Hot Docs 2019 lines up films about Gordon Lightfoot, Chelsea Manning

Big personalities will grace the big screen at Hot Docs this spring.

Documentaries about Canadian music icon Gordon Lightfoot, U.S. military whistle-blower Chelsea Manning, jazz legend Miles Davis, sex therapist Dr. Ruth and former NBA player Ron Artest will play at the 26th annual film festival in April.

The 26th annual documentary film fest unveiled another round of films screening in its special presentations program in addition to the 15 announced last week that included the Netflix film about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s 2018 congressional campaign.

The 16 titles announced on Tuesday, March 12, include the world premiere of directors Joan Tosoni and Martha Kehoe’s Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind, which charts the life of the Canadian folk musician and promises to reveal “the inspiration behind his lyrics and longevity.”

Music docs are also represented in the lineup by Stanley Nelson’s Miles Davis: Birth Of The Cool, which will feature never-before-seen footage and studio outtakes that capture the “inner life” of the influential trumpet player and Richard Lowenstein’s Mystify: Michael Hutchence, a film about the late INXS singer that features interviews with his celeb girlfriends Kylie Minogue and Helena Christensen.

Hot Docs will also host the North American premiere of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s The Rest, a doc about refugees in Europe that is being billed as a parallel work to his 2017 film on the refugee crisis, Human Flow. Ai is also exhibiting his ceramic works at the Gardiner Museum through June 10, but hadn’t previously announced an appearance in conjunction with that show. Now that he has two good reasons to come to Toronto, we can probably expect he’ll be on Hot Docs’ guest list.

Another anticipated title is Tim Travers Hawkins’s Showtime-backed documentary XY Chelsea, about U.S. military whistle-blower Chelsea Manning. The movie, which follows Manning before and after President Obama commuted her 35-year prison sentence, heads to Hot Docs following its world premiere at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival. The film is especially timely given Manning was jailed last week after she stood up for press freedom by refusing to testify in a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. The film will air on Showtime on June 7 following a theatrical run.

Other personality-led docs include Ryan White’s Sundance hit Ask Dr. Ruth, about 90-year-old sex therapist Ruth Westheimer Johnny Sweet’s Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest Story, about the life of the notorious former NBA player-turned-mental-health-advocate who now goes by the name Metta World Peace Stieg Larsson: The Man Who Played With Fire, Henrik Georgsson’s film about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo author and Laurence Mathieu-Legér’s Willie, which is about the first Black NHL player Willie O’Ree and will be having its world premiere at Hot Docs.

Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce’s Framing John DeLorean is looking like an early contender for most sensational and star-powered doc at this year’s fest. The hybrid documentary/drama stars Alec Baldwin as the General Motors exec-turned-cocaine-smuggler who designed the iconic sports car memorably featured in Back To The Future. It hits theatres and VOD on June 7.

Films continuing their festival runs in Toronto include Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner One Child Nation, an exposé into China’s policy of forcibly restricting family size that is also coming soon to Amazon Prime American Factory, Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s look inside a Chinese-owned car-glass plant in Dayton, Ohio, that landed an Outstanding Achievement prize at Sundance as well as a Netflix deal and, fresh from SXSW, the two-part HBO docu-series I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth Vs. Michelle Carter, Erin Lee Carr’s film about a woman accused of coercing her boyfriend into suicide via texting.

Similarly intense-sounding films coming to Hot Docs include the world premiere of Mark Franchetti and Andrew Meier’s Our Godfather, in which the family of Sicilian mob boss Tommaso Buscetta comes out of hiding to tell how he helped convict 400 mafiosi and became the mob’s most wanted man in the process and Mads Brügger’s Cold Case Hammarskjöld, an investigation into the plane crash that killed UN Secretary General Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld in 1961.

Finally, if you’re into lighter, pop culture-oriented fare, there’s Ian Cheney and Martha Shane’s Picture Character, about the world of emoji regulation.

The 2019 Hot Docs festival runs April 25 to May 5 the full program and schedule will be announced on March 19. Further details are available at


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