Hot Docs: Highlights from North America's Biggest Documentary Film Festival


Hot Docs is the young stud of Toronto film events. Just eighteen years old, it’s already the biggest documentary film festival in North America. I had a press pass and spent ten days watching movies about Mexican drug-war killings and the healing power of dolphins amidst rapt audiences who really hated it when you came in late or wrestled with the packaging on your granola bar. Here is some of what I saw.

Grinders dir. Matt Gallagher (Canada)

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This film is about grinders – people who play illegal poker for a living – in Toronto, which director Matt Gallagher makes look like a Soviet coal town (disclosure: that’s not that hard). Main character Danny spends most of his screen time drinking, mumbling about his baby girls, and passing out in front of online poker games in lonely Vegas hotel rooms. Main character Andre lives with his parents and likes t-shirts emblazoned with cartoon characters acting gangster. Secondary character Lawrence is a put-upon immigrant whose landlord is extorting him for the money he makes running his “social club.” Bleak stuff! But Gallagher has a fine sense of the ridiculous, and includes many wonderful slow-motion shots of Elvises gyrating against a Nevada desert sky. If only he’d refrained from making cringing poker-related pronouncements on the human condition, this could have been a great movie.