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The Hotdocs double-award-winning documentary of the struggles of a first nation in BC against pipelines traversing its territory in defiance of its assertion that it has legal ownership of the land and has not authorized the building of pipelines due to their potential pollution effecting its traditional life.
“The Wet’suwet’en have never ceded their territory, governing the Yintah (land) with their own laws for centuries—a fact conveniently overlooked by the Canadian government and several large fossil fuel companies, which continue to trespass, invade and occupy Wet’suwet’en lands to construct highly polluting natural-gas pipelines that stretch across several bodies of water, directly impacting the communities that surround them.
Chronicling a decade of growing resistance to the forces that are hell-bent on exploiting their land, Yintah follows Howilhkat Freda Huson and Sleydo’ Molly Wickham on the frontlines of this fight. When their movement reaches a critical juncture in early 2020, several nations and their allies across Canada stand up in protest, defending land checkpoints and blocking train service across major cities, in an incredible display of solidarity. Yintah is an urgent call to climate justice action and an enraging indictment of the Canadian government and its partnerships as they continue to violate First Nations sovereignty in the name of profit.”

American Cats:  The Good, the Bad, and the Cuddly:
A mostly whimsical film of the United States’ love affair with cats but also the unbridled greed of American veterinarians in their support of the widely-performed profitable barbaric surgery of “declawing.”
““Do you really love your ottoman more than your cat!?” Amy Hoggart, the hilarious correspondent from Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, wants to know. Ontario is currently the only province in Canada that does not have a ban on cat declawing, so this comedic confrontation about the normalization of animal torture and denaturing carries particular urgency. Using a disarmingly light touch, Hoggart cracks jokes, cuddles kittens and attacks this controversial practice using sarcasm to expose a heart-rending catspiracy. On its surface, declawing appears to be a simple and harmless procedure for the convenience of pet owners, but is in fact a huge industry, protected by a powerful lobby, that not only promotes but profits from this inhumane procedure that generates “one billion dollars a year for a quick 11-minute surgery.” Through devastating interviews with veterinarians, activists and pet owners, Hoggart navigates through a maze of misinformation and discovers the profound physical and psychological effects declawing has on our feline friends.”

Beethoven’s Nine: Ode to Humanity:
A triumphant celebration of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony including heartbreaking wartime stories affecting the filmmaker’s family.  Despite his hearing disability, Beethoven became one of world’s top musical composers, indicating his great talent, culminating with his ultimate tour-de-force, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
“Can a work of art remain relevant 200 years after its creation? Ludwig van Beethoven’s last completed symphony proves it’s possible. The opus remains one of the most recognizable pieces of classical music still performed worldwide; significantly, Leonard Bernstein conducted it to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall in one of his last public concerts. Perhaps the most poignant and meaningful recent performance of the work was by the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra in a powerfully defiant response to the Russian invasion. Why is this work, with its “Ode to Joy,” still such an evocative and exuberant expression of hope and resilience, love and freedom? Psychologist Steven Pinker traces the links between Beethoven’s masterpiece and the Enlightenment, while Charles Schultz’s Peanuts comics show how it infiltrated popular culture. Spanning a range of subjects, each with their own special connection to this work written as a love letter to all humankind, director Larry Weinstein finds himself drawn in, as recent personal and world events collide, shining a light on how impossible it is to separate art from life.”

Black Box Diaries:
The dramatic real-life struggles of a young attractive Japanese woman against the male-dominated Japanese establishment after she reports being sexually assaulted by a much older well-known Japanese male reporter.
“When Shiori Ito, at the time a young woman and aspiring journalist, accepted an invitation for a drink with famed reporter Noriyuki Yamaguchi, she was lured into a trap: after she was intoxicated, Ito was taken against her will to his hotel room. Ito’s allegations of ensuing rape were dismissed by Japan’s justice system because of archaic laws that remain on the books. But Ito goes public with her allegations and sets up a court case in a demand for justice, setting up a riveting emotional rollercoaster-ride as she takes her fight to the heart of the patriarchy. Deftly crafted employing personal archival material (and a great soundtrack), Black Box Diaries sees Ito pushing herself to the extreme, tackling public criticism and threats, and navigating deep cultural prejudice against women. If she wins, it will be worth it all.”

Born Hungry:
A wonderful hear-warming film of the life of top chef Sash Simpson’s rise from a life of a child-runaway on the streets of India to adoption by Canadian Margaret Simpson, a woman with a heart of gold and many adopted children from around the world, to being mentored by top celebrity chef, Mark McEwan, at high-end restaurant North 44, and to eventually opening of his own restaurant in the tony Rosedale neighbourhood of Toronto.
“Canadian filmmaker Barry Avrich traces the inspiring story of Sash Simpson, a runaway child from the streets of India who was adopted by a Canadian family and became one of the top chefs in the world. Avrich and his team share their challenges and experiences in crafting this story of how incomparable talent and artistry triumph over adversity.
Sash, a fine-dining establishment in an upscale Toronto neighbourhood, is a world away from its well-known chef’s humble beginnings on the streets of Chennai as a seven-year-old street kid hustling for survival. Sash Simpson’s journey of working his way through the ranks of North 44 while fostering dreams of opening his own restaurant is nothing short of astonishing. Now, on his return to India for the first time since he was adopted into a Toronto family with 31 siblings (a remarkable tale of its own), Simpson embarks on a culinary tasting tour with adventurous local chefs. Memories are stirred by the vibrant smells and sights of bustling metropolises where Simpson looks for clues about his early days, including finding the movie theatre he used to clean in exchange for a place to sleep. The contrast between his present and past is stark but provides a chance for closure to questions he’s harboured about his origins for so long.”

Using unique constantly-changing morphing generative technology, director Gary Hustwit, in this Big Ideas presentation, tells the fascinating story of super creative creator Brian Eno. In this iteration, the awestruck Hotdocs Theatre audience were witness to footage of famed singer Brian Ferry during his brief stint with Roxy Music.
“Famed producer, musician, and artist Brian Eno (Talking Heads, David Bowie) is no ordinary creator. To tell the story of his life’s work, acclaimed director Gary Hustwit had to do something different. Using generative technology, Hustwit constructs the film on stage, live in real-time. Eno is a unique cinema experience: a film that is different every time it is shown. Join this original documentary filmmaking process underlining the relationship between technology and creativity.
Visionary musician and artist Brian Eno has produced singer David Bowie and bands like Talking Heads, Roxy Music and U2 over his 50-year career. Here, we take a trip into the mercurial essence of Eno’s specific brand of creativity in a way befitting this musical pioneer. Eno is a generative film created live in real time on stage by acclaimed director Gary Hustwit. This groundbreaking new technology constructs an evergreen performance and a different cinematic experience at each screening, Eno reveals new, previously unreleased music and artworks from over 500 hours of archive to track a creative evolution from art student to ambient music pioneer. Eno is principled, engaged and playful as he guides us through a life that uses art as its guiding principle.”

Luther: Never Too Much:
The sad story of amazing Grammy Award-winning R&B singer Luther Vandross, in his fight to be regarded and vindicated as more than an R&B singer while fighting weight issues and sexual orientation questions leading to a life without a true love.
“Luther Vandross was always destined to be a star, but he went well beyond that, becoming one of the most venerated and beloved singer-songwriters of his generation with hits like “Dance with My Father,” “Here and Now” and, of course, “Never Too Much.” Here, award-winning director Dawn Porter explores Vandross’s rise from background singer to icon through his relationships and collaborations with legendary recording artists like David Bowie, Mariah Carey and Dionne Warwick, to name a few. Beyond his battles with the music industry and his desire to escape being pigeon-holed as an R&B artist emerges a portrait of a spiritual man with a voice from the heavens whose ambition and work ethic simmer around a heart wracked by personal battles with weight and the pursuit of love. Letting the music guide the way, Luther: Never Too Much is a well-overdue ode to a trailblazer whose music will live in popular culture forever.”

Mexican Dream:
A sweet film about a divorced woman’s struggles against obstacles to live a Mexican Dream, instead of the more typical American Dream of her compatriots, to reunite with her 3 estranged children and forge a new life with her new boyfriend and her new life adventures.
“Malena explores a second chance at motherhood with her new partner through IVF, while at the same time she is determined to mend the bond with her estranged teenage son and daughter from a previous marriage. Her relationship falters, however, and her partner threatens to leave her if the IVF doesn’t succeed. Facing an uncertain future and tired of her job as a domestic worker in a fancy neighbourhood in Mexico City, Malena is intent on having a financially independent life by building her own business, and she aims to bring her children to live with her. Her co-workers and family offer the supportive and loving ecosystem she needs to endure the challenges that arise in her pursuit of her dreams. Filmed in a sensitive, intimate tone, this special collaboration between film participant and director delivers an honest story of motherhood, relationships, family and friendship—and one of a woman who is ready to live life on her own terms.”

Michel Gondry, Do It Yourself:
A film of the intriguing story of Michel Gondry’s unique magical film-making imagination, initially centred in France then spreading to the rest of the very appreciative world.
“Director Michel Gondry re-invented the music video and challenged Hollywood with his playfully distinctive hand-made visual style. Intimately documented by his friend and long-time assistant, François Nemeta, in Michel Gondry, Do It Yourself, Gondry’s career receives overdue review, from his earliest clips for his own band Oui Oui, to his best-known music videos for Björk, Daft Punk, the White Stripes and the Chemical Brothers, to the invention of the “bullet time” effect made famous by The Matrix, to the bespoke shorts he now makes for just one spectator: his daughter Maya. Inspired by the French magician and film pioneer Georges Méliès and his inventor grandfather, Gondry has created three decades of fascinating and poetic work. Here, his unusual creative process is on full display as he shares his ethos of “creating without caring what others think, learning while doing and taking pleasure while doing it.” Featuring Kylie Minogue, Beck, Jack White, Spike Jonze, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Jack Black.”

Never Look Away:
A dramatic film by director Lucy Lawless of the fearless mythical war-zone cameraperson Margaret Moth, while working for CNN, who fights back from tragedy to again lead the march to unmask the terrible horrors of war to the world.  Margaret Moth was a fearless fighter to expose to the world true news not fake news.
“Get up close and personal with the life and legacy of photojournalist Margaret Moth. Hailing from New Zealand, Moth landed in major conflict zones around the world and was fearless in her coverage of war and its human toll. Settle in with key creatives from the film for a conversation about Moth’s inspiring and fearless life and trailblazer spirit that has ignited journalists around the world to push themselves to the limit to share the truth.
CNN camerawoman Margaret Moth made the wars in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Lebanon, and Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, real for North American television audiences. While her fellow journalists took cover, Moth ran towards danger, camera in hand, to get the shots. Colleagues including Christiane Amanpour attest to her bravery but it is Moth’s friends and lovers who reveal the self-destructive nature of the artist behind the lens. Innovative reconstructions of her near-lethal assignment in Sarajevo’s Sniper Alley, which turned Moth into headline news, are paired with unsettling interviews with witnesses to her daredevilry, forming the grit of this unconventional portrait. In her directorial debut, actor Lucy Lawless reveals the fearlessness of a fellow Kiwi woman-turned-groundbreaker, one who immortalized war-reporting history.”

Norwegian Democrazy:
The ironic documentary of racist main protagonist Lars Thorsen’s exploitation of the democratic laws of Norway to espouse his anti-Islam views.
“A racist decides to burn the Qu’ran as an act of free speech in Norway. This is the extent of the logic behind Lars Thorsen’s publicity stunts for his Islamophobic hate group, Stop the Islamization of Norway (SIAN). Thorsen’s antics are unoriginal and offensive, but his protests have the desired dual effect of attracting attention (and outrage) and forcing the police to protect his right to self-expression. To understand SIAN’s inner workings and strategies, the filmmakers present themselves as neutral journalists to Thorsen and his followers. For three years, they watch the braggart entreat anyone in public squares or parking lots to debate his rhetoric and then hide behind the law when his “knowledge” is challenged. What co-directors Fabien Greenberg and Bård Kjøge Rønning deliver is a revealing look at provocation for provocation’s sake, laid bare in a street-level battle for democracy.”

A nostalgic look back into the memories of a family of the devastating effects of the dropping of the atomic bomb by the USA Air Force during the end of WW2. It was rumoured that the USA, despite being in talks for an armistice with Japan, decided to drop atomic bombs on Japanese soil to test the devastation caused by the new weapons.
“At the age of 60, Japanese Canadian Noriko Oi embarks on an emotionally charged journey back to Nagasaki, her childhood city, to unravel the tightly kept secrets of her family’s past. Decades after the death of her mother, Mitsuko, and facing the sale of her ancestral home, Oi seizes a poignant opportunity to piece together a mother’s history that was never shared with her. Sifting through the hidden corners of her family home, engaging with those who shared Mitsuko’s history with her, Oi discovers letters and stories that weave a rich tapestry of her mother’s life and untold narratives of her native Japan. Through Laurence Lévesque’s thoughtful storytelling marked by stunning visuals, Okurimono navigates the delicate realms of unspeakable pain and intergenerational trauma with grace, painting a poignant picture of closure.”

Sextortion Diary:
A savvy Spanish film-maker fights back after having lunch with her ex and having her laptop stolen. Racing against a deadline for the release of digital violence sexual images to her family, friends and colleagues on her contact list, she valiantly fights to bring the hackers and extortionists to justice, despite the lack of assistance of the authorities.
“A young filmmaker’s laptop is stolen. Two months later, an anonymous hacker threatens to reveal the woman’s sexually suggestive photos to all her work contacts if she doesn’t pay thousands of dollars. Panicked, Pati reaches out to the Spanish authorities for assistance, only to discover the police and courts are completely powerless to protect her. Told through text messages, emails and self-recorded videos, My Sextortion Diary documents a chilling and nightmarish scenario that has become increasingly commonplace online. As Pati’s hacker begins leaking her private photos, she decides to take the law into her own hands. With remarkable honesty and humour, Pati reaches beyond her initial feelings of helplessness to tell a powerful story about bodily autonomy and dignity. Part thriller, part mystery, this is a compelling first-hand look into the threat of online blackmail and what it takes to fight back.”

Singing Back the Buffalo:
An inspiring cross border film of the success of bringing back the almost-extinct wild buffalo herds on the plains of North American to bring back traditional aboriginal lives based on Buffalo Peoples and Native Peoples.
“In a time of severe environmental degradation and global uncertainty, the buffalo can lead us to a better tomorrow. After a dark recent history, the buffalo herds of North America are awaiting their return to the Great Plains, aided by dedicated Indigenous activists, leaders and communities, including award-winning Cree filmmaker Tasha Hubbard (nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up). Together with Blackfoot Elder Leroy Little Bear, Hubbard weaves an intimate story of humanity’s connections to buffalo and eloquently reveals how their return can usher in a new era of sustainability and balance. On her journey, Hubbard explores the challenges faced by buffalo allies and shares the positive steps already taken towards the ultimate—but uncertain—goal of buffalo rematriation. Richly visualized and deeply uplifting, Singing Back the Buffalo is an epic reimagining of North America through the lens of buffalo consciousness and a potent dream of what is within our grasp.”

The Strike:
A powerful film of the struggles of prisoners in the state-of-art northern California prison to fight the use of prolonged years-long solitary confinement of convicts contrary to international regulations against its use beyond 15-day maximums for this internationally-recognized form of torture.
“The Strike tells the story of a generation of California men as they endure decades of solitary confinement and, against all odds, launch the largest hunger strike in US history. Told through intimate interviews and archival verité footage, the film goes beyond making a case against solitary confinement by illuminating the power of organizing this prisoner-led resistance, and in doing so, flipping the true-crime genre on its head.”

Teaches of Peaches:
Documentary of the gender-bending sexually-liberated female musician performer, Peaches, during her anniversary tour, where her provocative musical performances are greeted by appreciative adoring fans, a long way from her start in Canada, where her raunchy performances were already applauded by audiences such as at Harbourfront’s Power Plant’s Power Ball annual fundraising party.
“Filmed during the Teaches of Peaches Anniversary Tour in 2022, Teaches of Peaches seamlessly weaves together exclusive archival gems with dynamic tour footage capturing the transformative journey of Toronto’s own Merrill Nisker to become the internationally acclaimed cultural powerhouse that is Peaches. From the inception of the stage show to the rigorous rehearsals and riveting performances, this intimate look shows an icon in her prime. Nisker takes this anniversary as an opportunity to reflect on her past—from her musical beginnings creating songs for kids in daycare to her favourite stage costumes—all set to her fearless, sexually charged electro ear worms. Through biting wit and brash talent, she advocates for body autonomy and LGBTQIA+ rights, leaving an indelible mark on popular culture. The feminism and art of Peaches will forever challenge gender stereotypes, social norms and the patriarchy until the world can finally “take it on, take it all on.”

White Mountain:
A awe-inspiring dramatically-shot film of extreme sports and climate changes on the highest mountain, Mont Blanc, in Europe.   Beautifully shot in the Alps, White Mountain, the literal English translation of Mont Blanc, shows nature at its height of beauty and as an ultimate sports field.
“Towering over the Alps, Mont Blanc has enraptured mountain climbers, athletes and tourists, all of whom are drawn to the beauty and the challenges the peak offers. It has become a mecca as a proving ground for extreme-sports enthusiasts, but incredible danger lies on the steep slopes. Here, we witness the journey of conquering the mountain from two perspectives: a skier recovering from injury hopes she can brave the summit; and a mountain rescuer works saving lives while maintaining a personal goal of traversing the entire range—in 24 hours. Incredible footage captures both the wide scope of these intimidating pursuits, as well as up-close personal views that keep us right in the action. With the ice melting as a result of climate change, these journeys may be some of the last possible on one of Earth’s mightiest mountains.”

31st Hot Docs Film Festival 2024 was held April 25th to May 5th in Toronto, Ontario.  This festival celebrated 31 years of showing important documentary films to audiences at their Cinema, festivals, special events, screening series and more. The festival consisted of the industry section and the film section. 

Copyright 2024 Reviews by AJ Lam with information from Hotdocs Festival 2024, Photos Copyright of the filmmakers.


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