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Top Picks of Hot Docs 2016

Films for curious people.

Spring in Toronto may be unreliable, but since 1993 there has been at least one certainty: the city’s devotion to the annual Hot Docs Festival. For 10 days at the end of April and beginning of May, documentary fans can take in films that run the gamut from politics to pop culture, and everything in-between at North America’s largest documentary film festival.

A few of the most buzz-worthy films of this year’s festival include Ants on a Shrimp, director Maurice Dekkers’s foodie-insider view of NOMA Chef René Redzepi’s five weeks overseeing a pop-up restaurant in Japan; OBIT, director Vanessa Gould’s portrait of the New York Times’ obituary columnists; and Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru, director Joe Berlinger’s in-depth profile of the motivational speaker.

Simply selecting top picks is challenging when one considers the sheer variety of this year’s cinematic offerings. For instance, there is The Peacemaker, director James Demo’s profile of college professor Padraig O’Malley, a self-taught mediator who uses unorthodox methods to broker peace agreements in Iraq, South Africa, and Northern Ireland. Then, there is Nathan Drillot and Jeff Petry’s Wizard Mode, a profile of the world’s best pinball players—who also have autism—and Sundance Award–winner Weiner, which charts the rise, fall, rise, and fall again of the infamous American politician by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg.

Additionally, the seventies appear to be en vogue at Hot Docs this year, with Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing’s Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You, focusing on the creator of memorable television shows like All in the FamilyThe Jeffersons, and Maude, and The Incomparable Rose Hartman, the story of a street art photographer who captured New York City’s beautiful people at Studio 54, as revealed by director Otis Mass.

Yet not every film on the schedule is a new release: documentary classics such as Madonna: Truth or Dare, the behind-the-scenes stories of the 1990 Blonde Ambition Tour, and Medium Cool, a look inside the 1968 Democratic National Convention from director Haskell Wexler screen, will screen too.

This year the festival is honouring director Steve James with the Hot Docs Outstanding Achievement Award for his contributions to documentary film in the past 20 years. Film-goers will be able to experience some of his greatest hits, including At the Death House Door (2008), Life Itself (2014), Stevie (2002), and award-winning Hoop Dreams (1994).

This year, Hot Docs certainly has something for everyone.