A city’s summer swelter is the collective thick in which Canadian documentarian Brett Story (“The Prison in Twelve Landscapes”) hangs her conceptual documentary “The Hottest August,” pulling dreams and fears about what lies ahead from random citizens as she and her camera roam New York’s five boroughs during the titular month.
It being The Year of Our Trump 2017 when Story made her rounds, the responses to her “What are your hopes for the future?” run the gamut from common wishes born of privilege (lots of money, a great job, for things not to change so much) to jittery concerns that speak to the life experience and economic realities of other, usually nonwhite interviewees — as in, getting by without further hardship or heartache. (Climate, race and bodily peril are simmering themes.)
That a lot of what Story picks up at the beach, on the streets and in people’s homes falls along expected lines — the older seem more bitter, the younger more worried, for example — doesn’t necessarily diminish the vibe of the project. But after a while one senses a randomness in search of something unifying about where we are as a society or as individuals.
The bid for a wandering poetry in the pulse of a people is understandable, and at times effectively suggested by her elegant imagemaking, and interludes with voice-over excerpts (from the likes of Zadie Smith and Karl Marx). But sometimes an experiment feels like just an experiment, and that’s where the well-intentioned query “The Hottest August” ultimately lands.
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Playing: Starts Nov. 15, Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino