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Charlie Lyne blogs on Hot Docs: reflections on the festival

Charlie Lyne and Ross Sutherland presenting their premiere

May 2015

Here’s the second blog from filmmaker and journalist Charlie Lyne reflecting on his experience at this year’s Hot Docs Film Festival and on three of the international films that captured his interest.

At the end of last year’s Hot Docs, I spent the ride back to the airport dreaming up ways to ensure my return to the festival twelve months later. It’d be an overstatement to say that festivals like this one are the only reason I make films (it’s mainly for the private jets and billion-dollar sales deals) but they’re certainly a good incentive to stay proactive as a filmmaker. It’s been a pleasure over the last four days to reconnect with the festival and all the people who make it tick over so smoothly.

At the centre of it all, of course, are the documentaries themselves, but as with so many non-fiction festivals, it’s the conversation surrounding them that’s liable to take up the majority of your time. This year, that conversation was — in my experience — one about fantasy: its pleasures, its limits and its victims.

Thought Crimes examined the infamous ‘Cannibal Cop’ case that captivated the US news cycle in 2012, when New York City police officer Gilberto Valle was charged with conspiracy to kidnap, murder and ultimately consume multiple women, solely on the evidence of cannibalistic sexual fantasies he had described on obscure fetish websites. The Cult of JT LeRoy detailed how unknown author Laura Albert successfully duped the global literary scene into believing she was a prodigious teen runaway-cum-writer named Jeremiah "Terminator" LeRoy. And The Amina Profile took a look at the carnage left in the wake of the ‘Gay Girl in Damascas’ blog, which invigorated Western news coverage of the 2011 Arab Spring with its tale of a young lesbian girl’s struggle against Syrian authorities before being revealed as a hoax written by fortysomething American Tom MacMaster.

In all three cases, the fantasists involved believed themselves to be harming no one, but the myriad interviews with deeply hurt individuals presented across the films tell a different story. Valle used a police database to enhance his flesh-eating fairy tales, violating the rights of numerous private citizens, while Albert and MacMaster manipulated the emotions of already fragile strangers to bolster their self-serving fictions.

Fiction might seem like an easy target for documentary filmmakers, but audiences at Hot Docs seemed equally willing to scrutinise the moral implications of non-fiction filmmaking— and, as is refreshingly common at doc festivals, there was a distinct lack of sycophancy on display. On more than one occasion, I was lucky enough to see a film and come face to face with its creator later that day — a creator more than willing to discuss the difficult questions thrown up by their work. It’s that kind of rare candour that makes me want to come back to Hot Docs every year. Now I just need to get the pesky filmmaking bit out of the way.

Read Charlie's first blog here

Our update on UK films at Hot Docs 2015:
It was an extraordinarily successful year for UK films at Hot Docs; Karen Guthrie’s The Closer We Get won Best International Feature and Eleanor Mortimer’s Territory won Best Short. The successes did not stop there; Lanzmann, a UK/Canadian co-production directed by Brit Adam Benzine, garnered an Honourable Mention on the Best Mid-Length category. Eleanor was one of six recipients of British Council/BFI Travel Grants at Hot Docs and Karen’s attendance was supported by a contribution from our Canada office.