Friday, 16 October 2020 19:00
Estonian Life No. 41 2020 - Vincent Teetsov
You may know Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema from film screenings as part of EstDocs, or you may be a local from The Annex who has attended the Cinema for films more regularly. Either way, if you've been around Toronto's streets, you've likely gone under the large vertical sign and glistening marquee lights of what was once the Bloor Cinema. It's had a lot of different names and identities over the years, but throughout this time, it's been a cultural mainstay of our local community. It's one of the founding members of Bloor Street Culture Corridor, which VEMU (The Museum of Estonians Abroad) is also a member of. As Alan Black, the Managing Director of Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, tells me, it's a place where we can all take part in the transformative power of documentaries.
Hot Docs has worked together with Bloor Street Culture Corridor founder Heather Kelly and the Royal Conservatory of Music since the Cinema opened 8 years ago as Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. It's a partnership that's founded on fostering a “group and communal spirit.”
There is also an open-minded spirit when it comes to aligning programming. Recently, Hot Docs showed an excerpt of a documentary about Billie Holiday, followed by a performance of Holiday's music from the stage of Koerner Hall. In 2019, Hot Docs worked together with the Royal College of Music for the Music On Film series, including a screening of That Pärt Feeling: The Universe of Arvo Pärt
“It's different in the online context,” Black says,“but as a cinema, we were always trying to create an experience that was more than just going to see a movie and then going home.” This approach has paved the way for Hot Docs at Home, the Cinema's new online platform for watching films.
Hot Docs at Home has expanded their audience beyond cinephiles, to those who want to learn new things and explore different points-of-view. And when the Cinema temporarily closed their doors in March, they transcended geography, too, moving quickly to built a platform where their 10,000 members could continue to watch films. Ultimately, the Cinema's mission is to show people great documentaries, wherever they may be, and regardless of whether the building can be filled or not. Over the next few weeks, Hot Docs at Home will be offering a monthly subscription option, with more and more content being added. Recently, the platform has added a collection of the staff's favourite films from the past ten years.
It seems that documentaries can act as a form of “travel.” Black, who has himself directed documentaries, including Beautiful and Deranged: The Song of the Yukon
(2006), about singer-songwriters in the Yukon, sees that potential. “As a Cinema, we totally embrace the idea of virtual tourism. Particularly now.”
Broader cultural representation is a top-of-mind issue at Hot Docs, and this includes the stories of Estonians. When asked about memorable connections he has to Estonia, Black speaks of his colleague Laura Lillepruun, who has been “a great champion of Estonian culture throughout her tenure at Hot Docs.”
He also speaks of EstDocs, as it excites him to host a festival with a very specific audience and intent. “It's always amazing to watch people come together at the Cinema, who may not have ever been at our Cinema before. Or they may not have been there since it was the Bloor 10 years ago, and coming in and watching films that inspire and impact them...It's also been nice to have our members, who are very curious, be able to explore the rich history of Estonian cinematic culture.”
Looking to the future, he is convinced that when the time is right, the Cinema will “be exactly what people need”, in the sense that it will counteract the recent isolation experienced by communities across Toronto. “I'm looking forward to a moment where we'll have 700 people together again to watch a film.”
If you're looking to venture through film right now, Hot Docs will be virtually showing I Am Greta
, a documentary about the life and work of climate activist Greta Thunberg. It tracks Thunberg's life from her first moments of activism to the present day.
Outside of films, Hot Docs is also presenting a series of lectures about American politics and the US election (http://hotdocs.ca/p/america-votes
), hosted by journalist Alison Smith, formerly of CBC. For the next lecture, on the evening of October 27th, Smith will be talking with Astead W. Herndon from The New York Times, about the Democratic Party and racial justice. On November 10th, she will speak with political columnist Susan Glasser and scholar Lawrence Lessig, to deconstruct what happened in the election and what's going to happen next.
Fellow cultural organizations on Bloor Street have much to offer, so be sure to take a look at their new and exciting virtual programming.
Written by Vincent Teetsov