t slated to be screened again (unless it happens to win one of the audience awards). It’s a flat-out great doc, going far beyond the lurid specifics of the case to become a sort of epic indictment of modern-day American values. Make sure to look out for it in theatres later this year. But you want to know what you can see this weekend. Here are my recommendations: Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart Think you knew the Pamela Smart murder case? I thought I did, until I saw this extremely well-made doc by Jeremiah Zagar. It isn’t exactly a revisionist work—which is to say, it doesn’t insist on her innocence—but it makes an excellent case that the public and the frenzied media hordes got her all wrong, preventing her from getting anything close to a fair trial. Incidentally, this is one of the best looking docs I’ve seen in awhile, which adds significantly to the experience. The Great Invisible Margaret Brown ( Be Here to Love Me, The Order of Myths) returns to her old stomping grounds on the Gulf Coast to examine the fallout from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Though a very different film from Spike Lee’s towering When the Levees Broke, The Great Invisible is an equally well-made, wide-ranging look at the human impact of disaster. Some of the best material pertains to the oil workers themselves, who were largely forgotten in the aftermath. Brown puts us on the rig with them when it blew, then chronicles the emotional toll exacted on them. Essential viewing. Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere This scrappy little true-crime doc by first-time filmmaker Dave Jannetta—which got its world premiere here last Monday—could use some tightening up, but it’s an undeniable charmer. Set in the small, isolated college town of Chadron, Nebraska, it’s about the mysterious death of mathematics professor Steven Haataja, whose charred-beyond-recognition corpse was found tied to a tree several miles outside town limits. That might sound macabre, but Jannetta focuses more on the town’s oddball denizens than on the crime. The Hot Docs guide compares Love and Terror to Twin Peaks, but I would compare it more to Richard Linklater’s recent true-crime comedy Bernie. Like that film, it has a real sense of place, and a contagious affection for the people there. Whitey: United States of America V. James J. Bulger Before last Sunday’s screening, director Joe Berlinger ( My Brother’s Keeper, the Paradise Lost trilogy) warned that this was his densest movie yet, and that viewers might get lost if they went for a pee break. He wasn’t kidding. This epic look at ruthless Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger (a model for Jack Nicholson’s character in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed) gets a little bogged down in minutiae at times, but it’s still an excellent, extremely well-researched addition to the true-crime genre. The movie is as much about corruption in the FBI as it is about Whitey, and Berlinger mounts a pretty convincing case that they were equally culpable in his reign of terror. The films I plan to take in myself this weekend include: The Overnighters, a widely praised look at social strife in the North Dakota oilfields; Point and Shoot, about a Baltimore man who paid a harsh price for seeking out adventure in the Middle East; and Art and Craft, about a renowned art forger and the dogged museum curator who set out to stop him. ( Image courtesy of Hot Docs)
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What to see at Hot Docs this weekend

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