Canadian changemakers were highlighted in the world premiere of short doc series Citizen Minutes at Toronto’s Hot Docs Festival.
The documentary which consists of a collection of short stories made its debut at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Thursday evening.
Citizen Minutes is commissioned by Hot Docs and is a project in its second season. Its first season released in 2021 and the films have gone on to screen independently at over 25 Canadian and international film festivals, as well as streaming services, such as Crave and Hot Docs at Home.
The film features seven inspiring stories from a diverse array of Canadian directors. In each story, ordinary Canadians are seen doing extraordinary acts to make their communities a better place. The individuals make bold decisions and invoke power as they strive to make their voices heard.
Among the seven stories are three Toronto-based shorts that were filmed in and around the city and the GTA. Now Toronto spoke with the directors of these films to understand more about the inspiration and the making of their pictures.
MIND CHECK 1-2, 1-2
Mind Check 1-2, 1-2 is about viral TikTok star and rapper named Akintoye who uses his platform to bring awareness to social issues, such as mental health, racism and injustice, while inspiring the younger generation to do the same.
Director Ian Keteku says he has always been a fan of Akintoye and has worked with him through various contexts, including spoken word poetry. Overtime, he’s witnessed the rapper’s meteoric rise to stardom.
Keteku hopes viewers find enjoyment in his film and is able to connect with the characters and use the story as a catalyst for their own lives.
“Know that your story matters. Your story is the value. And people need to hear your voice in order for their voices to change the world,” the director said.
Directed by Farhiya Ahmed, Sisterhood Softball follows the first all-female Muslim softball league in North America. The film aims to empower women and each other through sport in a community where women traditionally don’t participate.
Ahmed says she got the idea to create this film because a friend of hers played for one of the teams in the Mississauga-based league and upon discovery, she immediately knew this was a story that needed to be told.
“Seeing these women and seeing them have no limits, like they can do whatever they want. If they want to play sports in a hijab, they could do that. They’re not putting limits into what the image of a Muslim woman is,” Ahmed said.
Ahmed explains the Muslim women featured in her film are not confining themselves within traditional boxes, such as being a wife or cook. They push past societal expectations and norms and choose who they want to be, which in this case is a superstar softball player.
This is a lesson she learned and also wants the audience to take away from her film.
DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR?
Do You Hear What I Hear? is a film centered around a pair of activists who are fighting to improve and minimize the noise pollution in Toronto. The activists shed light on the negative health outcomes of excessive noise and ultimately, take their fight to City Hall where a noise bylaw review is expected to be discussed this fall.
Director Cat Mills says she wants viewers to be informed about the growing issue and hopes the film motivates them to take action and write to their city councillors.
“If you find something happening in your neighborhood that you don’t like, you are allowed to challenge it and try to fight it and try to work for a better city for what you want it to be,” Mills said.
The other four short films included in Citizen Minutes are the following:
Ancestral Threads tells the story of Joleen Mitton who is dedicated to using fashion as a medicine for Vancouver’s Indigenous community. She is a former fashion model turned community leader and is the founder of Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week.
JANELLE NILES: INCONVENIENT
Janelle Niles: Inconvenient focuses on a Black, Mi’kmaw, Two-Spirited woman named Janelle Niles from Sipekne’katik First Nation in Nova Scotia who is a stand-up comedian that tells jokes about her Indigenous culture. Her shows humorously describe her biracial experiences and queer identity.
LOUD & HERE
Loud & Here is a moving tale about a group of 23 teen girls in Quebec who have made it their life’s mission to make meaningful change to policies surrounding sexual violence in schools. This comes after the girls noticed too many cases of sexual violence going unreported or unpunished within their own schools.
RISING FROM THE ASHES
Rising from the Ashes is about the Dépanneur Sylvestre, a community centre that poses as a convenience store in Gatineau, Quebec. Despite its deceiving title, the centre is not a store but a space that helps and addresses the increasing number of people experiencing social isolation. After 20 years, the building is destroyed by a fire and organizers of the notable group are forced to find a new area and use new models of sustainability in order to reopen and stay relevant for their community.
Viewers in Canada can watch Citizen Minutes online for free from May 5 to 9.