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The fest’s a mess but the films still rock at Hot Docs

Peter Howell

Movie Critic

“It’ll be all right on the night,” the showbiz maxim goes, and the organizers of the 2024 Hot Docs Festival fervently hope that’s the case with their embattled documentary showcase, which runs April 25 to May 5.

In recent weeks, Hot Docs has endured the abrupt departure of former artistic director Hussain Currimbhoy and the resignations of 10 programmers, amid allegations of a “toxic work environment” at North America’s largest documentary fest.

That followed a warning by Hot Docs president Marie Nelson that this year’s 31st edition of the non-profit fest could be its last if more financial support isn’t forthcoming from its government partners. Hot Docs still hasn’t fully recovered from the closures and losses of the pandemic years.

The cash crunch has necessitated trimming the roster by several dozen films, but Hot Docs still has much to show at its various downtown venues: 168 docs from 64 countries, about a third of which are world premieres. Here are 10 good bets for the fest:

1. Any Other Way: The Jackie Shane Story

Soul/R&B singer Jackie Shane was the brightest star of her own constellation, which included Toronto. A transgender performer from Nashville who made no apologies for who she was — “I don’t satisfy nobody that’s a square” — she turned down “The Ed Sullivan Show” for being transphobic and “American Bandstand” for being segregationist. She was reluctant to tour, preferring to stay in Toronto performing at packed club gigs, recording a hit song (“Any Other Way”) and contributing mightily to the musical emergence known as the “Toronto Sound.” Often compared to her friend Little Richard, and also to Eartha Kitt and Mae West, Shane’s powerful pipes and charismatic chutzpah promised global stardom — but in 1971 she dropped out of the public eye. Michael Mabbott and Lucah Rosenberg-Lee seek answers in a doc reminiscent of the Sundance hit “Searching for Sugar Man.” The film employs energetic rotoscope animation that makes Shane’s memory shimmer all the more.


(Originally published in the Toronto Star)


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