Published Mar 22, 2019Once again, this spring will see Toronto welcomely inundated with an onslaught of non-fiction films as Hot Docs returns from April 25 to May 5. There's nothing better than a doc with a larger-than-life subject, which is why we're particularly keen on the fest's music movies.
Subjects this year include Gordon Lightfoot, INXS frontman Michael Hutchence, Miles Davis and the Wu-Tang Clan, among others.
To help you decide what to see, we've included Hot Docs' official synopsis for each music movie below. To purchase tickets and view the full schedule, visit the Hot Docs site here.
Mystify: Michael Hutchence
Directed by Richard Lowenstein
Australian band INXS provided the soundtrack to millions of lives in the 1980s and 90s and made an entire generation sit up and listen like thieves to their music. Wildly popular lead singer and songwriter Michael Hutchence created a new sensation with his unmistakable voice, but who was this shining star? Long-time collaborator and music video director Richard Lowenstein creates a loving tribute to the frontman who shared the gift of his massive talent with a public who barely knew him. Remembered by the men and women who understood him best, Hutchence is shown in split-screen as both sophisticated and gregarious, shy and insecure. All the voices featured, including famous girlfriends Kylie Minogue and Helena Christensen, remember the good and bad times through intimate home movies and private memories. We may sing along to his songs but what do we really know about this sensualist whose original sin was feeling too much and who disappeared from the world once he could no longer find pleasure in it? (Angie Driscoll)
Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind
Directed by Joan Tosoni and Martha Kehoe
From the song he refuses to perform to his admiration for Drake, a songwriting legend reflects on his lyrics and longevity with candour and humour. At 80 years young (and currently recording another album), Gordon Lightfoot continues to entertain and enlighten. Personal archive materials and studio sessions paint an intimate picture of an artist in his element, candidly revisiting his idealistic years in Yorkville's coffeehouses, up through stadium tours and the hedonistic '70s. Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Barbra Streisand are only a handful of the stars whose recordings of "Early Morning Rain" and other hits helped Lightfoot's artistry leap across borders, but no matter how far his music travelled, he continued to write passionately about the country he called home. As fellow music icon Burton Cummings sums it up, "Gordon's stuff screamed Canada." With his instantly recognizable voice and masterful guitar playing, Gordon Lightfoot remains influential and timeless. (Alexander Rogalski)
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool
Directed by Stanley Nelson
From Emmy Award–winning director Stanley Nelson comes a rare look, with never-before-seen footage, at one of the most innovative and influential jazz figures of the past half-century. Having had its successful premiere at Sundance, Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool unpacks the man behind the myth, diving into his upbringing, methodology, personal relationships and demons to deliver a complex portrait of a man who not only redefined American jazz but continues to have a powerful impact on generations of musicians. This formidable story is built through in-depth new interviews and rare outtakes from those who knew Davis best, as well as his most prominent collaborators, such as Quincy Jones, Carlos Santana, Clive Davis, Wayne Shorter and Ron Carter. (Heather Haynes)
Directed by Stacey Tenenbaum
In a house of worship, devotion takes many forms. Aiming to master the world's largest instrument, five young organists compete in the prestigious Canadian International Organ Competition, culminating in a captivating finale at Montreal's historic Notre-Dame Basilica. This high-stakes event, with over $100,000 in prize money, attracts top musicians from around the world. They each attempt to transcend their hallowed surroundings on a magnificent Casavant organ constructed from 7,000 pipes. Hang on to your pew as the film travels from Texas to China, observing the eccentric and exacting competitors who demonstrate incredible dexterity while pushing every limb to bend this immense instrument to their creative will. As the final chords reverberate through cathedral rafters, one champion will emerge. (Alexander Rogalski)
Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men
Directed by Sacha Jenkins
When East Coast rappers RZA, GZA, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Raekwon and Masta Killa united to become Wu-Tang Clan, the history of hip hop changed forever. Their legacy is filled with essential tracks and records that captured the world's attention and inspired a generation of young rappers. In the first two episodes of an upcoming Showtime series, newly uncovered footage and exclusive interviews tell the origin story of the group, shedding light far beyond the music they put out. Struggles with poverty, violence and racism all chipped away at these nine men, and united them to lay the foundation for one of the most influential albums of all time. (Gabor Pertic)
Shella Record: A Reggae Mystery
Directed by Chris Flanagan
For 10 years, artist and record fanatic Chris Flanagan has been a man obsessed, haunted by the woman's voice featured on a 10-cent record he bought in a thrift store. Who is this soulful siren, calling to him from another time and place, credited only with the name Shella Record? Determined to find the elusive artist, Chris sets off on a quest that leads him from a hairdressing studio in Toronto, to a fortune teller in L.A., to the legendary recording studios of Jamaica. Along the way, he discusses the history of Jamaica's music with some of reggae's greatest hitmakers, including Bunny "Striker" Lee and Earl "Chinna" Smith. The film uses Chris's own artistic practice of carefully crafted miniatures to help tell a playful story of obsession, the power of music and final redemption. (Aisha Jamal)
Who Let the Dogs Out
Directed by Brent Hodge
It may have seemed like a simple undertaking when he started, but little did artist and curator Ben Sisto know that to answer the question, "Who let the dogs out?"—one of the catchiest and most recognizable hooks in music—he'd have to travel across the world. From cheerleaders to feminist musicians to music execs, many claim to have asked the question first. Sisto has made a part-time living out of telling the story of his search to live audiences, and he has one big conclusion to share: We may never know who, who, who, who, who let the dogs out. And actually, it's not that important. The lesson Sisto draws from his wild eight-year-long adventure is that all creation relies on a shared pool of ideas. We may never answer the question, but asking it is all the fun. (Aisha Jamal)