April 22, 2014 10:50 am
Updated: April 22, 2014 10:53 am

4 Canadian films worth seeing at Hot Docs festival

The documentary 'Super Duper Alice Cooper' will be screened at Hot Docs in Toronto.


TORONTO – Alice Cooper, George Takei, The Iron Sheik and the man behind Big Bird are among the high-profile guests headed to this year’s Hot Docs festival in Toronto.

The annual non-fiction marathon will unspool 197 films from 43 countries starting Thursday.

Here’s a look at some of the homegrown films hoping to make a splash at the annual showcase, more formally known as the Canadian International Documentary Festival:


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Synopsis: It’s not a portrait most people willingly pose for, but mugshots can depict some fascinating facial expressions, ranging from shamed, brutal and desperate — to downright bizarre. Here’s a film that examines these powerful photographs, which started with the invention of the daguerreotype in the 19th century and are now widely used as art and entertainment.

Director Dennis Mohr: “I think they’re just a strange untapped aspect of photography — call it portrait photography, just call it a terrible photograph…. It’s a great leveller of society. You could be like the high-and-mighty and the lowest-of-the-low and you’re still all kind of equal once you get your mugshot taken.”

Featuring: “I think we did get the Justin Bieber (shot) in, that was the last edit we made, but it really deals with non-celebrity,” says Mohr. “It’s really the small people… the people that fall through the cracks. It could be you or me, that’s the whole point. We seem to be kind of fascinated by these things but at the end of the day whether we laugh at them or feel sorry or whatever any of us could maybe do something, a crime of passion, and end up in one of these as well.”


The Secret Trial 5

Synopsis: First-time feature filmmaker Amar Wala trains his lens on the stories of five Muslim men jailed without charge in Canada under controversial national security certificates. The device allows for the indefinite detention of non-citizens without charge or trial, based on secret evidence. Wala puts a human focus on the larger social issue, delving into the myriad ways the measure has affected the accused men’s personal lives and families.

Director/producer Amar Wala: “Neither the detainee nor their lawyer get to see the evidence against them, so no one has seen the evidence, they are held in jail without knowing exactly why they’re there. As a Canadian, I found that very disturbing. I thought that’s the kind of thing that happens south of the border, we don’t do that kind of thing here and I felt like at the very least this is a conversation Canadians need to have.”

“The film was almost entirely shot on crowd-funding money, we raised $50,000 through two campaigns and finally Telefilm’s microbudget program came on board and that’s how we were able to finish the film. So it really is this sort of grassroots project that has been sort of picked up and supported by the Canadian public.”

Featuring: Hassan Almrei, Mohamed Harkat, Adil Charkaoui, and Mahmoud Jaballah.


The Sheik

Synopsis: The powerful past and sometimes painful present of one of wrestling’s biggest stars is examined in this look at the rise and fall of former ’80s phenom The Iron Sheik. Before transforming into the villainous icon, Khosrow Vaziri fled his home in Iran for the United States where he pursued Olympic dreams. Later, he would struggle with alcohol and drug addiction, but with the help of Toronto’s Magen brothers, work to put his demons aside and embark on a road to redemption.

Executive producer Jian Magen: “It’s not really a wrestling documentary. He was the Shah of Iran’s bodyguard, he had fled the country of Iran because he was fearing his own life, he was in danger, he ended up moving to the U.S. to become the assistant coach of the U.S. Olympic wrestling team, next thing you know he becomes a wrestling superstar and the most hated man in America. Yet, you’ll never find someone more patriotic and more proud to say that he is American. He was all things American.”

Featuring: Hulk Hogan, Jake (The Snake) Roberts, Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, Bret (Hit Man) Hart, Rob Van Dam, Ron Simmons, The Road Warriors, King Kong Bundy and Jim Ross.


Super Duper Alice Cooper

Synopsis: Animated photos and interviews trace Vincent Furnier’s transformation from the son of a Christian minister to goth-glam godfather Alice Cooper. Co-directors Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen and Reginald Harkema describe their approach as “doc opera,” noting there are no talking head interviews in this film. Instead, it’s all told visually through archival footage, photographs, home movies, music videos and live performance.

Co-director Sam Dunn on their approach: “When everyone thinks of Alice they think of the snakes, they think of the guillotines, they think of this fantastical and spectacular live show. And so we thought, ‘Well, there’s no better artist to tell a story visually in this way than Alice.’ It wouldn’t work with Barry Manilow, I don’t think.”

Featuring: Sir Elton John, John Lydon, Dee Snider, Wayne Kramer, Iggy Pop, Pamela des Barres and Furnier’s 90-year-old mother, Ella.

© 2014 The Canadian Press

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