The Hot Docs of Hot Docs

Since its inaugural year in 1994 (the same year that Hoop Dreams didn’t win the Oscar for Best Documentary) the Hot Docs Film Festival has been the jumping-off point for countless award-winning and unforgettable movies, like O.J.: Made in America, which had its international premiere there and went on to win Best Documentary Feature at the 2017 Academy Awards. The documentary is a genre of film that can be as riveting as the latest summer blockbuster, while also informing us about a subject alien to our understanding of what it means to be alive. Documentaries have the power to make the world smaller, more personal, and more immediate. And as the need for documentaries has grown, so has the lineup at Hot Docs. In its first year, the festival presented twenty-one films; this year it showed 228. With so many amazing movies to pick through, and sometimes with only the tantalizing descriptions and truncated trailers to go by, we present our top seven movies to keep an eye on as they make their way to wider release.

1. Transformer (dir. Michael Del Monte)

Transformer, the story of Janae Marie Kroczaleski, was the Audience Award winner at this year’s Hot Docs. And if the trailer is anything to go by, it may be difficult to leave the theater without having shed a tear.

2. On Her Shoulders (dir. Alexandria Bombach)

Nadia Murad, who escaped from sexual slavery at the hands of ISIS, confronts her own harrowing story every time she repeats it for reporters and international interventionists. But she keeps doing it because the story needs to be told until change happens.

3. Vivre Riche (dir. Joël Akafou)

A civil war divided the West African nation of Côte D’Ivoire through much of the early aughts, leaving a generation of youth that has grown up scarred and disillusioned by the fighting. Among them is “Rolex the Portuguese” and his friends, part of a growing youth population that has found that the best way to make a living and accumulate the trappings of the West is through running online scams. This is their story.

4. The End of Fear (dir. Barbara Visser)

Art is a tricky subject. Modern art, even more so. Lots of good, and funny, documentaries have been made on the subject, like My Kid Could Paint That and Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock? This movie, which is not only about art, but the crime of vandalism, tells the wild story of the slashing of the irreplaceable abstract painting “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue III” in 1986.

5. Anote’s Ark (dir. Matthieu Rytz)

The weird weather patterns, every credible climate scientist, and Al Gore—but not the EPA—all agree that global warming is a problem that needs to be addressed now. But for the residents of the small Pacific Island nation of Kiribati, the problem is even more immediate. Scientists estimate that at the rate the ocean levels are rising, all thirty-three islands of the Kiribati Atoll will be underwater within the century. And it might already be too late to stop it.

6. Primas (dir. Laura Bari)

Primas is the story of Rocío and Aldana, Argentinian teenagers who have survived horrific sexual abuse. For them, the way to heal and thrive is their reliance on one another and their shared passion for dance and performance art.

7. Slut or Nut: The Diary of A Rape Trial (dir. Kelly Showker)

Canada has some of the most progressive sexual assault laws on the books, but only three out of every 1,000 sexual assaults result in a conviction. When Mandi Gray decided to report her rape (by a fellow student in her Ph.D. program), she also made the unprecedented decision to document her trial—both to show how the process works, and how it doesn’t.

Need more documentaries in your life? Check out our recent reviews for Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and RBG. And be sure to check out and stream all the movies from our Spotlights on Personal Documentary and Rockumentary.
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