TORONTO — With 226 films from 63 countries, there’s a lot to see at this year’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, but a great place to start is with those directed by Canadians.
“Canadian filmmakers are out in the world, they’re telling incredible stories … that affect us all,” said programming director Shane Smith at a Hot Docs press conference in March, noting that many of this year’s themes are about injustice, corruption and politics.
“There’s a lot of emotion, rawness and reality on display,” he added.
“It’s great insight into the human condition and I guarantee you won’t leave a Hot Docs screening without feeling like you know the world for yourself a little bit better.”
After the pandemic shifted the past two editions online, a hybrid fest is set to bring back in-person screenings and conference sessions April 28 to May 8 in Toronto, while audiences across Canada will be able to stream titles online.
Here is a selection of Canadian-led buzzy films:
“Into the Weeds”
As veteran filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal’s second film to open the festival after 2009’s “Act of God,” “Into the Weeds” begins the week on a powerful note.
Continuing the director’s focus on environmental change, the documentary follows a former groundskeeper who took on a multinational agrochemical corporation after his terminal cancer diagnosis.
It’s a story Baichwal said she was “unable to say no to” and makes for a much-needed “historical record” that she hopes will be seen by and motivate many to become activists against corruption and injustice.
“The Talented Mr. Rosenberg”
If after watching Netflix’s “Inventing Anna” and “The Tinder Swindler” a hunger for yet another juicy scammer story took hold, Toronto director Barry Avrich has got the genre covered with “The Talented Mr. Rosenberg.”
The film is a close read of Albert Allan Rosenberg, a charming Toronto career con artist who masqueraded as a high-profile investor. Rosenberg was convicted of fraud in 2013 for tricking a woman into marrying him, and then using her life savings to fund his lavish lifestyle.
It includes not only some of his victims’ stories, but his own perspective in an effort to — supposedly — set the record straight.
“Everyone feels like they can never fall for it…(but) we’re all susceptible to lies and our own weaknesses of wanting to give into people just like that,” said Avrich.
“The Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks”
A two-part documentary directed by the award-winning Reg Harkema (“Super Duper Alice Cooper,” “Monkey Warfare”), “The Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks” reunites Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson as they reflect on a history of laughs. The documentary sets up the upcoming Amazon Prime premiere of their newly rebooted version of the series.
The doc includes archival footage, behind-the-scenes clips, and interviews with comedy legends who all took inspiration from the beloved Canadian troupe, including Fred Armisen, Janeane Garofalo, Mae Martin and Mike Myers.
As Harkema shared, reflecting on the way Canadians have since continued to make major impacts in the comedy world, “The Kids in the Hall made the great comedians of today realize it was all possible.”
From Toronto filmmaker Daniel Roher (“Once Were Brothers”) comes the topical “Navalny,” which follows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny as he investigates his own assassination attempt by Kremlin agents amid his efforts to expose corruption among the Russian leadership.
An intense political thriller that made a big splash at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, it feels gut-punchingly poignant as Russia continues to invade Ukraine, and with the knowledge that Navalny was imprisoned upon returning home.
In this intimate film based on Canadian singer-songwriter Tom Wilson’s moving memoir, Canadian Screen Award-nominated director Shane Belcourt (“Red Rover,” “Kaha:wi: The Cycle of Life”) traces the musician’s journey confronting a long-buried family secret, one he only discovered after his parents’ death, regarding his biological family and his true Indigenous heritage.
Belcourt said, “(It was) a chance to explore, as an Indigenous filmmaker, what it was like for someone to grow up outside of the community…(to see) blood memory working through Tom in a subconscious other realm and coming out in his art and, only later in life, coming full circle.”
“We’re All Gonna Die (Even Jay Baruchel)”
It’s never felt closer to humanity’s imminent demise, so leave it to actor Jay Baruchel to take a closer look some of our current existential fears — from the COVID-19 pandemic to a climate apocalypse — in the six-part docuseries “We’re All Gonna Die (Even Jay Baruchel).”
Written and directed by the Canadian Screen Award-nominated Victoria Lean (“After the Last River,” “Nirvanna the Band the Show”), it includes expert opinions alongside Baruchel’s tongue-in-cheek ones. The series will also hit Crave on April 30.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 26, 2022.
Sadaf Ahsan, The Canadian Press