From drag kids to Chelsea Manning, a complete guide to queer films at Hot Docs 2019

There are nine films centred around extraordinary LGBTQ stories screening during the festival's 26th edition.

There are nine films centred around extraordinary LGBTQ stories screening during the festival's 26th edition

Clockwise from top left: Drag Kids, Seahorse, Trixie Mattel, Our Dance of Revolution, XY Chelsea and Killing Patient Zero. (Hot Docs)

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.

North America's largest documentary film festival, Hot Docs, kicks off its 26th edition in Toronto this week, and with it comes a collection of extraordinary LGBTQ stories from Canada and around the world. So to make navigating your way those films a little easier (not that there's anything wrong with the hundreds of films not centred around LGBTQ folks), here's a quick rundown of what they are, who they're about and how to watch them.

Drag Kids

Last year, CBC Arts released this short doc on then-9-year-old drag queen Lactatia (a.k.a. Nemis Melancon). And now Nemis — along with fellow preteen drag performers Stephan, Jason and Bracken — is getting a feature film spotlight with Megan Wennberg's Drag Kids, which is having its world premiere at Hot Docs. The film follows the fabulous four as they prepare, with help of their unflinchingly supportive parents, for a group performance at Montreal Pride. "The passion, bravery and self-awareness that these kids display at such young ages astounds me, and I am so excited to help share their stories," director Wennberg tells CBC Arts.  Check out screening times here (and if you can't make it, the film is set to air on CBC in early July).

Killing Patient Zero

Air Canada flight attendant Gaétan Dugas was long regarded as "patient zero" when it came to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in North America — a myth entirely destroyed in Laurie Lynd's necessary new film Killing Patient Zero. Based on Richard McKay's groundbreaking book Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic, the film makes it clear that Dugas — who was vilified in the press (and notably Randy Shilt's book And The Band Played On) — was not "patient zero," while at the same time humanizing him as an unapologetically proud gay man. It's a fascinating portrait that doubles as a documentation of life during the initial AIDS crisis, something we should never cease revisiting. Check out screening times here

Long Time Comin'

Long Time Comin'. (Hot Docs)

In 1974, the National Film Board of Canada established Studio D, the first publicly funded feminist film-production unit in the world. Among the work that came out of that was the early 1990s "Women at the Well" trilogy, which culminated in literary legend Dionne Brand's 1993 film Long Time Comin'. Charting the work of two Black queer Canadian artists — folk/jazz singer-songwriter Faith Nolan and multimedia visual artist Grace Channer — the film is having a retrospective screening at Hot Docs, and it should not be missed.  Check out screening times here

My Dads, My Moms and Me

In her 2007 film Fatherhood Dreams, filmmaker Julia Ivanova captured the challenges of a group of queer new parents starting families shortly after same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada. 12 years later, Ivanova is following up with the families to see how things have evolved. Says Hot Docs: "Joyful excerpts from the first film are woven into new interviews with the kids and parents to provide a rare view into the challenges facing queer parents today — and a compelling testament to the bonds of love and family." Check out screening times here.

Our Dance of Revolution

The remarkable history of Toronto's Black queer community goes back at least 40 years, and yet has gone largely untold — until now. In Our Dance of Revolution, world premiering at Hot Docs, filmmaker Phillip Pike offers a spotlight on "the living legends among us by unearthing what has been made invisibile." Says festival programmer Nataleah Hunter-Young: "Each bit of revolutionary ground was gained collaboratively, whether protesting police brutality, forming feminist collectives or making room for grief and healing in the wake of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Their transformative creativity and visionary organizing made Toronto more livable for generations to follow." Check out screening times here.


In Jeanie Finlay's Seahorse, we follow young British trans man Freddy through his complicated process of becoming a father through his own pregnancy. Over the course of three years, the film captures the toll the journey takes on Freddy, his partner and his supportive mother, offering a window into an experience rarely documented. "Through lyrical storytelling and incredibly intimate access," Hot Docs programmer Gabor Petric says, "we experience a story both familiar and unfamiliar: the passion, the pain and the love it takes to become a father."  Check out screening times here.

Take Me To Prom

70 years of LGBTQ social change gets explored through the context of high school's big event in Andrew Moir's Take Me To Prom. Featuring interviews with folks ranging in age from 17 to 88, the film — notably a CBC Docs original — is a charming trip through queer history via the lens of an event traditionally regarded as a heterosexual milestone. "The subjects in this documentary surprised me — they showed me that queer youth have been living full lives being themselves much further back in history than I had imagined," says Moir. "I found the resilience in each of them incredibly inspiring. Check out screening times here, and if you can't make it to Hot Docs, Prom will be streaming on CBC Gem beginning May 1st.

Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts

Trixie Mattel. (Hot Docs)

From drag kids to drag icon, Nick Zeig-Owens's film Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts gives an intimate window into the life of half-Ojibwa drag queen, folk musician, comedian and winner of season three of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars, Ms. Trixie Mattel (a.k.a. Brian Firkus). And it slays. "With insights into Trixie's performances and Brian's personal life, this peek behind the curtain explores the darkness that underpins comedy, the stress of the spotlight, the monotony of the road and the pressures of performing solo," says Hot Docs programmer Angie Driscoll. Check out screening times here.

XY Chelsea

In 2017, Chelsea Manning's 35-year sentence at an all-male maximum security prison was commuted in the final days of Barack Obama's presidency. Two and a half years later, filmmaker Tim Travers Hawkins gives us a look into Manning's life as a free woman in Trump's America in XY Chelsea. Says Hot Docs: "Finding her footing amidst alt-right rhetoric and escalating threats to her community, maintaining her signature perseverance while learning to better protect herself as a public figure, and coming to terms with her past in order to face her future takes new resolve as she moves into uncharted territory." Check out screening times here.

In addition to these films, Hot Docs — in association with moi, full disclaimer — holds an annual party to celebrate LGBTQ films at the festival that's open to anyone. It has a silly name, and the 10th edition takes place this Friday, April 27th at Parts & Labour on Queen Street West.

CBC Docs will be present at Hot Docs, in more ways than one. Here's where you can find their films at the festival, and there'll also be free ice cream and hot chocolate in the CBC Docs Ice Cream Truck, which will be roaming the city throughout the festival.

Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. April 25-May 5. Toronto.


Peter Knegt (he/him) has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2020s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.