Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary festival, is one of our favourites to attend, and the titles found in the 2023 lineup are ones not to miss, especially since many also stream online (for Canadian audiences only).
Running from April 27 until May 7, with online screenings going until May 9, Hot Docs is awarding $140,000 in cash and prizes to filmmakers this year, helping to elevate the 30th anniversary of the festival.
The main awards ceremony takes place on Saturday, May 6, and includes awards for Best Canadian Feature Documentary ($10,000); Emerging International Filmmaker ($3,000); the Bill Nemtin Award for Best Social Impact Documentary ($10,000); the John Kastner Award (highlighting profound storytelling, $5,000); Best Mid-Length Documentary (41 to 64 minutes, $3,000); and the Betty Youson Best Canadian Short Documentary (up to 40 minutes, $3,000).
The 2023 roster includes documentaries about sport icons and events, musicians, deepfake technology, witchcraft, the human connection, art, and a pioneering and pivotal Canadian Supreme Court judge.
In-person screenings take place at five Toronto venues: Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema; Isabel Bader Theatre; Ontario Place; TIFF Bell Lightbox; and Scotiabank Theatre.
Check out what caught our eye.
Without Precedent: The Supreme Life of Rosalie Abella
This documentary looks at Canada’s first female Jewish Supreme Court judge and third female on the bench, Rosalie Abella. Directed by Barry Avrich, the world premiere follows Abella’s journey from being appointed at age 29, to her advocacy and push for better practices for the disabled and visible minorities, to her backstory of being a daughter of Holocaust survivors.
Produced in part by Stephen Curry’s Unanimous Media, Underrated follows the career of the four-time NBA champion, chronicled through home footage, interviews, and Curry’s own voice. We jet back to his time at Davidson College, a Division 1 school, his relationship with his father, his training regimes, his quest for his College degree, as well as his meeting with Spike Lee. Numerous folks close to the mega talented b-ball player help us understand his determination while also learning about the battle he has had to get to the top as a smaller basketball player.
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What would you feel like if you knew that one of your social media photos was being digitally altered and used online in not-so-safe environments without your consent? Now imagine you are a university student, which is the premise of Another Body, a doc about deepfake technology and its effects. This 79-minute doc looks at a “society of men terrorizing women, influencers, colleagues, friends” online through the capturing of digital lives. The 2023 film was directed by Sophie Compton and Reuben Hamlyn, and produced by Elizabeth Wood.
July Talk: Love Lives Here
Like many, Canadian group July Talk had to rearrange their life because of the pandemic. Scheduled for a 300-date tour, July Talk had to pivot to drive-in shows because of Covid-19, so they could keep the magic going in support of their then-new release, Pray for This. Expect archival footage of their high-energy performances, including pre-Covid shows, and a heavy dose of realism that we can all relate to (even if we aren’t in a rock band). The film was directed by Brittany Farhat.
Get ready to follow along with three millennial women who try to explain the workings of Wicca, touching on the history and origins, as well as the connection witchcraft continues to have in society. The film comes from notable Canadian director, Ramu Rau.
The American Gladiators
Anyone who lived through the ‘90s is sure to remember the larger than life personas and bodies of American Gladiators (we’re looking at you, Turbo). Well, now thanks to ESPN, we can go back in time and see more of the behind-the-scenes of the hugely popular show that pinned people against one another in battle of the fittest competitions. Directed by Ben Berman, and co-directed by Kirk Johnson, the world premiere dissects the inner workings of a franchise that will never be forgotten, and we are thankful the nostalgia still exists.
Directed by Micah Levin, this 39-minute film follows Keith, an aspiring songwriter who connects with Ani DiFranco, over 20 years ago, through prose and music’s pulse.
About Memory and Loss
This 8-minute short from Quebec filmmaker Amélie Hardy looks at how frequent we document our lives.
Will You Look At Me
Chinese director Shuli Huang documents his return to his hometown of Wenzhou, China, highlighting his tense and emotional conversations with his mother. This narrative documentary features Huang’s own cinematography, helping us connect and understand the dynamics of family, the coming of age realizations, and the feelings that “going home” can bring. This is the Toronto premiere of the 20-minute film.
Algorithms of Beauty
Watch as botanist Mary Delany’s 300-year-old paper flowers are used to recreate a digital set from computer-generated code. The 21-minute film comes from Belgian director Miléna Trivier, and makes its North American debut at Hot Docs.
John Sabraw is showing how art can be beautiful and full of restoration. Directed by Dan Ashby, this joint UK and Canada production captures Sabraw’s quest to take pollution and paint it into pigments. More specifically, we see him turning iron oxide, extracted from a former coal town in Ohio, into paintings.
Special shout-outs to the films in the Canadian Spectrum Shorts Program (which are free to watch); the second edition of Citizen Minutes, which is a collection of films featuring Canadians who are taking action and making change in their communities; and the Hot Docs Forum, which is the ultimate pitching event that helps finance the films we love and treasure.
More info can be found at https://hotdocs.ca/.