Many of the world’s film festivals have shifted to online for viewing. Although I miss the excitement of sitting in an audience for a film premiere and getting first hand reactions (okay, and I miss the theatre popcorn), online has given me more opportunities to view films right in the comforts of my loungewear. The Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival is my hands-down favourite festival for thought provoking and inspiring films. The 28th edition of the Hot Docs Film Festival takes place from April 29 to May 9. It will feature 219 films from 66 countries all available online VOD through the Hot Docs at Home platform.
I’ve always been drawn to documentaries and the stories of people, places and things. Some are uncomfortable, some are jarring, some are entertaining, and many are curiosities – they range from the simplest pleasures to the most advance look at where technology is leading us. Here are a few titles that are on of my first round picks from this year’s line up…
A.rtificial I.mmortality: directed by Ann Shin, Canada (2021), World Premiere
If you could live forever, would you? Technology is pushing the possibilities of digital cloning and this documentary shows an equally fascinating, shocking and heartfelt look at the future of immortality. Inspired by the transhumanist movement and by the filmmaker’s own reality of her father’s progression with dementia, this film dives deep into the possibilities. Included are interviews with mindfulness guru Deepak Chopra, scientists, and researchers.
Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street: directed by Marilyn Agrelo, USA (2021), World Premiere
Original cast members and show producers, musicians, writers and researchers offer an enduring look at the legacy and behind the scenes view of the most influential children’s show in history. Using footage captured from right from the beginning this documentary will fill your heart.
Subjects of Desire: directed by Jennifer Holness, Canada (2021), Canadian Premiere
Singer-songwriter and international recording artist Jully Black and Cheryl Thompson, author and assistant professor, School of Creative Industries, Ryerson University, join the director in a timely, thought-provoking discussion about the cultural shift in beauty standards towards Black aesthetics and features, and how this impacts our understanding of race, power and construction of beauty.
Hysterical: directed by Andrea Nevins, USA (2021), International Premiere
Hysterical is a backstage pass into the lives of the hilarious, boundary-breaking women shattering stand-up comedy’s glass ceiling. Featuring Margaret Cho, Fortune Feimster, Marina Franklin, Nikki Glaser, Jessica Kirson, Iliza Shlesinger, Sherri Shepherd and more. Premiering on FX Canada this summer.
Raise The Bar: directed by Gudjon Ragnarsson, Iceland (2021), International Premiere
How controversial can one basketball team of eight-year-olds be? With an unorthodox coach and training method, a tight-knit group of empowered Icelandic girls demand to play against boys and call time out on patriarchy.
Come Back Anytime: directed by John Daschbach, Japan (2021), World Premiere
Experience a year in the life of self-taught Japanese ramen master, Masamoto Ueda, who considers his legendary noodle shop more than just a livelihood but his life, and his die-hard customers more than just regulars, but true friends.
Set!: directed by Scott Gawlik, USA (2021), World Premiere
Competitive table setting? Yep, it’s a thing. Seven cut-throat competitors feverishly prepare their entries for a prestigious county fair, serving up artistry, hilarity and serious frenemy vibes on a silver platter.
All-in: directed by Volkan Üce, Belgium Netherland France (2021), North American Premiere
Fresh from the village, two new hires at an all-inclusive resort on the Turkish Riviera are confronted with the absurd excesses of tourism. Their eagerness to engage quickly turns to indifference—and eventually self-interest—after one too many guest complaints and foam parties.
A Taste of Desire: directed by Willemiek Kluijfhout, Netherlands (2021), World Premiere
In this poetic trip around the world, the oyster acts as metaphor for life’s passions and frustrations, linking stories of a New York burlesque dancer, French Michelin-starred chefs, a Swedish oyster diver, a Japanese pearl maker and a terminally ill English psychologist.Dear Future Children: directed by Franz Bohm, Germany UK Austria (2021), North American Premiere
Fighting for social justice in Chile, democracy in Hong Kong and the environment in Uganda, three young women cope with the staggering personal impact of frontline activism, weighing their own fear of failure and the price of resistance in pursuit of change.
Her Socialist Smile: directed by John Gianvito, USA (2021), Canadian Premiere
This experimental essay resurrects the political imagination of the iconic deaf-blind author Helen Keller, a passionate socialist and disability rights advocate whose radical views, while largely suppressed or sanitized over the years, remain remarkably pertinent today.
Fanny: The Right to Rock: directed by Bobbi Jo Hart, Canada (2021), World Premiere
Ferocious female rockers Fanny shattered glass ceilings in the ’70s, collecting fans like David Bowie before being buried in retro record bins. Fifty years later, they reunite with a new record deal and a chance to rewrite history.
Love It Was Not: directed by Maya Sarfaty, Israel Austria (2020), Ontario Premiere
Fascinating witness accounts and meticulous research investigate the unfathomable relationship between a beautiful Jewish prisoner and an SS officer at Auschwitz. Thirty years later, the truth comes for them both at his 1972 war crimes trial.
My Mohamed is Different: directed by Ines Marzouk, Egypt Tunisia Italy (2020), World Premiere
Recently retired European women flock to Luxor, Egypt, in search of sun, sand and love from local men interested in money and security, in a modern love story that blurs the boundaries between romantic and business affairs.
Between Us: directed by Dorota Proba, Poland Canada (2020), North American Premiere
An affair, a secret, a relationship on the verge of melting down—a simple box of cards posing questions on love sends three Polish couples on a deeply personal journey that unravels both tender and difficult truths.
A River Runs, Turns, Erases Replays: directed by Shengze Zhu, USA (2021), North American Premiere
In this gorgeous cinematic letter from the director to her hometown of Wuhan, ordinary human activities unfold against an evolving urban landscape, sculpted by nature and rising infrastructure, composing a series of surprising and poetic set pieces.
Dropstones: directed by Caitlin Durlak, Canada (2021), World Premiere
After leaving an abusive husband, Sonya returns to Newfoundland’s stunning but remote Fogo Island with her two sons, determined to raise them to be good men in the only place she knows how, despite having fled from it years before.
It’s Not Over Yet: directed by Louise Detlefsen, Denmark (2021), World Premiere
Inspired by Florence Nightingale’s methods from 150 years ago, a small Danish retirement home deploys a controversial new treatment for dementia patients. With hugs, conversation, eye contact and cake, they shift the focus from pharmaceuticals to care.
Through the Night: directed by Loira Limbal, USA (2020), Ontario Premiere
Working multiple jobs, desperate to make ends meet for their families, two New York mothers drop off their children at a 24-hour daycare centre run by a woman that binds the neighbourhood together.Cezanne: directed by Sophie Bruneau, Belgium (2021), World Premiere
In picturesque Provence, tourists and art lovers flock to the atelier of Post-Impressionist master Paul Cézanne. There, in a meditative space frozen in time, his methods and artistic legacy are not only seen, but felt.Bangla Surf Girls: directed by Elizabeth D. Costa, Canada Bengali (2021), World Premiere
Three rebellious working-class teenage girls in Bangladesh escape daily hardships and stifling family lives by riding waves on their surfboards, chasing a fleeting and thrilling sense of freedom.
In the Same Breath: directed by Nanfu Want, USA China (2021), Canadian Premiere
Nanfu Wang’s (director of One Child Nation, winner of Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize) searing investigation into COVID-19’s origins and spread exposes not only a global crisis of misinformation, but the leadership that misled the world about a still-unfolding emergency.
Lady Buds: directed by Chris J. Russo, USA (2021), World Premiere
From a Latinx LGBTQ activist to a Black Catholic school principal, six small businesswomen hit California’s newly legal cannabis trade. But as aggressive regulations bogart the market, can they each keep their green American dream alight?
For more information about the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, full line up of films, and tickets, visit hotdocs.ca
NOTE: all films are geo-blocked to Canada. From the moment you start streaming, you have 48 hours to watch your film.