Hot Docs 2018 focuses on “silence-breaking” women

The documentary film festival's 25th lineup has also reached gender parity


The 25th edition of Hot Docs will have a big focus on films about women speaking out against injustice.

A portion of the festival’s films are grouped into a program The Silence Breakers, but several films that coincide with the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements are playing across the festival’s 14 programs, which includes 246 films and 16 interdisciplinary projects – 50 per cent of which are directed by women.

The Silence Breakers includes docs like Kelly Showker’s look at the anti-sexual assault activism of York University (and NOW contributor) Mandi Gray, Slut Or Nut: The Diary Of A Rape Trial Cynthia Lowen’s film about cyber harassment, Netizens Yours In Sisterhood, Irene Lusztig’s ode to letters written to storied second-wave feminist magazine Ms. and Afghan Cycles, Sarah Menzies’s portrait of a women’s cycling team in Afghanistan.

Hot Docs will open with a film about women shaking up the food industry. Canadian director Maya Gallus’s The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution is about female chefs that head up kitchens at some of the world’s top restaurants, including Toronto.

A musician who has never been one to hold back on her thoughts is also coming to Toronto for the festival. Sri Lankan-born, UK-raised M.I.A. will be in town to attend the screening of Steven Loveridge’s doc about her life and work, MATANGI/MAYA/M.I.A., as part of the festival’s Big Ideas program.

Big Ideas

Other Big Ideas guest speakers include Oscar-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville, who will be on hand to screen his doc on children’s entertainer Mr. Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? the former president of Pacific Island nation Kiribati Anote Tong, who will discuss rising sea levels with Canadian filmmaker Mattieu Rytz as part of the Anote’s Ark screening and UCLA prof Sarah T. Roberts, who will discuss privacy and technology with Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck, who delved into the secretive world of online content moderation for The Cleaners.

As part of the festival’s 25th anniversary celebrations, Hot Docs will host a free world premiere screening of The Trolley, an IMAX film about the history of public transit vehicles known locally as “streetcars.”

The interactive program will include a virtual reality experience and photo exhibit related to Anote’s Ark, and other climate-change-theme exhibitions including the 360-film Greenland Melting The Guardians Of The Forest, about Indigenous people trying to save the Amazon and Tree, which puts viewers in the perspective of a tree growing in the Amazon rainforest.

Plugging into U.S. politics

One high-profile world premiere is Jack Bryan’s Active Measures, a film about espionage that touches on the 2016 U.S. presidential election and features interviews with Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

Other films plugging into U.S. politics and the global rise of right-wing nationalism include Adam Bhala Lough’s Alt-Right: Age Of Rage, about alt-right leader Richard Spencer Our New President, Maxim Pozdorovkin’s collage film of Russian propaganda about Donald Trump and Havard Bustnes’s Golden Dawn Girls, about the women who take over the Greek ultranationalist political party Golden Dawn after its leaders are jailed.

As previously announced, the festival will include a focus on films from Mexico, a tribute to and retrospective of filmmaker John Walker and a retrospective on American documentarian Barbara Kopple (Harlan County U.S.A. and Miss Sharon Jones!), recipient of this year’s Outstanding Achievement Award. She will also present a “special surprise screening” of an unnamed “rarely seen, mid-career masterpiece.”

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Laura Marie Wayne’s Love, Scott profiles Toronto-based musician Scott Jones.

Canadian coups

Canadian fare at Hot Docs includes the Canada/US co-produced The Game Changers, The Cover director Louis Psihoyos’s James Cameron exec-produced film about how plant-based diets can enhance physical performance.

Alanis Obomsawin will attend a 25th anniversary screening of her 1993 film Kanehsatake: 270 Years Of Resistance John-Simon Chartier’s film about competitive gaming Playing Hard will world premiere at Hot Docs and Mor Loushy and Daniel Sivan’s The Oslo Diaries, which will eventually air on HBO, stitches together rare archival footage to bring new insight into the failed Oslo Accords peace process between Israel and Palestine.

Alison McAlpine’s Cielo is a visual film that focuses on astronomers examining the night sky in Chile’s Atacama Desert Samara Grace Chadwick’s 1999 looks at a wave of teen suicides in New Brunswick Laura Marie Wayne’s Love, Scott profiles gay Halifax (now Toronto-based) musician Scott Jones, who was paralyzed in a homophobic attack that made national headlines in 2013 United We Fan is Michael Sparaga’s doc about super-fans that work to revive cancelled TV shows Bachman, John Barnard’s film about Canadian rocker Randy Bachman, will world premiere at Hot Docs and Christy Garland’s What Walaa Wants, about a woman who joins the Palestinian Security Forces, will have its North American debut in Toronto.

Festival faves, famous names and other hot tickets

Some buzzy films continuing their festival runs at Hot Docs before landing on streaming platforms and TV include Sandi Tan’s cinematic mystery Shirkers, which was picked up by Netflix following its Sundance premiere recent Oscar nominee Elaine McMillion Sheldon’s Recovery Boys, a look at the opioid crisis in America that will also stream on Netflix later this year and Liz Garbus’s Showtime doc series The Fourth Estate, which goes behind the scenes at the New York Times while reporters investigate President Trump.

As usual, Hot Docs will screen several docs about art and pop culture, including Lisa D’Apolito’s film about late comedian Gilda Radner Love, Gilda Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui’s McQueen, a profile of late fashion designer Alexander McQueen Don Argott’s Believer, about Imagine Dragons singer and devout Mormon Dan Reynolds Sam Pollard and Melissa Haizlip’s Mr. Soul!, about an all-Black variety show with a gay host that aired on PBS in the 70s and Queercore: How To Punk A Revolution, German filmmaker Yony Leyser’s look at the Toronto queercore scene of the 80s.

Other potential hot tickets will be Tim Wardle’s Sundance hit Three Identical Strangers Tommy Avallone’s The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned From A Mythical Man Daniel J. Clark’s Behind The Curve, about the growing movement of “flat earthers” the 25th anniversary screening of Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker’s The War Room (both filmmakers will attend) and The American Meme, Bert Marcus’s doc about Paris Hilton, DJ Khaled, The Fat Jew and viral stars.

The 2018 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival runs from April 26 to May 6. Visit the festival’s website for the full list of films and ticket info.

kevinr@nowtoronto.com | @kevinritchie

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