We’ve got you covered with our annual list of the top 24 must-see documentaries at Hot Docs 2016. This year’s Hot Docs Film Festival has begun, and as per usual, there are more than 200 films to sift through and choose from… so, to save you some time and agony, we have carefully selected and narrowed down a list of the top 24 docs to watch (there are just too many amazing docs this year to just choose 10!).
Still too many to choose from? Pick from 6 different categories: the Empowering Tear-Jerkers, the Inspiring and Touching, the Eye-Opening and Engrossing, the Funny and Candid, the Riveting and Powerful and the Insightful and Thought-Provoking.
Get your festival schedule and tickets online at hotdocs.ca before they’re sold out! This year’s festival runs from April 29th to May 7th.
Happy festival-going doc lovers!
The Empowering Tear-Jerkers:
1) THE APOLOGY
Director: Tiffany Hsiung | Canada | 105 min
In this profoundly moving and transformative call for peace and justice, three former “comfort women” break the silence about their sexual slavery during WWII, demanding a formal apology from a reluctant Japanese government.
Director: Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami | Iran, Germany, Switzerland | 90 min
After her family attempts to sell her into marriage, a young Afghan refugee in Iran channels her frustrations and seizes her destiny through music. Grabbing the mic, she spits ﬁery rhymes in the face of oppressive traditions.
3) WHAT TOMORROW BRINGS
Director: Beth Murphy | USA | 89 min
Optimism and excitement ﬁll a remote Afghanistan village’s ﬁrst school to accept female students —an all-girls institution founded by an inspiring local woman. As U.S. troops depart, the next generation of Afghans study their past and dream of their futur
The Inspiring and Touching:
Director: Clay Tweel | USA | 110 min
At age 34, former NFL defensive back and New Orleans hero Steve Gleason was diagnosed with ALS. With limited time left to live, he purposefully records his spirited and inspiring life—a heartfelt time capsule for his newborn son.
5) A DOG’S LIFE
Director: Hélène Choquette | Canada | 67 min
A lifeline for the homeless, dogs are loyal companions who offer unconditional love, stability and a warm body on cold nights—but few shelters accept them. Homeless people in Toronto and Montreal take us into their lives to share the joys and tribulations of life with their best friends.
6) GUN RUNNERS
Director : Anjali Nayar | Canada | 90 min
Two of the most notorious warriors in Kenya’s magniﬁcent Great Rift Valley trade in their AK-47s for sneakers and a chance to make their living as professional marathon runners in this powerful story of friendship, rivalry and sport.
Director: Scott Haze | USA, Kenya | 81 min
From poverty-struck orphan in rural Kenya to afﬂuent entrepreneur, the inspiring story of Charles Mully is made even more poignant and impressive when he surrenders his wealth to help save his country’s abandoned children.
Director: Vanessa Gould | USA | 93 min
How do you distill a rich life into a mere 500 words? This engrossing encounter with New York Times obituary writers reveals the unexpected joys and existential angst of chronicling lives on the front lines of history
9) THE BAD KIDS
Director: Lou Pepe, Keith Fulton | USA | 101 min
Students in a remote desert community bravely confront the challenges of unplanned parenthood, poverty and abuse at an inspiring alternative school that offers hope in this raw and engrossing Sundance Award winner.
10) UNLOCKING THE CAGE
Director: Chris Hegedus, D A Pennebaker | USA | 92 min
Legendary duo Hegedus and Pennebaker focus their lens on a devoted and savvy lawyer in the midst of a ground-breaking case that seeks legal protection for chimpanzees and, ultimately, equality for all creatures under the law.
11) SOUTHWEST OF SALEM: THE STORY OF THE SAN ANTONIO FOUR
Director: Deborah S. Esquenazi | USA | 89 min
The nightmarish persecution of four Latina lesbians wrongfully convicted of molestation is exposed in this startling investigation that reveals the sinister interplay of homophobia and prosecutorial fervour that led to a modern-day witch hunt.
12) THE AGE OF CONSEQUENCES
Director: Jared P. Scott | USA | 78 min
Sounding an alarm over the critical and disturbing effects of societal inaction, this revealing ﬁlm highlights the irreversible impacts of climate change—resource scarcity, mass migration and conﬂict—through the lens of global stability and national security.
13) GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM
Director: Todd Wider, Jedd Wider | USA | 99 min
An intimate and deeply troubling account of mental illness is eloquently unveiled through the poignant diary entries of a woman whose starved body was found in an abandoned New Hampshire farmhouse.
The Funny and Candid:
14) SOUR GRAPES
Director: Jerry Rothwell, Reuben Atlas | USA, France, UK | 84 min
Controversy erupts when an unassuming young man ﬂoods the American wine market with fake vintages valued in the millions, bamboozling the wine world elite in this humorous and suspenseful tale of an ingenious con on the eve of the 2008 ﬁnancial crisis.
15) DE PALMA
Director: Noah Baumbach, Jake Paltrow | USA | 107 min
From Carrie to Mission: Impossible to Scarface and beyond, Brian de Palma has created some of cinema’s most iconic work. In this careerspanning, funny and candid conversation, he reveals his unique perspective on life, work and the past 50 years in ﬁlm.
The Riveting and Powerful:
Director: Dawn Porter | USA | 80 min
American women’s right to abortion is no longer clear, as 288 dubious laws slyly crafted by conservatives have decimated access. While a watershed Supreme Court battle looms, witness the human stakes of the right to choose.
17) GULÎSTAN, LAND OF ROSES
Director: Zaynê Akyol | Canada | 84 min
Death by a woman’s hand means a Daesh (aka ISIS) ﬁghter will never reach paradise, which makes this highly skilled all-female Kurdish brigade all the more fearsome. Their ﬁght for liberation from war and men is thoughtfully captured in this beautiful portrait.
18) DIVING INTO THE UNKNOWN
Director: Juan Reina | Finland, Norway | 85 min
After a tragic accident forces a group of Finnish divers to abandon two friends, the team reassembles for a terrifying, covert operation to recover their bodies from the treacherous deepwater cave that claimed their lives.
19) HOLY HELL
Director: Will Allen | USA | 105 min
Camera in hand, an idealistic young ﬁlmmaker joins a spiritualist community—but 20 years later when secrets are spilled and cracks form around their leader, his lens turns on himself and fellow cult members seeking answers.
The Insightful and Thought-Provoking:
20) UNDER THE GUN
Director: Stephanie Soechtig | USA | 110 min
With razor-sharp arguments and insight, Stephanie Soechtig and Katie Couric (the team behind Fed Up) craft a gripping indictment of American gun culture, meeting communities shattered by shootings and exposing the politics that allow the epidemic of violence to persist.
21) LO AND BEHOLD: REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD
Director: Werner Herzog | USA | 98 min
“Does the Internet dream of itself?” Werner Herzog deep dives into the murky morass that is the Internet today—from hacking to cyberbullying, robot sentience to scientiﬁc breakthroughs, no bits or bytes are left unturned in this thought provoking, brain-tickling reverie.
22) FUTURE BABY
Director: Maria Arlamovsky | Austria | 91 min
Will natural reproduction grow passé? This compelling ﬁlm brings together visionaries and experts on both sides of the in vitro fertilization debate, exploring the controversial hand of science in the art of baby making.
23) A STRANGE LOVE AFFAIR WITH EGO
Director: Ester Gould | Netherlands | 91 min
Having grown up in awe of her sister’s seemingly boundless conﬁdence, the director explores our increasing obsession with the self, teasing out the subtle differences between narcissism and self-assurance and exposing the unspoken pressures of becoming a superwoman
Director: Kirsten Johnson | USA | 102 min
Assembling footage she’s shot over 25 years, documentary cinematographer Kirsten Johnson (Citizenfour, The Invisible War) searches to reconcile her part in the thorny questions of permission, power, creative ambition and human obligation that come with ﬁlming the lives of others.