Hot Docs: Highlights Of The Home Stretch

One of the biggest documentary festivals in the world is underway, and through no fault of its own, Hot Docs can be kind of overwhelming. The topics are wide-ranging, the films come in all different styles, and the emotions elicited run the gamut.

An impressive slate of films – some 200-plus from 51 countries – make up this year’s extensive line-up. Haven’t yet had a chance to take in a documentary? It’s not too late. Before we look at some films that are especially intriguing, here are some quick tips for the home stretch of the festival.

Challenge yourself. While you will naturally be attracted to films about stories you may know or issues you support, don’t be afraid to dive into something you’re unfamiliar with or something that will be mentally and emotionally difficult. There are plenty of mindless blockbusters out there; let the docs challenge you.

Stay balanced. The topics and tones are incredibly varied; don’t load up on one end of the spectrum and be sure to take time to digest some of the more intense films. Perhaps at other film fests it’s okay to blow through a bunch in a day, but many of these docs require some time to process.

Follow up. Don’t let the documentaries just become something you watch and file away. Many are issue films, and many will intrigue and enlighten. Let them start a new conversation, a new train of thinking, and even action in your life.

With that, let’s take a look at some of the more intriguing selections from this year’s lineup.

Audrie & Daisy – Special Presentations


There are certain issues that we need to force ourselves to confront, accept, and understand. Audrie & Daisy should infuriate and move people to act. This doc follows the two title women, sexually assaulted as teenagers by men they knew and considered friends, as they are abused online and shamed following the incident. Theirs looks to be just two stories of tragedy across a country and culture plagued by an epidemic of misogyny, sexual abuse, victim-blaming, and ignorance. Last year, The Hunting Ground catalogued sexual abuse and rape across college campuses. This is an issue that isn’t going away, and therefore needs constant exploring and action.

See it:
Sun, May 8, 3:30 PM – TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Trapped – Special Presentations


Another problematic issue evolving in the states is that of access to abortion; in Texas it is now harder than ever. New laws and political moves have put thousands of women in danger, and those the worst affected are featured in Trapped, directed by Dawn Porter. It stands to be another undoubtedly powerful issue film that is sure to enrage and enlighten. This topic has been covered by savvy journalists John Oliver and Samantha Bee, among others, but a full-length feature doc will surely be a comprehensive companion piece – likely with fewer jokes.

See it:
Wed, May 4, 3:45 PM – Isabel Bader Theatre
Fri, May 6, 9:45 PM – Hart House Theatre
Sun, May 8, 3:00 PM – Hart House Theatre

Obit – Special Presentations


As a writer, just about anything having to do with journalism will have a certain appeal to my personal tastes, but there is something especially curious about Obit. Following an obituary writer for The New York Times, this doc from Vanessa Gould looks to have a curious and fascinating tone, exploring death in a unique way. Obituary writers have the first word on people after they die, but are forced to meet deadlines, determine what’s important, and what’s fit to print. And indeed there are a bunch of obituaries drafted, in need of maybe a tweak here or there, for people who are still alive – for now.

See it:
Sat, May 7, 9:15 PM – Isabel Bader Theatre
Sun, May 8, 1:00 PM – The Regent

Under The Gun


From Stephanie Soechtig and Katie Couric, who previously teamed up for a comprehensive look at the obesity epidemic and sugar addiction facing the United States in Fed Up, this film tackles another powerful problem backed by a ferocious lobby. Under The Gun looks at Newtown, Aurora, and many, many other mass shooting tragedies in the U.S., and asks – why? From dissecting the practices of the NRA to the hamstrung efforts of an overworked government agency, Under The Gun looks to evoke tears and anger in equal measure. Still, their style is to remain accessible and optimistic, putting very human faces on those affected by horror who are trying to make a difference.

See it:
Thu, May 5, 9:30 PM – Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Sun, May 8, 9:30 PM – The Regent

Cheer Up – Canadian Spectrum


The premise of this documentary has a strange combination of elements. In one corner, Cheer Up is about cheerleading, clearly. In the other, it’s about culture clash. It’s also about winning and losing, and what that does to young people. And it’s about teenage girls. Cheer Up follows a perennially terrible cheerleading team from Finland as they travel to Texas to learn how to get better. It’s about sports and competition, yes, but director Christy Garland explores ideas of femininity and masculinity, what it means to belong to a team, and those obstacles in cheerleading that keep these young women from being winners.

See it:
Thu, May 5, 7:00 PM – TIFF Bell Lightbox 3
Sat, May 7, 6:30 PM – TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

The Islands And The Whales – International Spectrum


A controversial slaughter of pilot whales takes place yearly at the Faroe Islands, an event that animal rights activists highlight and fiercely campaign against. The Islands And The Whales looks to add different angles to this lightning rod. While indigenous peoples have hunted whales for food and sustenance, pollution has contaminated the water and the meat, and a confluence of events makes these remote islands the centre of a heated debate. History and identity clash against animal rights, while industry impacts health. Combining these issues into a coherent, enlightening doc may prove tough, but also fascinating and worthwhile.

See it:
Fri, May 6, 10:15 AM – TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Hot Docs run until May 8. Check out for more information.

Anthony Marcusa
Anthony Marcusa is a Toronto-based freelance journalist whose writing dabbles in film, TV, music, sports, and relationships – though not necessarily in that order. He’s simultaneously youthfully idealistic and curmudgeonly cynical. But he’s always curious.

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