With May only a handful of days away, it’s finally time to pull out your sunglasses, open up the patios and, for those of us still in school, enjoy our first days of post-exam life. However, for those of us in Toronto, the end of April also brings us the Hot Docs, a Canadian International Documentary Festival that has become a “summer staple” for many across the city.
The festival runs from April 24 to May 4 and this year’s event features 197 selections from 43 different countries. The great thing about the Hot Docs is that students and seniors are able to go to daytime screenings of any film for free. For those interested in late night showings, those exist too.
Whether you are a Hot Docs veteran, or simply someone looking to broaden their horizons and check out their first documentary film, the festival offers something for the avid documentary film viewer and the, uh, bandwaggoner. Topics range from biographies to pieces of environmental activism, With almost 200 films available for watching, there is something for even the most eclectic tastes.
To help pare down the overwhelming list of documentaries, I went through and picked my five standout films from this year’s selection. For the full list of films showing at Hot Docs, click here.
1. 112 Weddings directed by Doug Block:
We’ve all heard the stats about divorce, and have seen the daytime TV shows filled with cheating partners and lying spouses (“The DNA results are in”), and have likely become disenfranchised with the idea of eternal love. Yet, this documentary tries to take a more heartfelt, personal approach as it follows some of Doug Block’s clients years after he first filmed their wedding ceremonies. Block, a documentary filmmaker, worked as a wedding videographer for many years, but now turns his documentarian lens to his side business. The documentary re-visits couples to see how many of them survived after saying “I do” and how many really made it “’til death do us part.” Taking a hard look at what makes a relationship work, and of some of the pitfalls many couples fall into, this documentary promises to be an emotional and intriguing look at love and commitment.
2. Tough Love directed by Stephanie Wang-Breal:
When I tell people that I’m studying to be a social worker, the immediate thought that comes to mind is the role of child protection; snatching kids up left, right and centre. Yet, while that is one role that some social workers play, it’s one that I’m not familiar with, nor one that I see myself working in. However, I’m interested in watching this documentary, as it portrays the heart-wrenching story of two parents, navigating the system to try and be reunited with their families as well as the struggles and prejudices they faced throughout their journey. This film seems to offer an honest look at child welfare, and the obstacles inherent to the system.
3. Everyday Rebellion directed by Arash T. Riahi:
A few months ago I completed a course in community development, and was immediately intrigued by the creative, non-violent forms of protest that members of various communities have used to get noticed and spread awareness. In recent years, this has become increasingly common; from the Occupy Protests to FEMEN activists in Ukraine, the media has changed the face of protests and activism in our world. Everyday Rebellion explores the way creativity has become a newest weapon at an activist’s disposal, and shows how small, peaceful protests have changed civil disobedience. It reinvigorates a hope for peace in a world that oftentimes seems hopeless and features some amazing profiles of groups from around the globe.
4. Mission Blue directed by Robert Nixon and Fisher Stevens:
This documentary stems from the work of Dr. Sylvia Earle, who gave a phenomenal TED Talk on the importance of protecting the world’s oceans. It highlights Dr. Earle’s amazing career as a marine biologist and features breathtaking underwater views of a world to which so few people are exposed. Most importantly, the film sends a message of the importance of protecting our oceans and reveals some startling facts around the current state, and lack of protection, for our world’s marine life. This film offers an intimate look at some of the most breathtaking, yet fragile, ecosystems our planet supports.
5. The Starfish Throwers directed by Jesse Roesler
We’ve all heard the staggering stats on hunger and the international food disparity that exists in our world. For these reasons it often seems like a problem that is just too big for any one person to address. Yet, the three people featured in The Starfish Throwers didn’t think so. This inspirational documentary shows the lives of three selfless individuals, continents apart from each other, each on their own journey to address hunger in their own community. This film really shows that one person’s actions can bring about a world of difference, and that no impact is too small to bring about change.
Sound off in the comments below and let me know what you are looking forward to most at Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival this year! After watching any of the five films I’ve recommended above, let me know what you thought of my predictions – good or bad (just remember, be respectful).