Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival has announced its lineup of films for the upcoming 29th edition April 28–May 8 in Toronto. This year’s slate will present 226 films from 63 countries in 15 programs and will feature 63 world and 47 international premieres.
“It’s been nearly three years since we last had a live Festival, and we are elated to be able to bring these outstanding, outspoken stories to Toronto cinemas, and online across Canada,” Director of Programming Shane Smith said in a press release. “This year’s program speaks directly to many of today’s most urgent issues and will leave audiences energized, inspired, and, in some cases, outraged.”
360°Sound will be covering Hot Docs online. We’ll once again be credentialed media, and focus our coverage on the music documentaries. Listed below are ten films that we’re looking forward to and upon which we plan to offer coverage. Stay tuned to 360° for exclusive film reviews, director interviews, and more!
Director: Danny Cohen
Not your typical rock documentary. With his debut feature, director Danny Cohen brings to audiences a raw and deeply intimate study of Grammy-nominated Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett. Throughout a three-year period around the release of her 2018 album Tell Me How You Really Feel, Barnett uses a Dictaphone to share some of her most poignant conflicts and insecurities around what it means to be in the spotlight as an introvert and anti-influencer, yet lauded as one of the most powerful female voices of our times. Shooting on 16mm, Cohen has unprecedented access to Barnett’s world and her relatable, deeply human struggles. We gradually see her emerge as an artist embracing her place in the world and discovering that her greatest power lies within her own vulnerability. – Heather Haynes
Dio: Dreamers Never Die
Directors: Don Argott and Demian Fenton
On the throne of heavy metal music, one voice reigns supreme: Ronnie James Dio’s. If you’ve ever wailed the words “heaven,” “rock” or “hell” while making devil horn fingers, you’ve already impersonated him. Widely regarded as the world’s most influential heavy metal artists, he fronted seminal bands Elf and Rainbow before replacing Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath and forming his own groups, including Heaven & Hell and the platinum-selling Dio. Pressured to go pop from the very start of his storied career, he refused to sell out his voice or his vision. Dio tapped into something no one else could touch—a deep connection with his audience. Metalheads and filmmakers Demian Fenton and Don Argott (Framing John DeLorean) recreate fantastic 80s scenes and hairstyles, while mega-fan Jack Black, fellow musicians from Judas Priest and Deep Purple, and more share the inner life of a quiet legend who forged his own path straight into heavy metal history. – Myrocia Watamaniuk
Director: Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir
Icelandic performance art meets Spinal Tap in this wickedly fun look at women behaving creatively. Three bandmates, Álfrún, Saga and Hrefna, of The Post Performance Blues Band, are tired of playing to audiences of five at their gigs and getting paid in beer. Each of them is staring down 40 and exhausting themselves juggling motherhood and their artistic pursuits. They decide to give themselves one year to either become pop stars or quit the band for good. What follows is a make-it-or-break-it story of a band that’s not really a band, pursuing a goal that is not actually attainable. Band member and filmmaker Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir puts herself, along with age and gender bias, on stage in this docu-parable about talented but not teenaged women trying to be successful in a youth-obsessed, overnight-success industry. Band allows gifted artists to perform the resilience and sisterhood that truly exists between life’s messes, rejections and triumphs. – Myrocia Watamaniuk
F**K IT UP!
Directors: Dave Hills and Glenn Barden
This is Spinal Tap, for real. High on hairspray and cocaine, punk band Towers of London embody every possible rock ‘n’ roll cliché. At the height of their career in the mid-2000s, playing with the Pogues, opening for Guns N’ Roses and supporting the New York Dolls, they are known as “the Sex Pistols on acid,” as they drink, fight and royally fuck up their multimillion-dollar deal in record time. Following the band since seeing them fighting backstage at a music festival 17 years prior, where they stopped mid-punch to fix their hair, the filmmakers don’t just document the band’s rise, fall and implosion but the friendship, toxic masculinity and forgiveness underpinning it. Beneath the Towers’ “so over-the-top it’s beyond parody” rock star antics and attitude lies a story of spectacular self-abuse. F**K IT UP! is a rock doc at its most shocking when it dismantles the white, male rock ‘n’ roll cliché as an antiquated symbol of success. – Angie Driscoll
Rewind & Play
Director: Alain Gomis
Eccentric jazz visionary Thelonious Monk is in Paris in 1969, seemingly eager to participate in a taping of Jazz Portrait, a French television program. But as the interview gets underway, the interviewer’s autocratic and arrogant style ignites a conversation that is agonizing to watch, yet impossible to turn away from. Monk crackles with quiet ferocity in the face of the interviewer’s thinly veiled condescension in one moment, unleashing his exhilarating musical talent in the next. Rewind & Play takes us behind the scenes to experience Monk at his peak while offering an indictment of the white male gaze that dominates art criticism and media to this day. Award-winning director Alain Gomis wields this trove of unaired archival footage in a manner that demands one listen between the lines. – Denae Peters
And Still I Sing
Director: Fazila Amiri
Afghan Star, Afghanistan’s answer to American Idol, is a raging success. For 13 straight seasons, the show has featured exclusively male winners—until the historic year of 2019. When Zahra threw her hat into the ring, she dreamed of emulating the success of her singing coach and Afghan Star judge Aryana Sayeed. A household name in Afghanistan, controversial and bold Aryana has paved the way for success in a country where entertainment is risky business for women. And Still I Sing follows Aryana and her protégée Zahra as she emerges as a favorite in the final episodes of the 14th season, right up to the American military withdrawal and Taliban takeover in 2021. Through their story, the film reminds us that for over half a century now, the right of Afghan women to artistic expression has never been a given and continues to be contested. – Aisha Jamal
Director: Isabel Castro
Doris Muñoz is the daughter of immigrants and in love with music. She dedicates her career to bringing more Latinx music artists into the fold and starts to soar as she becomes a manager. For the first time in her life, she can offer her family security and applies for green cards for her undocumented parents. But then the COVID-19 pandemic shuts down the music industry and swiftly changes Doris’s world. Looking for new talent, she discovers Jacks Haupt, another Mexican-American girl looking to start her music career in Dallas, Texas. The only documented members of their families, the two navigate the music industry post-pandemic with stars in their eyes and the weight of their families on their backs. Paired with a beautiful soundtrack and ethereal cinematography, Mija is Isabel Castro’s love letter to daughters and immigrants in the United States. – Samah Ali
Okay! (The ASD Band Film)
Director: Mark Bone
Meet the four talented, autistic members of the ASD Band: piano prodigy Ron, with an impeccable memory for reciting the correct day of the week for any date in history; lead singer Rawan, who uses makeup to express herself and can hit an impressively high pitch; Spenser, an energetic drummer with an affinity for punk rock music; and guitarist Jackson, who loves all things 1950s. Their love of music brings them together to form one kick-ass garage band. After releasing a number of covers, the band is now embarking upon the challenging journey of writing their first album of original music. With the guidance of Maury, their musical director, the band’s garage sessions segue to the recording studio, where for the first time each member shares their own compositions. Will they be able to pull it off and celebrate the launch with their first-ever public show? – Aisha Jamal
Director: Shamira Raphaela
Growing up in “the Paperclip,” a social housing complex in south Rotterdam, Shabu is a big-talking 14-year-old musician who brags about imminent fame and struts around the neighborhood like he’s starring in a music video. He is rehearsing for stardom. But to his Dutch-Surinamese family, he’s Sharonio and he’s messing up right, left and center. He’s not listening to his mom, he’s got girlfriend problems and he’s totaled grandma’s car. Can he turn his boasts into bucks and repair the damage done to the most important relationships in his life? From popsicle schemes to block parties, Shabu learns to translate his smooth talk into action and balance responsibility with fun, fantasy with reality. A feel-good family film that vibrates with exuberant style, Shabu is an attention-grabbing journey of expansion, as a boy becomes a man before our very eyes. When Shabu admits to not being as big as he seems, he becomes bigger, a bigger man with bigger dreams connected to his community and culture. – Angie Driscoll
Director: Rita Baghdadi
Slave to Sirens, the Middle East’s first all-female thrash metal band, is an outlet to exercise freedom and exorcise fear for its Beirut-based members. At a time when home, friendship and love feels insecure, music gives them a way to express their authentic selves. But when lead and rhythm guitarists Shery and Lilas’s shared romantic history creeps into the band’s creative process, it threatens not only the group dynamic but the founding members’ close bond as friends and musical collaborators. As the band falls apart, so too does their city, rocked by the August 2020 explosion, rolling blackouts and street protests. Sirens is able to locate the joy, escape and beauty in the horror of their surroundings and the darkness of their music, by showing where original songs expressing queer desire and identity come from. Giving lyrics to shame and a voice to trauma takes it out of the body and forces it into the outside world, to exist, unguarded, amidst revolution and upheaval. – Angie Driscoll
Some of these films have already debuted at other festivals. For instance, the Sinéad O’Connor film we’ll also cover, Nothing Compares, directed by Kathryn Ferguson, made its debut at Sundance. Hot Docs strives to bring together “outspoken” and “outstanding” documentary films from around the world. It’s expansive and well-curated, a truly epic collection of films. And as festival programmer Angie Driscoll says of Nothing Compares, “They tried to bury Sinéad O’Connor, but they didn’t realize she was a seed.” Circle back here for our Hot Docs coverage beginning April 28 and see what grows from this garden of cinematic delights.