Star Trek's George Takei, shock rocker Alice Cooper,  the puppeteer behind Sesame Street's Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch and former wrestler The Iron Sheik are among the pop culture icons taking the spotlight at this year's Hot Docs film festival.

Organizers unveiled today a vast lineup of 197 documentaries from 43 countries set for the 2014 edition of the popular festival, which will screen across 12 different programs. Hot Docs is one of North America's largest showcases for the documentary film genre.

'These stories are the human stories, the emotional ones that come behind what you see in the headlines and what you're reading in snippets on the internet'- Elizabeth Radshaw, Hot Docs

"These stories are the human stories, the emotional ones that come behind what you see in the headlines and what you're reading in snippets on the internet," Hot Docs industry programs director Elizabeth Radshaw told CBC News at the announcement in Toronto.

"That's the beauty of what documentaries do: they bring you deeper into the story and they make you realize that there's real human beings behind those fragments that you catch and it's when we connect with those humans beings that we understand those stories and those experiences better."

The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz landed the prestigious opening night slot and will also be featured as part of the festival's Big Ideas series, which highlights thought-provoking docs and features public panel discussions with the subjects and/or experts related to the films. Author Cory Doctorow, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig and online expert Gabriella Coleman, for instance, will be on hand to discuss The Internet's Own Boy, about the late programmer and internet activist Swartz.

Meanwhile, the Big Ideas series will also feature discussions with actor, internet personality and equal rights activist Takei, subject of the doc To Be Takei, and veteran puppeteer Caroll Spinney, subject of the doc I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story.

Alice Cooper beamed across Canada

Hot Docs will also beam an appearance by famed rocker Alice Cooper to Canadians across the country. The fest is presenting the Canadian premiere of the "doc opera" Super Duper Alice Cooper as well as a live Q&A with the rock icon and filmmakers Reg Harkema, Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn. As part of its Hot Docs Live series, organizers are teaming up with theatre chain Cineplex to simulcast the event to nearly 50 cinemas across the country.

The Sheik, billed as "a personal and emotional tale" of noted Iranian wrestler Khosrow Ali Vaziri, best known as The Iron Sheik, is among the films included in the Hot Docs Special Presentations program.

Another anticipated event is the "live documentary presentation" of The Measure of All Things, inspired by the Guinness World Records book. During a one-night only event, filmmaker Sam Green will narrate a show weaving together footage, interviews and images about the most memorable characters in Guinness World Records with live accompaniment from New York band The Quavers.

Other films on the Hot Docs slate include:

  • Mission Blue, about renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle and her life's work championing better treatment of our planet's seas.
  • The Case Against 8, which explores the U.S. Supreme Court battle and debate over marriage equality.
  • Children 404, a firsthand account of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans youth in Russia.
  • Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger, an examination into the myth of gangster and informant James (Whitey) Bulger.
  • Everything Will Be, an ode to Vancouver's changing Chinatown neighbourhood.
  • The Secret Trial 5, which looks at CSIS security certificates and the story of five Muslim men imprisoned without charge in Canada under this controversial policy.
  • Bronx Obama, the story of a man who works as a Barack Obama impersonator.
  • Write Down, I Am an Arab, a profile about Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

The Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival runs April 24-May 4 in Toronto.