April 16, 2018
By Diana Hart
The stories at the 2018 Hot Docs festival are surprising, emotional, funny, sad, enraging and inspiring. And this year, for the first time, half of the directors telling them are women.
Shane Smith, director of programming for the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, which opens in Toronto on April 26, says the festival wasn’t forcing itself to achieve this milestone. It was simply looking for the best, most intriguing films for their diverse audience.
“I think it’s important to reflect your audience and reflect the films that are being made and stories that are being told. More than half of our audience are female, so we want to make sure that we are serving our audience, but also that we are supporting new voices and interesting, well-told stories,” says Smith.
With documentaries from 56 countries around the world, the festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Scotia Wealth Management is proud to be a presenting platinum partner of the festival, which shares stories that help expand people’s views of the world. At this year's festival, there is a theme of female empowerment threaded through many of the docs.
“We knew, going into the festival, that given the kind of year that was happening and what was going on in the zeitgeist, that it was important that we find ways to focus on female stories,” says Smith. “We were really happy that we saw so much great work by female filmmakers this year and that we were able to make so much room in the festival to have those stories be told.”
Smith says new funding initiatives from groups like the National Film Board and Telefilm are starting to pay off in great work by female filmmakers, adding that there is long, strong history of great female documentary filmmakers. “I think in the documentary world there have always been more female voices and room for female voices. Progress has been happening for a while, but there is a really important cultural moment right now.”
We asked Smith to suggest some of the leading documentaries by female filmmakers at this year’s festival.
The lives of strong career women - looking inside chefs’ kitchens
The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution by Canadian director Maya Gallus
The festival’s opening film tells the stories of top female chefs in Toronto, New York, London and France.
“This film is a great way to open the festival. It’s a deep dive into lives of women who are running their own kitchens in their own restaurants; their approach to what they do, the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated industry, and how they are breaking new ground and forging new paths for other women to follow.”
Beyond adversity - the rise of international activists
On Her Shoulders by Alexandra Bombach
The film focuses on the life of Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman captured by ISIS soldiers, who escaped and has become an international spokesperson for the horrors faced by the Yazidi community.
Grit by Cynthia Wade and Sasha Friedlander
In 2006, a mud volcano erupted in the Indonesian province of East Java, unleashing flowing mud and bubbling gases, destroying a nearby community, killing 20 people and displacing almost 40,000 people. A majority of geologists have linked the eruption to nearby exploratory drilling for natural gas, but residents have struggled to win compensation for their losses. This film shares the story and development of a young female activist as she becomes an advocate for the rights of her people.
Speaking out against injustice
Netizens by Cynthia Lowen
Award-winning director Cynthia Lowen profiles women who have been the targets of online harassment and how they have fought against it. This film is part of Big Ideas presented by Scotia Wealth Management, where directors and subjects of documentaries will join in-depth panels to discuss the works.
“That is definitely going to be a conversation-starter, to look at the online harassment of women, how deep it goes, how traumatizing it is and how women are fighting back. The amazing subjects from that film will be up here for the screening, including powerhouse lawyer Carrie Goldberg, who has devoted her practice to taking on these types of cases of online harassment. She will be here along with Anita Sarkeesian, who came to attention when she was being trolled by men in the whole “Gamergate” affair. The lived experience that these women share in dealing with this issue is going to make for some powerful on-stage conversation.”
Whispering Truth to Power by Shameela Seedat
This powerful film from South African follows the story of Thuli Madonsela. In her government role of Public Protector, she faced incredibly intense struggle in her investigation of then President of South Africa Jacob Zuma.
“This is a story of how this one woman is fighting against the most powerful leader in the country and his supporters. The film has a real impact as we realize how fake news and rumours don’t just happen in North America, but is part of the political culture in so many countries."
Stories behind our social media posts
Postings from Home by Kelly O’Brien
In a one-night-only show, Canadian filmmaker Kelly O’Brien hosts a stage performance in which she shares her life in a modern-day slideshow, using her Facebook posts from over the years. Topics in her live presentation range from her childhood to the challenges of raising a child with disabilities to her thoughts about the future.
“She brings a personal storytelling approach to this staged performance of her life and her family’s life; it’s really quite beautiful.”