It has been said that documentaries serve as a powerful platform that brings important topics to the table – sparking discussion, and sometimes, even social movements. Consequently, seeing these experiences through the dedicated work of filmmakers helps put ourselves in the shoes of complete strangers. In other words, offering the viewer real people and real life situations that Hollywood fiction simply cannot provide.
Now in its 26th year, the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival is Toronto’s second-largest film event (behind TIFF), which runs from April 26th to May 5th. Featuring a staggering 234 films from around the world, this year’s lineup ranges in styles from expository, observational, and performative, all across a mere 10 days.
Push (dir. Fredrik Gertten, Sweden) is arguably the flagship film in this regard. Skilfully assembled by director Gertten and editor Erik Bafving, the wide reaching work makes its thesis statement clear from the get-go: Affordable housing is a basic human right. Examples from Toronto to London to Barcelona expertly critique the global housing crisis with a surprising dose of humour amidst the grim realities it presents.
With its frank and depressing material, Gertten balances stories of eviction with that of its subject Leilani Farha, a United Nation special rapporteur on adequate housing. Through her, the film talks with respected social and political thinkers, shedding light on the global epidemic that’s only getting worse. Accessible and engaging, Push is certain to inspire lively conversations with those who see it.
Elsewhere, Propaganda: The Art of Selling Lies (dir. Larry Weinstein, Canada) considers the present day landscape of “fake news” and “alternative facts” and investigates them by looking back at notable historical moments. Spanning ancient cave handprints to the Twitter account of the 45th president, Propaganda truly excels when it simply sits down with key artists and their provocative creations.
Interviews from Jim Fitzpatrick (creator of the famous Che Guevara poster) to Sabo, a politically conservative street artist in Los Angeles, give the viewer glimpses of how powerful images are, more often than not, made from the confines of a singular vision.
Equally absorbing, albeit altogether different, is the much talked-about Killing Patient Zero (dir. Laurie Lynd, Canada). Detailing the origins of the AIDS epidemic with the compelling story of Quebec flight attendant Gaetan Dugas- the man falsely implicated with starting it all – the film poses insight and compassion for its subject.
Fusing an array of 40 interviews with Dugas’ friends, as well as prominent journalists, Killing of Patient Zero shows how Dugas’ name became identified with the virus through an unfortunate typo – misconstruing the letter “O” for the number 0. Determined to correct this long standing misconception, director Lynd paints him as a hero of sorts. Through his full co-operation with investigators before his death at age 31, Dugas’ information of past partners ultimately helped prove that AIDS was indeed a sexually transmitted disease, before it was determined otherwise.
Indeed, if there is a through line guiding the selections at Hot Docs for 2019, it is certainly the idea of documentary filmmaking as a curious, daring, and fearless artform that does not shy away from all points of view.