I had planned on last week's column being my lone 2010 love letter to Hot Docs, but then something pretty phenomenal happened: Hot Docs announced its awards for this year's festival. At first, I was just jazzed because for the first time, my fest favorite grabbed the top prize. (I've grown quite accustomed to none of my favorites making the winners circle, you see.) When I actually read through the names, however, a better revelation emerged: Female filmmakers nabbed the top three prizes -- Best International Feature, Special Jury Prize for International Feature, and Best Canadian Feature. In fact, almost half of the winning filmmakers were women -- a feat impressive not only considering the filmmaking world at large, but also the fact that only about 30% of the films were directed by women. There were four female-led wins, five male-led wins, and one that had both a male and female winner.
Unfortunately, as I write this, the male numbers have upped a bunch with the announcement of the Audience Award and Filmmaker's Award (an audience award picked by attending filmmakers). Nevertheless, this a big achievement I cannot ignore, and in the aftermath of the femme-free Cannes announcements, a nice bit of news for women in cinema.
The top three:
Best International Feature Award -- A Film Unfinished
Israeli filmmaker Yael Hersonski picked up the top prize this year for her film that deconstructed the once-lost Nazi propaganda film, Ghetto. In my review, I wrote: "Hersonski understands how to relay and strengthen her material. She's aware of the power held in the eyes of the Warsaw Ghetto survivors, what atrocities we must see for ourselves, and the stylistic choices that will make the documentary flow smoothly. A Film Unfinished engages us, challenges us, and most importantly, teaches us -- not only about history, but about what we take for granted, and what we assume to be truth."
The Special Jury Prize: International Feature -- The Oath
The follow-up to the Oscar-nominated, Peabody-winning My Country, My Country, Laura Poitras' film digs into Al-Qaeda through two brothers-in-law: one, a former bodyguard to Osama bin Laden, and the other, bin Laden's former driver. Currently ranked 78% fresh out of 9 ratings, the New Yorker review states: "It seems that not everyone committed to fanaticism in youth will remain so for the rest of his life. At some point, and in some men, single-mindedness gives way to normal human weakness, restraint, and decency."
Best Canadian Feature -- In the Name of the Family
Shelley Saywell's film looks into the terrible trend of honor killing, where young women are killed for bringing "dishonor" to their families. (Like M.M. buried alive earlier this year for befriending boys.) Specifically, Family delves into three shocking deaths and their aftermath over the span of a year -- a 16-year-old strangled to death in Toronto (father and brother charged), three sisters shot to death in Dallas, and a 14-year-old girl stabbed by her brother in New York (she survived).
As I mentioned last week, Kim Longinotto was tapped for the 2010 Hot Docs Outstanding Achievement Award as well, but the femme honors stretch even farther. Documentary's Don Haig Award went to the filmmakers of 65_redroses -- Philip Lyall and Nimisha Mukerji. (The subject of the film, a young woman named Eva struggling with cystic fibrosis, passed away less than two months ago.) The Best Short Documentary Award went to Jonas Odell's Tussilago, which focused on the girlfriend of the West German terrorist charged for his plans to kidnap Swedish politician Anna-Great Leijon.
Finally -- at least in the realm of women at Hot Docs* -- The Special Jury Prize went to John Zaritsky for Leave Them Laughing, which gave us a look at the wildly funny and intensely inspiring performer Carla Zilbersmith and her fight with Lou Gherig's disease. Let's put it this way -- she's a sassy lady who uses the motto, "When life f**ks you up the ass, employ the lube of laughter" as her body slowly deteriorates from the disease.
All in all, it means that out of the non-audience awards at Hot Docs, 60% were won by men, 50% were won by women, and half of the male winners had films focusing on female subjects. In other words, 70% of the award-winning films featured women prominently as filmmaker or subject. Including the audience awards (filmmaker and public), 67% of the winners were directed by men, 42% by women, and 58% featured women prominently.
Rather than theorize about the numbers, gripe about the areas of cinema that don't even have half this balance, or bite my thumb at other fests teething on testosterone now, I'll just give my congratulations to all of the very deserving winners and hope that I can share numbers like this again. Soon.
*While not women-centric achievements, they're achievements nonetheless. Congratulations also go to:
Tomer Heymann -- I Shot My Love -- Best Mid-Length Documentary
Jeff Malmberg -- Marwencol -- HBO Documentary Films Emerging Artist Award
Ayanie Mohamed -- The Lindalee Tracey Award
Mark Landsman -- Thunder Soul -- Audience Award
Jan Tenhaven -- Autumn Gold -- Filmmakers Award