Ten must-see Hot Docs films focusing on women’s stories

From the opening night film, The Heat, to features about activists Mandi Gray, Nadia Murad and Madonna Thunder Hawk, this year's slate is full of strong female portraits


No question that there’s something going on out there, what with #MeToo, #TimesUp and other forms of activism transforming the political landscape. Hot Docs is right on top of it, emphasizing women’s stories and directors at this year’s fest. Here are some relevant pics to watch out for.

93QUEEN

There are many films at Hot Docs in which women step out of their usual roles, but this one is especially effective. When a group of women in a Hasidic community in Brooklyn decides to start an all-woman emergency unit, they encounter resistance from within and without. Sometimes problematic ringleader Rachel Freier is riveting and so is her cause.  

Apr 29, 3 pm, Scotiabank 3 May 1, 8:45 pm TIFF 2 May 6, 8:45 pm, Hart House

Afghan Cycles

The bicycle continues to play a revolutionary role in this study of a female cycling group in Bamiyan, where it’s illegal for women to ride bikes. Defy the law and you can be imprisoned, even killed. That isn’t stopping them from seeking their independence through cycling, even imagining that they will compete nationally. Sarah Menzies contrasts their painful daily existence with the exhilaration of independently pedalling through the hills.

Apr 29, 8:15 pm, TIFF 2 May 1, 4 pm, TIFF 3 May 6, 3:30 pm Aga Khan Museum

Blowin’ Up

Watch sex workers be treated with uncommon respect in a justice system initiative that allows them to avoid prosecution and criminal records by participating in a counselling program. Stephanie Wang-Breal follows the judge, social workers and clients interacting in unique relationships.

May 1, 6:45 pm, Hart House May 3, 12:30 pm, TIFF 1 May 5, 9 pm, Revue

The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution

Women chefs try to sustain their craft – and their authority – while changing the hierarchical culture in their kitchens. Maya Gallus tracks chefs with diverse interests and approaches, creating a fascinating journey through food land and revealing the joys and the challenges of their passionate pursuits.

Apr 26, 9:30 pm, Hot Docs Cinema (Big Ideas screening) Apr 28, 1:15 TIFF 1 May 6, 3:30 pm, Isabel Bader

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Mercury 13

Mercury 13

U.S. astronauts are idolized like no other heroes. Many of those explorers could have been women long before Sally Ride soared into space in the 80s. Three decades earlier, scores of female pilots were tested and proved as able if not moreso than their male counterparts. Mercury 13 probes why these gifted aviators have been consigned to obscurity.

Apr 27 6:30 pm Hot Docs Cinema Apr 28 10:45 am, TIFF 1 May 5 6:30 pm, Isabel Bader May 6 5:45 pm, TIFF 1

On Her Shoulders

This portrait of Nadia Murad probes her pursuit of justice for her Yazidi people, victims of genocide in Iraq. The outspoken advocate has to deal with her own trauma – including repeated sexual assaults – under the relentless scrutiny of the media and her enemies. Speaking out has never been so challenging

May 1, 6:15 pm, Isabel Bader May 2, 10 am, TIFF 3 May 5, 4 pm, TIFF 2

Slut Or Nut: Diary Of A Rape Trial

As #MeToo deniers grumble about all those abusers who never got a fair trial, here comes the perfect pic to illustrate how the system fails rape victims. After she was assaulted on the York U campus, Mandi Gray attempts to attain justice only to confront institutions determined to thwart her. Be prepared to be outraged by the power of rape culture and the system that supports it.

May 2, 9 pm, Isabel Bader May 3, 8:45 pm, Socitabank 7 May 4, 6:45 pm, TIFF 3

What Walaa Wants

Now that her mother has been released from an Israeli prison, young Palestinian Walaa wants to fulfill her dream of joining the Palestinian Security Force. But her lack of discipline and tendency to break rules means she’s not exactly an ideal candidate, even apart from being female. Director Christy Garland’s unprecedented access to the security force makes this a must-see.

May 1, 6 pm, TIFF 2 May 3, 6:15 pm TIFF 2 May 4, 3 pm, Hart House

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Yours In Sisterhood

Yours In Sisterhood

When Ms Magazine hit the newsstands in the early 70s, it became a powerful for force for mainstreaming then feminist ideas considered ultra-radical at the time. Director Irene Lyszig compiles letters to the Ms. editors written decades ago and taps women from the same communities as the writers to read them aloud and comment on their relevance in the age of Trump.  

Apr 28, 6:45 pm, TIFF 2 Apr 29, 3:45 pm, Scotiabank 4 May 5, 5:45 pm, Fox

Warrior Women

Sometimes one activist can embody the entire decades-long history of a movement. Madonna Thunder Hawk, whose involvement in the American Indian Movement inspired her to found Women of All Red Nations, has been a key figurehead on the protest against the Dakota Pipeline at Standing Rock. A testament to resilence, passion and commitment.

Apr 28, 4:15 pm, Isabel Bader Apr 29, 9 pm, Scotiabank 7 May 5, 3:15 pm, Fox

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