Entertainment

9 can't-miss movies at 2022's hybrid Hot Docs Festival

Boasting 226 films from 63 countries, Hot Docs is hitting theatres in Toronto once again after the pandemic shifted the festival online for the past two years. With so much to choose from, CBC has picked nine of the best — with themes ranging from political thriller, to international love story — for your viewing pleasure. 

Hybrid festival continues to make titles available to Canada-wide audiences with Hot Docs at Home

Russian politician Alexei Navalny appears in a scene from the documentary Navalny. It is receiving its Canadian premiere at this year's Hot Docs festival as one of the most anticipated films there. (Warner Bros.)

Boasting 226 films from 63 countries, Hot Docs is hitting theatres in Toronto once again after the pandemic shifted the festival online for the past two years.

But even still, the festival is offering all of its films for streaming on its Hot Docs at Home platform. 

With so much to choose from, CBC has picked nine of the best — with themes ranging from political thriller, to international love story — for your viewing pleasure as the festival begins today.

Into the Weeds

Streaming across Canada for five days, starting April 29 at 9 a.m. ET (World premiere)

A David and Goliath story following in the footsteps of Dopesick, Dark Waters and Erin Brockovich, Into the Weeds is a searing takedown of agrochemical company Monsanto and its signature weed killer, RoundUp — as well as an exposé into corporate irresponsibility, health crises and environmental destruction.

Canadian director Jennifer Baichwal — who is now the first director to open Hot Docs two times, following her 2009 film Act of God — tells the story of Dewayne (Lee) Johnson, a former groundskeeper who allegedly contracted cancer from RoundUp after being told it was safe enough to drink. 

In a three-year project kept largely secret ahead of its Hot Docs premiere, Baichwal shows both the human cost in Johnson's health struggle, as well as the legal struggles of bringing a gigantic corporation to justice in a landmark court case. While you can catch the CBC Docs-commissioned film online anywhere in Canada, it will open the festival in person Thursday, release in theatres on May 20 in Toronto and Vancouver, and air Sept. 16 on CBC and CBC Gem as the season premiere of The Passionate Eye.

 


 

OKAY! The ASD Band Film

Streaming across Canada for five days, starting April 30 at 9 a.m. ET (World premiere)

A film about inclusion, independence, achievement and just being yourself, OKAY! The ASD Band Film follows the titular ASD band (a reference to autism spectrum disorder) as the members put together their first album of original songs, rehearses for their first live show and try to explain the challenges and gifts of being a musician with autism. 

The band is composed of four Toronto musicians on the spectrum: singer Rawan Tuffaha, keyboardist Ron Adea, guitarist Jackson Begley and drummer Spenser Murray. The documentary divides time between examining the content and creation of their music, as well as their personal histories.

Though the end result can feel a bit low-stakes when compared to the festival's other entries, many of which focus on sweeping world events and social justice issues, the deep dive into each of the film's characters makes OKAY! more than worth it. 

 


 

My Old School

Streaming across Canada for five days, starting May 2 at 9 a.m. ET. (Canadian premiere)

Alan Cumming appears in this still frame from the documentary My Old School. In the film, Cumming lip-syncs an audio interview given by Brian MacKinnon, a 30-year-old Scottish man who duped a school into thinking he was a Canadian teenager. (Mongrel Media)

My Old School tells a nearly unbelievable story, until you remember it's happened multiple times before.

With parallels to 2012's The Imposter, the subject of My Old School — then-30-year-old Scotsman Brian MacKinnon — passed himself off as a Canadian teenager, enrolled in a local school and kept the ruse up for months before being caught. 

The film uses animation to tell segments that occurred in 1993, while actor Alan Cumming lip-syncs an audio interview given to filmmakers before MacKinnon decided he did not want his face shown. While the story is more ridiculous than insidious — MacKinnon was never even arrested, as he technically never committed a crime — testimony from his classmates reveals an at-times unsettling story of absurdity and failed ambition. 

 


 

Navalny

Streaming across Canada for five days, starting May 1 at 6:30 p.m. ET. 

A fantastic documentary that shines light on one of the most famous politicians on Earth, Navalny follows Russia's opposition leader Alexei Navalny as he pits himself against Russian President Vladimir Putin, investigates his own attempted assassination and, eventually, ends up a political prisoner for it.

While the documentary, created by Canadian filmmaker Daniel Roher, follows a period of Navalny's life that was already widely documented and shared online by Navalny himself, Roher's access and unflinching examination offers something new even to those who were paying attention.

It's a spy film where we're hunting the spies, a murder mystery where the victim solves the crime, a political thriller but the plot's all true. Altogether, Navalny is one of the most stunning documentaries in recent memory.

 


 

Million Dollar Pigeons

Streaming across Canada for five days, starting April 30 at 9 a.m. ET (World premiere)

A scene from the documentary Million Dollar Pigeons is seen in this shot. The film looks at the world of international pigeon racing, and the sky-high prizes available to the sport's best. (Obscured Pictures)

For those looking for some lighter fare, look no further than Million Dollar Pigeons. This Irish documentary on homing pigeons and the "fanciers" who love them has intrigue, million-dollar auctions and even a seeming arch-villain — all paired with subjects making endless fun of their own obsession and, sometimes, even falling backward out of their chairs. 

While revelations that, yes, people actually pay — and win — hundreds of thousands of dollars in the high-stakes world of pigeon racing is shocking, Million Dollar Pigeons is a winner for its characters. Nobody seems able to take their profession that seriously, despite the sky-high price tags; even after the South African Million Dollar Pigeon Race ends in scandal and corruption, none seem especially bothered. Instead, they're all just laughing at the same joke as us.

 


 

Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks

Streaming across Canada for five days, starting May 4 at 6:30 p.m. ET (Canadian premiere)

If you haven't heard yet, Kids in the Hall is coming back with a new season next month. And coinciding with those brand new episodes is a documentary about the show's meteoric rise to success, the impact it had on just about every major comedian you can think of — and the toll it took on the "Kids" themselves.

This is a fun watch that's accessible to long-time fans or people new to this sketch comedy, as well as Canadian comedy lovers. There are a few moments of what seem like genuine self-reflection about where and how things fell apart toward the end of their five seasons together, and the documentary doesn't go too easy on its beloved subjects.

 


 

Sexual Healing 

Streaming across Canada for five days starting May 2 at 9 a.m. ET (International premiere)

Sexual Healing follows Evelien, a woman looking for a positive sexual experience, to see — as she says — if it makes her feel more whole.

The documentary follows Evelien's investigation into what that will look like for her — as she uses a wheelchair and is prone to what she describes as "spasms," making sex a logistical challenge, before ultimately settling on a service that connects people who have disabilities with sex care workers.

There's a fun scene in a sex toy shop, a nerve-wracking first meeting of Evelien's sex care worker and a few calls to friends about exactly what, how and when it's all supposed to work. Evelien is a magnetic subject with intensely relatable questions and revelations about how sex changes the way we feel about our own bodies. Don't miss this one.

 


 

Don't Come Searching

Streaming across Canada for five days starting May 3 at 9 a.m. ET. (World premiere)

A scene from the documentary Don't Come Searching shows migrant worker Delroy, right, with his partner Sophia. Delroy, who has terminal cancer, proposes to Sophia in a final trip home before his expected death. (Hands Up Films)

Don't Come Searching is a stunning look at love and death from Canadian director Andrew Moir. It follows Delroy, a migrant worker who spends six months a year farming in rural Ontario, on his final trip home to Jamaica. Delroy, who has terminal cancer, buys a ring for his partner of nine years before leaving Canada for the last time, then arrives home to propose and spend time with his family before he dies.

There's no real medical intervention in Delroy's death. There's no chemo or surgery, just a few prescription bottles and endless bottles of Ensure, and the documentary doesn't seek to politicize it. Instead, Don't Come Searching is a simple, yet heart-wrenching love story. Sophia and Delroy's journey isn't one you'll forget. Watch it with someone you don't mind crying in front of.

 


 

Fire of Love

Streaming across Canada for five days starting  April 30 at 9 a.m. ET. (Canadian premiere)

A still from the documentary Fire of Love is shown here. The documentary follows two French volcanologists who fall in love, before dying in a 1991 eruption. (National Geographic Documentary Films)

Fire of Love is a quirky, Wes-Anderson-esque documentary about two French volcanologists who fall in love and spend all their time working together. It's the story of husband and wife Maurice and Katia Krafft, who died in 1991 filming an eruption. The documentary uses years of their archive footage and photos, which are breathtaking, and splices it with animation as well as charming television interviews the pair gave. The story is fairly slow and methodical, with some poetic narration from Miranda July. This is one to watch when you're looking for something calming, but not if you're feeling impatient.

The Kraffts were obsessed with studying volcanoes and getting as close as possible to them, and the documentary honours that with heaps of volcano visuals, but it's most interesting when the camera turns on the Kraffts themselves and reflects on the relationship between them.

The documentary could be a bit shorter, but then we wouldn't get to spend as much time trying to understand such a delightful and daring couple.

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