The 2012 Hot Docs festival, a Quick TRB Primer

Toronto’s annual festival of documentary and non-fiction film is upon us again, kicking off its 19th year in style tonight, April 26th, with festival opener Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, a portrait of Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei. Dissent is indeed in the air during this year’s Hot Docs, so if you’re looking for a round up of some of the year’s most exciting global uprisings (and can’t be in Quebec to hold the streets with the province’s striking students), look no further than this year’s special Rise Against showcase, with films from Greece to Egypt, Wisconsin to the West Bank.

Here are just a few of the films we’ve got on our radar: Herman’s House, about former Black Panther Herman Wallace, imprisoned in solitary confinement for the last forty years, and his artist collaborator Jackie Sumell, who “builds” Wallace’s dream house in an attempt to break both his mind, and body, free; the Australian award winning Scarlet Road, about a sex worker whose clients – and fellow advocates – are people with disabilities; Crayons of Askalan, a creative exploration of the experience of a Palestinian prisoner who must create freedom, through art, within his captivity; and finally United in Anger: A History of ACT UP, a long-awaited revisiting, through some never-before viewed archival footage, of the ground-breaking and radical politics of late-80s AIDS activism under the umbrella of ACT UP and its affinity groups. For some Toronto-focused programming, look no further than She Said Boom: The Story of Fifth Column, a look back at Toronto’s queer art-punk scene of the 80s through the work of the all-female art-punk band Fifth Column. Finally, in case you’ve never been able to catch them on the big screen, Hot Docs is also screening a select showcase of older films on the theme of “documentary plays itself” – my picks of which are the always brilliant Chris Marker’s portrait of acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa in A.K., and Thom Andersen’s thoughtful excavation of a city through its portrayal in the moving image, Los Angeles Plays Itself.

The 2012 Hot Docs festival begins tonight, April 26, and runs until May 6 in select theatres throughout the city. For a complete list of films, pick up a program at the recently renovated Bloor Hot Docs Cinema or check out the festival website.