The Hot Docs Film Festival is always one we look forward to. The roster of documentaries each year never disappoint. The films offers deep and meaningful conversations and often piques our curiosity. A total of 219 films from 66 countries are in this year’s festival that runs from April 29 to May 9 (streaming online). Many screenings also include live Q&A sessions with filmmakers. Here is our selection of films and descriptions that are already on our radar at this year’s festival.
Directed by: Ann Shin, Canada (2021) World Premiere (Opening Night Film)
Can AI enable us to live forever? Filmmaker Ann Shin sets out on a journey, exploring the latest AI and biotech with scientists and visionaries (including Deepak Chopra) who foresee a ‘post-biological’ world where humans and AI merge. Will AI be the best, or the last thing we ever do?
IN THE SAME BREATH
Directed by: Nanfu Wang, USA/China (2021) Canadian Premiere
Winner of Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize, Nanfu Wang’s searing investigation into COVID-19’s origins and spread issues a devastating indictment of a global state of misinformation. The filmmaker initially set to make out a short film about the Chinese government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic after her son was left with her mother while Wang went to work on another project. As COVID spread Wang became worried and started looking for information. She began contacting cinematographers in Wuhan and realized the stories of the pandemic made it important to be a feature film instead, and began incorporating the American response to the pandemic after seeing the government spread misinformation.
STREET GANG: HOW WE GOT TO SESAME STREET
Directed by: Marilyn Agrelo, USA (2021) International Premiere
The film takes us inside the minds and hearts of the Sesame Street creators, artists, writers, and educators who, together established one of the most influential programs in television history.
In late 1960s, Joan Ganz Cooney, a socially conscious female television executive was working in the fledgling world of public television. She was asked by friend Lloyd Morrisett, who worked for the Carnegie Corporation of New York and who specialized in the psychological studies of pre-school children, to take on revolutionary experiment. Could Joan create a children’s show that would “master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them?”
Inspired by the civil rights movement, Joan and Lloyd took this experiment one step further and began to envision using the new medium of television to educate all children, and specifically reach America’s “inner city” children to help close the educational gap that systemic racism and poverty had created.
ALL LIGHT, EVERYWHERE
Directed by: Theo Anthony, USA (2021) Canadian Premiere
Exploring the connections between technology, vision and power, this Sundance prize winner offers an illuminating investigation of ever-increasing surveillance technologies, exposing the complexities of objectivity and the biases inherent in both human perception and the camera lens.
COME BACK ANYTIME
Directed by: John Daschbach, Japan (2021) World Premiere
Experience a year in the life of a self-taught Japanese ramen master, 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.
WE WORK: THE MAKING AND BREAKING OF A $47 BILLION UNICORN
Directed by: Jed Rothstein, USA (2020) International Premiere
The film chronicles the rise and fall of start-up WeWork, a real estate company who’s eccentric CEO used entrepreneurial culture, Kabbalah, and free beer to trick millions of people and billionaires into believing shared office space could literally change the world.
Directed by Benji Bermann, Jono Bergmann, Austria, USA (2021) International Premiere
Mau is the first-ever, feature-length documentary about the design visionary Bruce Mau. The film explores the untold story of his unlikely rise in the creative world, and ever-optimistic push to expand the boundaries of design. We tell the story of his incredible career – from Mecca to MOMA, from Guatemala to Coca Cola – and his most important project yet: his own life.
THE 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.
ROCKFIELD: THE STUDIO ON THE FARM
Directed by: Hannah Berryman, UK (2020) North American Premiere
Featuring candid interviews with rock legends Robert Plant, Ozzy Osbourne and Liam Gallagher, this is the unlikely tale of how two Welsh brothers turned their dairy farm into one of the most successful recording studios of all time.
Directed by: Yung Chang, USA (2021) World Premiere
With unprecedented access to Wuhan, China, at the peak of the pandemic lockdown, award-winning director Yung Chang looks beyond statistics and headlines to reveal the emotions and resilience at the core of our shared humanity.
KÍMMAPIIYIPITSSINI: THE MEANING OF EMPATHY
Directed by: Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Canada (2021) World Premiere
Follow award-winning filmmaker and actor Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers as she creates an intimate portrait of her community and the impacts of the substance use and overdose epidemic. Witness the change brought by community members with substance-use disorder, first responders and medical professionals as they strive for harm reduction in the Kainai First Nation.
THE RETURN: LIFE AFTER ISIS
Directed by: Alba Sotorra Clua, Spain, UK (2021) Canadian Premiere
This provocative doc reveals the deeper stories that drove several women to uproot their lives in the West and join ISIS in Syria. Now, infamous and reviled in the media, they yearn for absolution and the homelands that bar their return.
SUBJECTS OF DESIRE
Directed by Jennifer Holness, Canada (2021) Canadian Premiere
This film that examines the cultural shift in North American beauty standards towards embracing Black female aesthetics and features. From society’s new fixation on the ‘booty’, fuller lips, the dramatic rise of spray tanned skin, ethnic hairstyles, and athletic bodies, some argue that Black women are having a beauty moment. But others, primarily Black women, argue that traditional Black features and attributes are seen as more desirable when they are on White women. Told from the POV of women who aren’t afraid to challenge conventional beauty standards, the film explores the positive and negative portrayals of Black women in media and asks what is the impact today?
NOURRIR LES RÊVES
Directed by: Kimberley Ann Surin & Aïcha Morin-Baldé, Canada (2021) World Premiere (Short)
In 2007, Lasallien Center opened their doors in St-Michel—one of the most disadvantaged boroughs on the island of Montreal. Nourrir les Rêves introduces audiences to Paul Evra, the young altruistic director who grew up there and is leading the center and their mission to help feed the numerous families in the area who are food insecure.
Directed by: Caitlyn Durlak, Canada (2021), World Premiere
Set on Fogo Island off coast of Newfoundland, Dropstones is an intimate family portrait that follows single mother, Sonya, shortly after she has returned to the home she once yearned to escape. As she raises her two young sons, she finds herself drawing on her island’s traditions to meet the challenges of motherhood. Set against he changing seasons over the course of a year, the film immerses us in the unique rhythms of life on Fogo Island, illuminating both the hardship and fulfillment that comes with calling this singular place home.
Directed by: Javier Lovier, Canada (2021) World Premiere (Short)
Three fearless community organizers with a history of standing up against big tech corporations, embark on an uphill political fight to regulate Uber and Lyft in Toronto so that these companies operate in the public interest, respecting communities, drivers and passengers.
Directed by: Rachel Garrick, Canada (2021), World Premiere (short)
A lesson in compassion and generosity results in a lifelong gift. Set in a small Northwestern Ontario town, a father takes an opportunity to pass on important teachings to his daughter.
Full lineup of films, tickets and more can be found at www.hotdocs.ca.