The Toronto-based Hot Docs festival will open with the Canadian premiere of Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, a work about the outspoken Chinese artist and dissident.

Debut director Alison Klayman was awarded a special jury prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival for the profile, which shows how Ai has used art and his international influence as a means for change in China.

Ai Weiwei on Q

CBC's Q cultural affairs show airs an interviews the Chinese dissident artist on Thursday.

Programming director Charlotte Cook unveiled a slate of 189 titles for this year’s Hot Docs, which is North America’s largest documentary festival.

Ai’s story is just one of many to focus on individuals who are standing up for what they believe and ways technology is driving change.

The artist who designed the Olympic Bird’s Nest stadium and created the work Sunflower Seeds that debuted at the Tate in London is currently facing demands from Chinese authorities for $1.85 million US in "unpaid taxes."

A prolific blogger and user of social media, Ai was detained and held in secret for 81 days last year, and is now on a "conditional release." 

frog-prince-300

The Frog Princes, by Omar Majeed and Ryan Mullins, follows a trouble of developmentally challenged actors staging The Frog and the Princess. (Hot Docs)

He has been a prominent critic of Chinese policies, including the corruption that led to so many buildings collapsing during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Because of his international following, he has repeatedly embarrassed the Chinese government.

"We're focusing on people who are active for change and also technology... He embodies both of those — he's very active in social media. He's a catalyst for change from the viewpoint of human rights and art," Cook said at a press conference on Tuesday.

More Hot Docs

Indie Game: The Movie, a film by Winnipeg’s James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot that  made its debut at Sundance, is also on the bill. It follows a community of video game developers as they create and release their games into the world.

Other Canadian films on the schedule include:

  • The Bastard Sings the Sweetest Song, by Christy Garland, a study of class struggle in Guyana told through the story of a mother and son.
  • The Frog Princes by Omar Majeed and Ryan Mullins, the story of a developmentally challenged theatre group mounting an ambitious production.
  • Herman’s House, by Angad Singh Bhalla, a profile of Black Panther activist Herman Wallace.
  • China Heavyweight,  by Yung Chang, a look at a Chinese boxing coach.
  • The Mystery of Mazo de la Roche, by Maya Gallus, a look at the mysterious life of the Canadian author of the Jalna series.

Kevin Macdonald, who directed Last King of Scotland, will be bring his Marley, a biography of reggae singer Bob Marley. Danish filmmakers Christian Bonke and Andreas Koefoed have Ballroom Dancer, a look at a Latin ballroom champion’s ambitious comeback plans.

Hot Docs also plans to focus on southeastern Europe in a series that includes docs about Serbs in Berlin during the 1970s and Moldovan women struggling to support their families.

The festival runs April 26 to May 6 at its new headquarters, the renovated Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto