You need to know about these four women directors at Hot Docs

The reason why the documentary filmmaking world fosters a better (though far from perfect) sense of inclusivity is held to be because it’s less institutionalized. When you, DIY there are fewer roadblocks (read: men in suits saying no). Here are four women to watch at Hot Docs who never took “no” for answer.

Forty per cent of the filmmakers at the Toronto documentary festival are female

League of Exotique Dancers, directed by Rama Rau (Storyline Entertainment)

When it comes to women working in the film industry, the story told by the numbers is rarely a happy one. Women are underrepresented behind the camera, on screen, at the executive level and on funding bodies. When it comes to film festivals, things aren't much better (we're looking at you, Cannes).

That said, there is the occasional good news story: 40 per cent of the films at Hot Docs this year were helmed by women. The reason why the documentary filmmaking world fosters a better (though far from perfect) sense of inclusivity is held to be because it's less institutionalized. When you DIY, there are fewer roadblocks (read: men in suits saying no). Here are four women to watch at Toronto's Hot Docs festival who never took "no" for answer.

Rama Rau: League of Exotique Dancers

League of Exotique Dancers, directed by Rama Rau (Storyline Entertainment)

Rau got her start in film working in Mumbai, India before setting up Trinetra Productions in Toronto. Her early work explored her connection to these two countries (Fingers of Fire, Losing My Religion), which has infused her docs with a personal-as-political touch. Never one to shy away from controversial subject matter, Rau displayed her journalistic skills with The Market (an intimate doc that connects a Canadian woman with her would-be illegal organ donor in India), and by getting unprecedented access to Rehtaeh Parsons' family in No Place to Hide. Her most recent film League of Exotique Dancers, which will open Hot Docs, is a lively and loving portrait of aging burlesque dancers.

Tiffany Hsiung: The Apology

The Apology, directed by Tiffany Hsiung (NFB)

Hsiung displayed an extraordinary amount of patience for a first-time filmmaker by taking five years to complete The Apology. The NFB-backed doc sheds light on a dark chapter in World War II history: the women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army. History calls them "comfort women," but in Hsiung's doc they're presented as activists, mothers, grandmothers and, above all, humans who won't rest until their story is heard. Shot in China, the Philippines and Japan, Hsiung captures personal moments of the women in their homes and with their families, movingly demonstrating a level of trust between herself and her resilient subjects.

Alethea Arnaquq-Baril: Angry Inuk

Angry Inuk, directed by Alethea Arnaquq-Baril (NFB)

Iqaluit-based Arnaquq-Baril's first doc embodies the best of what the form can do: give voice to those who are systematically silenced. As the title suggests, Arnaquq-Baril is fed up with the marginalization her community faces, especially when it comes to the seal hunt.Outside the North, we're bombarded with demands to "save the seals," but this is only one side of the story. By capturing the process of the hunt (from the feasts to the transformation of sealskin into garments), Arnaquq-Baril shows that banning the seal hunt threatens an important part of Inuk tradition and robs her community of a valuable source of income. Arnaquq-Baril embraces the oral tradition of Inuk culture by frequently directly addressing the camera, inviting the viewer to see the world from her point of view.

Zaynê Akyol: Gulîstan, Land of Roses

Gulîstan, Land of Roses, directed by Zaynê Akyol (NFB)

Women are often forgotten in war, being cast as helpless victims or their exploits on the battlefield erased in favour of the common masculine narrative of heroics. Akyol's Gulîstan, Land of Roses acts as a corrective to this misperception.

Akyol embeds herself with the armed female faction of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a paramilitary group fighting for Kurdish independence, which has long been engaged in campaigns against the Turkish state. The PKK, which western governments including Canada have listed as a terrorist organization, is also battling Daesh, and these women are on the front lines — while calling for female empowerment.

Filmed on the borders of Iraq and Syria, Akyol captures the daily routine of the women — from political meetings to weapons training — with stunning cinematography. With a patient observational eye, Akyol allows the women's individual stories to come to the fore, offering insights into a rarely explored segment not just of Middle Eastern politics, but also of feminism.

Hot Docs takes place Thu., Apr. 28-Sun., May 8 in Toronto. See website for details.


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