Our picks for the seven best bets at Hot Docs 2011

Our picks for the seven best bets at Hot Docs 2011

Documentaries once had a reputation for being sleepy, low-production affairs. That’s all changed in recent times, thanks in no small part to 18-year old Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary film festival. The ten-day Toronto celebration announced its 2011 schedule today, listing 170 non-fiction flicks—some scintillating, some controversial and others thoroughly glitzy. This year’s festival runs from April 28 to May 8, and includes entries from from 35 countries. Here, our cheat sheet on some of the highlights.

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop
Our favourite pompadoured late-night mainstay went rogue last year when he stuck it to NBC in a very public way. This film, directed by Rodman Flender, follows Coco on the hilarious, candid and slightly vengeful stand-up tour he undertook while contractually obligated to stay off TV.

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
The festival opener this year is from Morgan Spurlock, made famous by his anti-McDonald’s film Super Size Me. This time, the documentarian goes meta with a documentary about making a documentary. He dives into the advertising world with the goal of funding his film—the very film being screened—with product placement dollars.

The Advocate for Fagdom
Toronto’s own Bruce LaBruce takes the spotlight in this profile of the queer-punk-porn raconteur. Expect weigh-ins on LaBruce’s subversive talent from the likes of John Waters, Gus Van Sant and Harmony Korine.

Cornwall, Ontario, native Peter Gatien was the king of the New York club scene in the ’70s and ’80s, and The Limelight was his crowning achievement—a hub of sex, glam and, eventually, drugs and murder. Gatien’s rise and catastrophic fall are catalogued in this flick from director Billy Corben (of Cocaine Cowboys fame). (Image: Hot Docs)

Becoming Chaz
Chaz Bono, scion of Sonny and Cher, was born as a girl, Chastity. Growing up in the spotlight, he was forced to deal with his gender confusion while fighting the demands of accidental celebrity. In this doc, Chaz allows filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Rodney Barbato to follow him as he embarks on a physical and emotional transition from female to male.

Love Shines
Forlorn eyes, tousled hair, plaintive melodies—who would have thought that Toronto indie darling Ron Sexsmith craved mainstream success? Well, this film follows the singer-songwriter as he records his new album with the goal of making it a hit. Expect appearances and musical treats from some of Sexsmith’s peers, including Feist, Elvis Costello, Daniel Lanois and Steve Earle.

Project Nim
The latest documentary from James Marsh—who won an Oscar for the transcendent Man on Wire—tells the story of Nim, a chimpanzee from the 1970s who was raised like a human child, with heartbreaking results.