Hot Docs is one of our favourite times of the year where we get to learn about different cultures and movements through film. Not to mention, it’s probably the most intersectional film festival in Toronto. Our guide is by no means exhaustive — check out the Hot Docs schedule, where we pulled these descriptions from, for more films, screening dates, times and details.
1. FOR AHKEEM
Surrounded by poverty and violence, a Black teenager in north St. Louis discovers she’s pregnant as the tragedy in Ferguson erupts, leaving her to question her family’s future in a racist system so stacked against them.
Meet the fierce and inspiring “Lethal Ladies” of the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, a dynamic step dance team battling the odds to make it to the championship and become the first in their families to go to college.
Often overshadowed by her United Farm Workers co-founder Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta was a powerhouse activist who defied 1950s gender conventions as she unflinchingly fought to protect women and people of color in her push for social change.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is one of the most misunderstood and intriguingly powerful female political figures in modern history. Her rise, reckoning and legacy as “the mother of the nation” are detailed in this compelling film.
5. A BETTER MAN
Attiya’s years as a counsellor shape her radical approach to confronting her own decades-old past as a victim of domestic violence. Sitting across from her abuser, they together delve into their turbulent history, uncovering its root causes with compassion.
6. MAMA COLONEL
For 15 years, a determined female colonel led a unique brigade against sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Relocated to a new city, she must now grapple with the unexpected horrors women faced in a long forgotten war.
7. THE FRUITLESS TREE
Married but childless—an unacceptable circumstance in Niger—Aicha draws from personal experience to delicately address the taboo of infertility, and the private suffering and public stigma that women like her endure.
8. SUNDAY BEAUTY QUEEN
Toiling for a pittance in the shadows of Hong Kong’s glittering façade, colourful and confident Filipina workers use their only day off to reclaim their dignity, exercising grace and beauty in a pageant unlike any other.
With a fierce and haunting persona, lauded majestic chanteuse Chavela Vargas was an out lesbian songstress who revolutionized music in Mexico, challenged cultural norms and played lover to legends like Frida Kahlo.
10. REBELS ON POINTE
Follow “the Trocks”—the world-famous drag ballerinas with a cult-like following—on their tour to meet adoring fans in Japan, Canada and across Europe, and get to know the talented men behind the makeup and tutus.
The Redux Program
It was so hard for us to choose our favourites from this program, but if you’re overwhelmed, the Redux program this year is a great place to start and features classic CanCon docs that still hold up. We recommend Mohawk Girls for its story on indigenous female friendships, Forbidden Love about the unashamed stories of lesbian lives, and Sisters in the Struggle which features the voices of black Canadian women who reflect on racism, sexism and the patriarchy.
Focus on Maya Gallus
This year, Hot Docs is presenting a Focus on Maya Gallus, honouring her work by showing some of her best documentaries, all of which challenge stereotypes about women by exploring gender, identity and the “female gaze.” She’s directed documentaries on various topics including roller derby girls, erotica, waitresses, trans people, and women in literature, and we couldn’t recommend her as a filmmaker enough.