Nadia Murad and a group of Yazidi people with arms crossed looking up

10 must-see movies at this year’s Hot Docs festival

These Hot Docs films highlight some of the most important issues facing our communities

One of Toronto’s biggest film festivals is about to take place—and no, we’re not talking about TIFF. The 25th annual Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival runs from April 26 to May 6 and this year, for the first time ever, 50 per cent of the docs screening are from female filmmakers—a move which feels particularly timely given the recent #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.

According to Shane Smith, the festival’s director of programming, many of the films in this year’s lineup also reflect issues that are still making headlines, and do so in extremely compelling ways.

“The beauty and one of the intrinsic values of documentaries is the ability to make you feel something about the state of the world, about a person, about an activity or an action,” says Smith. “What helps a documentary do that is new perspective on the topic, telling me something new or in a new way about a topic that you thought you already knew about.”

If you’re having trouble narrowing down which of the festival’s 246 films you should see, here are our top suggestions:

Female chefs preparing food in foreground from documentary The Heat

The Heat
According to Smith, this doc is a must-see because of its searing look at the sexism and harassment in restaurant kitchens, and how female chefs are finding their voice in this male-dominated industry.

illustration of man with glasses holding pencil and resting head on sheet of paper

Letter from Masanjia
“Canadian filmmakers have a habit of telling stories from all around the world and bringing their perspectives to these interesting international stories,” says Smith. This doc, which examines the realities of Chinese labour camps, is one such example. Made by a Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Leon Lee, Smith says this is “a story that couldn’t be told if he was living and working in China.”

grainy black and white photo of indigenous woman walking under hydro towers

Two Worlds Colliding
In the early 2000s, several Indigenous men were arrested by Saskatoon police, then dumped in rural areas, where they died of hypothermia. This compelling doc looks at what these deeply disturbing “freezing deaths” reveal about the relationship between First Nations communities and authorities.

Two New York City police officers obscured by blue and white confetti

Crime + Punishment
A film that follows 12 Black and Latino NYPD officers blowing the whistle on the corruption within their own force—and brilliantly showcasing the human cost of the “blue code of silence.”

1999
This moving doc revisits Moncton, New Brunswick, 16 years after a wave of teen suicides devastated the community.

man with bicycle dwarfed under a large tree in midst of verdant landscape

Inventing Tomorrow
For an infusion of hope, check out this look at an international science fair that brings together some of the world’s brightest young minds, who are trying to solve the most pressing environmental problems.

portrait of senior male subject of documentary The Guardians

The Guardians
This Canadian-made doc, one of Smith’s top picks, tells the story of two Las Vegas retirees who were legally kidnapped—and had their bank accounts emptied—by corrupt court-appointed legal guardians, who prey on society’s growing demographic of seniors.

close up on woman with maroon glasses looking off to the right from documentary Netizens

Netizens
A powerful look at the abuse women endure online—and the women who are fighting to make the internet safe for everyone. That list includes Canadian-American media critic Anita Sarkeesian, who faced a barrage of online harassment after producing an online video series about sexism in video games.

Musician Scott Jones in wheelchair seen from behind in moss covered forest

Love, Scott
Musician Scott Jones was stabbed outside a Halifax club for being gay. In this documentary, he shares his story of resilience.

On Her Shoulders
Nadia Murad endured the atrocities being committed against her Yazidi community in Iraq. But now, as this powerful documentary shows, the 23-year-old is bravely demanding the world acknowledge this genocide—and take action to stop it.