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Hot Docs film festival to spotlight Inuit rights, Lac Mégantic, Canucks riot

Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, the Canadian producer of "Twice Colonized", is photographed at the Hot Docs Festival film line-up announcement in Toronto, Tuesday, Mar. 28, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

TORONTO — This year’s Hot Docs festival will open with an intimate look at Inukactivist and lawyer Aaju Peter and her work to defend the human rights of Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic.

The Denmark-Canada-Greenland co-production “Twice Colonized” is helmed by Danish director Lin Alluna and produced by Iqaluit filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril and Denmark's Emile Hertling Péronard.

Arnaquq-Baril said she's known Peter since she was a little girl, noting Peter was born in Greenland and moved to Canada as a young adult.

“In Canada, we’ve been having the beginnings of a reckoning with the colonization of Indigenous Peoples. I just found it really interesting that a young Danish woman wanted to confront her own country with the questions that we’re talking about here," said Arnaquq-Baril, who has been making documentaries for about 20 years. 

"I think the film is starting at a point of the conversation about reconciliation where we currently are," said Arnaquq-Bari. "Whereas a lot of settler Canada thinks we're farther along than we are because we’ve talked about reconciliation for a while. But we're not there yet and it’s not done. There’s a lot of reckoning to be done before we can reconcile." 

The Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival revealed its slate at a press conference Tuesday that touted 214 films from 72 countries and special events to celebrate its 30th edition.

Notable Canadian projects include a four-part series about one of Canada's worst rail disasters from Quebec filmmaker Philippe Falardeau, best known for dramas including “The Good Lie” with Reese Witherspoon and his Oscar-nominated classroom tear-jerker “Monsieur Lazhar." He will bring “Lac-Mégantic” to the Deep Dive program for long-form storytelling after a debut planned for the Cannes International Series Festival in April.

The Canadian Spectrum program includes “I’m Just Here for The Riot,” about the “smartphone riot” that unfolded after the Vancouver Canucks lost the 2011 Stanley Cup final; “July Talk: Love Lives Here,” in which the band books a drive-in theatre amid the pandemic-born shutdown of live music; and “Someone Lives Here,” about a Toronto carpenter who builds shelters for unhoused people. 

Canadian films in other programs include the Rama Rau-directed “Coven,” about three millennial women who identify as witches.

“For me, witchcraft was something that has always been about men's fear of women,” said Rau. “Men have always feared strong women and calling them witches is one way of diminishing them and marginalizing them.”

Rau said she wanted to examinewitchcraft through a feminist lens and illustrate how women are taking their own power back. 

“It's always been about fear. It's always been about power. It's about taking away power from a certain segment of society," added Rau. “It's about the duality of a religion like Christianity, which says Satan is bad. Jesus is good and a woman is bad.”

Other selections include “Satan Wants You,” about how a young woman and her Catholic psychiatrist ignited the global Satanic Panic in the 1980s; and “The Lebanese Burger Mafia,” which chases clues through rural Alberta to uncover the origins of a rogue fast-food chain.

The 30th edition of Hot Docs – billed as North America’s largest documentary festival, conference and market – runs April 27 to May 7 in Toronto.

Hot Docs’ artistic director Shane Smith said several films this year touch on representation and social awareness. 

“In terms of diversity and reconciliation this year, it's really for us about building awareness, like letting audiences know these stories that they might not have been aware of or heard about before, and really showing them that it's a big world out there,” said Smith. 

New this year is a program dubbed Human Kind, highlighting stories of kindness and collaboration. The inaugural edition includes the world premieres of “The Only Doctor,” about the only doctor in Georgia’s poorest county for 15 years and “Unsyncable,” about a group of seniors with a passion for synchronized swimming.

The Nightvision program includes the world premiere of “It’s Coming,” a found footage horror in which a woman returns to her family’s ancestral apartment; and the international premiere of “Another Body,” in which a student investigates deepfake technology after pornographic video surfaces showing her face on another body.

The Special Presentations program includes the previously announced Kremlin expose “The Rise of Wagner”; a look at the posthumous theft of Albert Einstein's brain from award-winning Toronto journalist Michelle Shephard, with “The Man Who Stole Einstein’s Brain"; and director Barry Avrich’s "Without Precedent: The Supreme Life of Rosalie Abella," a portrait of Canada’s first female Jewish Supreme Court judge.

Avrich said Abella lost her brother during the Holocaust and "this defines her as a human being."

"This is a woman that came from a displaced camp, whose parents were Holocaust survivors who watched their own child get murdered during the Holocaust," said the Toronto-based filmmaker, whose other profiles include "Oscar Peterson: Black + White" and "David Foster: Off the Record." 

"What I learned about Rosalie Abella, just hanging around with her, is tolerance, acceptability and that we're all the same people."

Outside Toronto, organizers say non-fiction fans can stream more than 100 selections May 5 to 9 on the online subscription platform, Hot Docs at Home.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2023.

Noel Ransome, The Canadian Press

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