Heading to Hot Docs? Here are some festival picks

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Toronto’s annual Hot Docs documentary kicked off last Thursday (April 24), and for a little more than a week features scores of fascinating films, many of which will never arrive on Buffalo screens.

I had the chance to see a handful of this year’s films; I reviewed one of them, “Ukraine is Not a Brothel,” for The Playlist, and my friend and colleague Chris Gallant will be reporting on another, Doug Block’s “112 Weddings.”

In addition to “Ukraine,” I saw, and quite enjoyed, “Doc of the Dead,” “Divide in Conchord,” and “Love Me.” The first, “Doc of the Dead,” directed by Alexandre O. Philippe, is an entertaining look at the popularity of zombie culture, featuring a mix of commentary and clips. The focus on George Romero’s classic “Night of the Living Dead” is especially nice, and serves as a reminder of just how groundbreaking that film was. (The stories of audience reactions to the film is particularly wild.)

“Divide in Concord” was an absorbing, well-told film about an 84-year-old’s efforts to ban plastic water bottles in her home town of Concord, Massachusetts. That activist, Jean Hill, is surely one of the most interesting subjects of a Hot Docs film this year. Kris Kaczor directed.

And “Love Me” is a surprising, often funny look at the mail-order bride industry. Jonathon Narducci’s film presents both the men who are looking for love and the Ukranian brides-to-be as fully-rounded characters — there is no mockery here. That makes for a strong film.

All three films have already premiered at Hot Docs, with more screenings to follow before the festival finishes up on May 4.

Here are festival descriptions (with synopsis author credit) for all three; each title is linked to its Hot Docs page:

“Doc of the Dead”

Could there be a real zombie outbreak? If so, Doc of the Dead can help you prepare. First, before you learn how to fend off the enemy, you should study them. Masters of zombie culture, including George A. Romero, Simon Pegg and Greg Nicotero, come together to discuss the evolution of the zombie genre, and why zombie films, video games, books, graphic novels and television shows continue to rise in popularity. Cinematic horror often reflects what people fear in real life, and zombies are multifaceted in their terror. From zombie weddings to zombie gun ranges, Doc of the Dead is a complete guide to all things undead. — Shannon Hanmer

“Divide in Concord”

Jean Hill, a fiery octogenarian, is deeply concerned about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—the world’s largest landfill. She spends her golden years attending city council meetings and cold-calling residents. Since 2010, she’s spearheaded a grassroots campaign to ban the sale of single-serve plastic bottles in her hometown of Concord, Massachusetts. So far, her attempts to pass a municipal bylaw have failed. As she prepares for one last election, Jean faces the strongest opposition yet, from local merchants and the International Bottled Water Association. But her fiercest challenge comes from Adriana Cohen, mother, model and celebrity publicist-turned-pundit, who insists the bill is an attack on freedom. When Adriana thrusts Jean’s crusade into the national spotlight, it’s silver-haired senior versus silver-tongued pro. In the same town that incited the American Revolution and inspired Thoreau’s environmental movement, can one little old lady make history? A tense nail-biter of a vote will decide. — Angie Driscoll

“Love Me”

The Ukrainian mail-order bride business is booming! What makes these singles willing to brave heartache, thousands of miles and potential financial fraud for a chance at love? In Australia, Michael has been hurt before—his first wife left him for another man, and his second wife died of leukemia. Over in a small Wisconsin town, there are only two single women for milk farmer Travis to choose from. Enter bombshells Inna, Vitalina and Svitlana, who come straight to the point: they each want a man with a capital “M” to provide security. But as the film moves from first dates to engagement rings, who’s giving and who’s taking changes in a heartbeat. Love Me serves up cringe-worthy scams and stereotypes, but also captures a more elusive angle—the vulnerability of both men and women who’d rather be out of their comfort zones than out of love. — Myrocia Watamaniuk