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Hot Docs 2019

What to watch during Toronto’s 10-day festival.

The annual Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival offers many a way to rewind the news cycle and understand our evolving world better. This year’s iteration offers 252 films from 56 countries, encompassing a wide variety of subjects from populism to drag culture, refugees to pop music.

“We are truly in a golden age of documentary,” says Shane Smith, Hot Docs’ director of programming. “The quality and range of stories are making for memorable ways to learn about our world and ourselves.” Smith and his team watched over 2,000 documentaries in preparation for choosing films for this year’s festival, which also offers multiple screenings of documentaries, post-screening Q&A sessions with directors, and appearances from artist-activist Ai Weiwei, singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, NHL Hall of Famer Willie O’Ree, and actor John Cleese.

Hot Docs 2019 will open this year’s festival with nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up, a world premiere screening from Cree filmmaker Tasha Hubbard. Known for her work with the National Film Board on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, the film examines the details of young Colten Boushie’s death by a Saskatchewan farmer and the family’s pursuit of justice from provincial courts to the United Nations.

Buzzworthy films of the festival include Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind, with directors Joan Tosoni and Martha Kehoe revealing stories of Lightfoot’s memorable career; Toxic Beauty from director Phyllis Ellis detailing the public health risks of many common beauty products; After Parkland by directors Jake Lefferman and Emily Taguchi, showing students and families in the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, and their anger and determination to not let anyone forget; Gaza from directors Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell, detailing the stark view of life for two million Palestinians living in the blockaded Gaza Strip; and Assholes: A Theory, based on the book by Aaron James and examining this unwanted behaviour in contemporary society.

Italy is in the spotlight with seven films by Italian directors including The Disappearance of My Mother (Beniamino Barrese) on the life of supermodel/academic Benedetta Barzini, Una Primavera (Valentina Primavera) showing the emancipation of an abused woman after 40 years of marriage and Butterfly (Alessandro Cassigoli and Casey Kauffman) profiling an 18 year old who becomes Italy’s first female Olympic boxer from Naples.

Vancouver-based director Julia Ivanova is also a festival focus, with three of her previous films screening alongside the world premiere of My Dads, My Moms and Me, a sequel to Fatherhood Dreams. In 2007, Ivanova detailed the lives of four gay men and their desire to become fathers. Twelve years later, she returns in her latest documentary to see how the queer parents are surviving today’s society.

Hot Docs 2019 Standouts:

Ask Dr. Ruth
An in-depth profile by director Ryan White of the 90-year-old therapist who has been asked about sex and sexuality for 40 years, but rarely asked about her personal life.

Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World
Director Hans Pool documents a group of citizen journalists who go beyond the rhetoric of government and the social media spin, investigating the truths behind the white nationalists in Charlottesville, the crash of MH17 in Ukraine, and video recordings of bombings in Syria.

Drag Kids
Insight into the world of drag through the eyes of four pre-teens who embrace the artform, director Megan Wennberg shows how these young performers are fostering acceptance and charting a decidedly different path to becoming artists.

Framing John DeLorean
Through recreations (starring Alec Baldwin) and interviews with the automaker’s former inner circle, directors Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce reveal the many layered views of John DeLorean, from entrepreneur to criminal.

The Rest
Directed by artist/activist Ai Weiwei, this is a follow-up to his 2017 documentary Human Flow, focusing on stories of refugees in detention camps in Turkey, Greece and France, and those relocated to Germany. Weiwei shows us their anger and despair and their dreams to return home to Syria.

Who Let the Dogs Out
A pop hit in 2000 fuelled the curiosity of Ben Sisto, who worked with director Brent Hodge to reveal the back stories of the many people who claim ownership of the song and its convoluted place in music history.­

Director Laurence Mathieu-Leger reveals the determination of Fredericton, New Brunswick’s Willie O’Ree, as he became the first black player in the National Hockey League despite the unrelenting racism and his friends support to get him inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.

Hot Docs is on in Toronto at various locations April 25 until May 5.


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