HOT DOCS 2023
The 2023 Hot Docs Film Festival begins April the 27th. Check the website at:
for the full schedule of films.
Special guests include Canada’s first female Jewish Supreme Court Judge Rosalie Abella; Indigo Girls’ Emily Saliers; Canadian YouTube pioneer, comedian, author, and television host Lilly Singh; bestselling author Gretchen Rubin; pioneering Black model and activist Bethann Hardison; trailblazing chef, food writer and editor Ruth Reichl; legendary journalist and podcaster Kara Swisher; prominent Greenlandic Inuk lawyer Aaju Peter; members of Canadian alt-rock band July Talk; and more. The Festival will also host over 186 of the world’s top documentary filmmakers to introduce their films and participate in post-screening audience Q&As.
The guests will be present at one or more screenings.
Keep checking thos article for more capsule reviews of Hot Docs.
ANGEL APPLICANT (USA 2023) ***½
Directed by Ken August Meyer
In the documentary ANGEL APPLICANT, filmmaker and protagonist Ken Meyer turns the camera on himself, offering viewers a sensitive and beautiful glimpse into the experience of living with a rare autoimmune disease called systemic scleroderma. The film opens with Meyer sharing his diagnosis, which he shares with celebrated Swiss-German artist and Bauhaus teacher Paul Klee. Throughout the film, Meyer draws connections between his own corporeal experiences and Klee's expressive artwork, using his skills as a commercial art director to create stunning images that deepen our understanding of both the art and the illness. The result is an earnest and vulnerable memoir, disease diary, research project, and artist portrait all in one. Despite its focus on illness and suffering, the documentary is full of unexpected magic and uplift, making it a rare feel-good film. Meyer finds comfort in Klee's art, which he sees as a strange language of cryptic code meant just for him, sent by an empathetic messenger showing him a defiant way forward through the pain. Klee's paintings are worth the price of admission alone, and demonstrate that not everything needs to be explained to be understood. Overall, ANGEL APPLICANT is a moving and inspiring testament to the power of art and the human spirit in the face of adversity.
Sunday May 2nd at 5:15 PM - At TIFF Bell Lightbox
Wednesday, May 5 at 2:30 PM – At Scotia Bank
FOOD AND COUNTRY (USA 2023) ***
Directed by Laura Gabbert
The film takes a look across the United States at the agricultural and food industry down to individual restaurants and shops (example: Porridge and Puffs) at their troubles to the independent ranchers and growers, especially during the Pandemic, It is revealed that many are fighters and will to let their business go down. Everyone suffers from ranchers to restaurant owners. Filmmaker Laura Gabbert (City of Gold) teams with Food critic/writer Reichl to tell an expansive history behind an ever-more consolidating food industry. Reichl interviews a whole range of people with the camera moving down to their businesses across the U.S. Though we might have heard a lot of what is told, it is very eye-opening to see the troubles faced first hand. Recichi asks relevant questions like how the Pandemic or the election has affected each business. The film covers a rich cultural spectrum, from fine dining rooms to farmlands, discovering passionate, inspirational change makers along the way. The film transcends the health crisis, laying bare how America’s decades-old policy of producing cheap food at all costs hobbles purveyors who are striving to stay independent. What began as a journalistic endeavor blooms into a series of intimate friendships. As Reichl witnesses and follows intrepid characters puzzle through intractable circumstances, she takes stock of the path she’s traveled and the ideals she left behind. Through her eyes, the audience learns to understand the humanity and struggle behind the food they eat. An interesting doc that poses many questions making it look unfocussed but a few solutions are offered giving a glimmer of hope for mankind. A remarkable, informative and educational doc.
Saturday, April 29 at 11:15am
Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
Sunday, May 7 at 11:00am
TIFF Bell Lightbox 3
I LOST MY MOM (J’ai Place Ma Mere) (Canada 2022) ***
Directed by Denys Desjardins
Canada’s health care systems were put to the test during the Pandemic with old aged homes and old age care faring the worst. The worst of the worst occurred in Quebec. All this is brought to a personal level in director Desjardins’ documentary that immerses the audience into the personal experience of the filmmaker and his sister as they try to ensure their mother can end her days with dignity in the CHSLD system. Amid the complex challenge, Denys Desjardins films his mother with incredible tenderness. He communicates her vulnerability and warm personality from a place of love and respect. A tad depressing which is understandable. Filmed in French.
Festival Screenings: (with the director in presence)
Sunday May 2nd at 5:15 PM - At TIFF Bell Lightbox
Wednesday, May 5 at 2:30 PM – At Scotia Bank
LYNX MAN (Finland 2023) ***
Directed by Juha Sam
LYNX MAN is a National Geographic type doc on man and the lynx, observing the relationship between one man, named Hannu and the animal. Following divorce and a serious accident in which the man is not allowed to do any work for about 3 months, Hannu lives alone on his farm in the West of Finland. An environment home to all kinds of wildlife – including the Eurasian lynx, a wildcat until recently almost extinct. When Hannu finds a dead lynx by the side of the road, it is like meeting an old friend: he realizes that the lynx who lived in the area during his childhood have returned. Filled with renewed vigour and lust for life, Hannu sets up trail cameras all over his land. Soon, 23 cameras are recording everything from moose to mice in daylight and in the dead of night. Hannu starts to get to know the lynx personally, learning their habits and habitats, relationships and individual characteristics. The spirit of the lynx permeates deeper and deeper into Hannu’s world as he becomes increasingly fascinated by theirs. Lots of wild life are on display intros amazing doc, which brings audiences to appreciate wild life and nature in all ts glorious beauty.
Lynx Man is streaming online May 5-9. Streaming only available in Canada.
PURE UNKNOWN (Italy/Switz/Sweden 2023) ***
Directed by Valentia Cicogna and Mattia Colombo
The hero of the piece is Italian part-time professor and full time forensic pathologist Cristina Cattaneo. But her most important work is fighting for the rights of people who can no longer speak for themselves. The dead deserve the right to be identified. No country wants their audience in the comings and goings of Cattaneo’s lab in Milan. It is here where she encounters those she labels “pure unknowns”, the bodies of the dead - in the case of the film many killed attempting the treacherous sea crossing from Africa to Europe in the sunken vessel - who have no indication of identity beyond the clothes they stood up in and whatever is in their pockets. Though the film is occasionally slow moving and requires patience - just like Cattaneo’s work, what transpires on screen is nevertheless, without any doubt captivating. The film runs through the time when the world is suffering from the Pandemic as the subjects on the screen are wearing masks - a time which makes the identification process even more difficult. TRhe film's climax involving Cattaneo's speech is a moving powerhouse!!!
Sat Apr 29 8 pm (past)
Wed May 3, 11 am (Scotiabank)
ROWDY GIRL (USA 2023) ***
Directed by Jason Goldman
Well meaning doc on proud vegan rcnhr nicknamed ROWDY GIRL because she used to do rodeo and eat meat till she decided to convert her and her husband’s ranch imto an animal sanctuary. When their story goes viral, she realizes her true calling: to help farmers transition to plant-based and end their business of animal agriculture. ROWDY GIRL showcases the inspiring work of an animal activist who has been on both sides and proves that there is a common ground between farmers and vegans - a shared mission of compassion and sustainability. The well meaning film however, runs out of material after letting Renee King-Sonnen have her say, which is quite preachy and showing off her animals. The doc could have included other such cases around the country or in the world. But who can resist the heart-warming scenes of loyal animals that include cows, horses and chicken showing their affection to human beings. The doc is convincing enough to convert many to vegan or at least consider it.
Saturday, April 29, 8:15 PM: Isabel Bader Theatre
Wednesday, May 3, 9:00 PM: TIFF Bell Lightbox, Cinema 1
SEVEN WINTERS IN TEHRAN (Germany/France 2023) ***
Directed by Steffi Niederzoll
In Tehran, July 2007, Reyhaneh Jabbari, 19, had a business meeting with a new client. When he tries to rape her, she stabs him in self-defense. Later that day, she is arrested for murder. Her trial results in a death penalty sentence which is also known as blood revenge in which the victims family get to decide on Reyhaneh’s fate. Thanks to personal and secretly recorded videos provided by Reyhaneh's family, their testimonies and the letters written by Reyhaneh in prison, the film retraces the fate of a woman who becomes a symbol of resistance and women's rights even beyond the borders of Iran. Needless to say, the film and these letters are forbidden by the government and they face imprisonment and even death if discovered. The film features interviews with Reyhaneh’s mother and sister and her ex-prison mate, now freed, who talks about Reyhaeh’s kindness in the prison. The doc features Zar Amir Ebrahimi (HOLY SPIDER) as the additional voice of Reyhaneh. A deeply harrowing account of hope in the face of tyranny and hopelessness in which everything one has is taken away.
MON MAY 01 01:45PM Isabel Bader Theatre SUN MAY 07 03:15PM Scotiabank Theatre 7
SOMEONE LIVES HERE (Canada 2023) ***½
Directed by Zack Russell
An earnest documentary made by first time director/writer Zack Russell that began after he read a news article about a carpenter building wooden structures for homeless people in encampments around Toronto public parks. There are 2 main subjects in the film - the carpenter, Khaleel Seivwright and a homeless woman, Taka, who refused to have her face shown on screen, whose voice the audience only hears. The big problem of homeless people is one with no immediate solution. In one winter during the Pandemic, the homeless are turned away from overfull shelters, which in themselves are unsafe, dirty and dangerous to be in, to survive in the harsh cold. Many end up putting up tens in public parks, or if fortunate get a wooden structure built by Khaleel. Khaleel gets into big trouble with the Government who eventually force the man to put up any more structures. SOMEONE LIVES HERE is truly insightful, disturbing and sad. Everyone wants a beautiful Toronto with none of the unsightly tents around in public parks but there are consequences for the removal of the encampments, as the doc shows, including other insightful information.
THEATRE OF VIOLENCE (Denmark/Germany 2023) ***
Directed by Emil Langballe and Lukasz Konopa
The doc opens in a theatre of violence which is the International Criminal Court in the Hague. The accused is Dominic Ongwen. As a nine-year-old boy, Dominic Ongwen was abducted and conscripted into Joseph Kony's army of child soldiers. Forced to become a child soldier and brainwashed to enact violent horrors, he eventually became a notorious rebel commander and perpetrator of numerous war crimes. It is some 30 years later, that this first former child soldier is indicted in the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes. Seen through the eyes of his brilliant and flamboyant Ugandan defense lawyer, Krispus Ayena, who prepares Ongwen’s defense and bravely asks murky, irreconcilable questions about international law, colonialism, and ethical perspective. The lawyer questions: Is he a victim or a perpetuator? Exactly when did he turn? The doc however, achieves its purpose of informing the world of the atrocities of the war in Uganda.
HOT DOCS SCREENINGS:
Tuesday, May 2, 5:30pm - Scotiabank Theatre 7
Saturday, May 6, 11:15am - Scotiabank Theatre 6
TWICED COLONIZED (Canada/Denmark 2023) ***
Directed by Lin Alluna
TWICE COLONIZED has been chosen to ope the 2023 Hot Docs in Toronto for many reasons, the more important wants being its timely subject matter, the film being Canadian and that the film is made by and concerns Indigenous people. The film centres on Inuk activist Aaju Peterl and marks a Toronto homecoming for Peter after Angry Inuk, which chronicled her campaign to preserve the Inuit seal hunt, won the audience award at the 2016 fest. The doc follows Peter as she continues her fight for Inuit, Indigenous, and First Nations communities to have a say in discussions about their own affairs. Warning: It is a very angry film as cane witnessed int he film’s first 10 minutes as Peter lashes out her points of view on several key issues like the seal hunt and the mining while emphasizing theta the Inuits are children of ice, and all human beings are children of the sun. TWICE COLONIZED premiered in the World Cinema Competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Alluna and the director, Peter and other guests will be on hand at the Hot Docs premiere on April 27 ahead of Twice Colonized’s theatrical release on May 12.
Opening Night Screening: April 27, 6:30 PM
WHO’S AFRAID OF NATHAN LAW? (USA 2023) ****
Directed by Joe Piscatella
The doc begins with Nathan Law declaring that there is a bounty on him and that he sin hiding. He claims that as a kid, his mother had warned him never to mess with the Chinese government because he will never win. But in the words of Law, “I was too stubborn.” The doc that premiered at Hot Docs 2023 in Toronto made headline news when Nathan Law was refused a visa to enter Canada to introduce and present his film. This says a lot about Canada and democracy. As a college freshman, shy Nathan Law discovers an identity in activism. As one of the organizers of a student strike demanding that Hong Kong be allowed to elect their own leader (something promised to them back in 1998), Nathan leads five days of student boycotts with a message of peaceful civil disobedience. When the strike suddenly becomes the Umbrella Revolution, Nathan is unexpectedly thrust into a leadership role that shuts down Hong Kong for 79 days and captures the attention of the world. Law was included in Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People of 2020 and was the winner of the reader's poll. In the list Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, described him as "a typically brave representative of a generation whose spirit the Communist Party wants to stamp out.” The doc tells the young hero’s point of view while praising his courage, determination and diligence in his beliefs. A very watchable, informative and entertaining film! “It takes years to build a democracy. It only takes an instant to destroy it!” Law’s important quote.