Variety Article


‘Twice Colonized’ to Open 30th Edition of Hot Docs, Toronto Non-Fiction Festival Unveils Slate

By Jennie Punter
March 28, 2023

Danish filmmaker Lin Alluna’s “Twice Colonized” will open the 30th anniversary edition of Hot Docs, which unveiled its full slate of 214 films—including 119 features—from 72 countries on Tuesday.

North America’s largest documentary festival, conference, and market continues its commitment to gender parity with 53% female directors in this year’s official selection. Hot Docs runs April 27 to May 7.

International co-production “Twice Colonized,” which premiered at Sundance and opened CPH:DOX, follows Inuk lawyer Aaju Peter, a renowned human-rights defender of the Arctic’s Indigenous peoples, as she works to bring colonizers Canada and Denmark to justice. The film was produced by Emile Hertling Péronard of Greenland-based Ánorâk Film and Canadian producers Alethea Arnaquq-Baril and Stacey Aglok MacDonald of Red Marrow Media and EyeSteelFilm’s Bob Moore.

“If there is a theme resonating throughout the festival, it’s this idea of making connections in every sense,” Hot Docs artistic director Shane Smith told Variety, in advance of the slate announcement. “Our mandate is to connect audiences to filmmakers and to these stories—and this year filmmakers are exploring these big systemic issues in ways that we haven’t seen before.

“We’re excited to showcase an important film that really speaks to the moment,” he said of the fest opener. “It reflects what’s happening in the world—including Canada, with its reconciliation discussions—but also in the documentary world, where conversations about ethical collaborative storytelling—of which this film is a model—are taking hold.”

This year’s 10-title International Spectrum—a competitive program of global cinema—includes the world premieres of renowned Mexican documentarian Everardo Gonzále’s organized-crime chiller “A Wolfpack Called Ernesto,” and of Marianna Kaat’s absurdist portrait of modern Russia “The Last Relic.”

World premieres in the diverse Canadian Spectrum competition program include Sherien Barsoum’s examination of the justice system through the trial of a mother accused of causing her disabled daughter’s death (“Cynara”); Kathleen Jayme and Asia Youngman’s look at the social-media mob activity prompted by the Vancouver’s Canucks losing the 2011 Stanley Cup (“I’m Just Here for the Riot”); Brittany Farhat’s tale of a touring band’s risky venture to put on an ambitious post-pandemic concert (“July Talk: Love Lives Here”); Jean-Philippe Marquis’ look at the human impact on forests in Canada’s Pacific Northwest (“Silvicola”); Zack Russell’s portrait of a Toronto carpenter whose handbuilt winter shelters for unhoused Torontonians attracted both acclaim and criticism (“Someone Lives Here”); Francois-Xavier De Ruydts’ adventure tale of ambitious hobbyists cavers (“Subterranean”); and Xin Liu’s hybrid-style revelation about homecoming with childhood friends in Northern China’s rustbelt (“Upstream).

This year, two new prizes have been added to the Canadian Spectrum pot. The Bill Nemtin Award for Best Social Impact Documentary comes with a Can. $10,000 cash prize to support the marketing and outreach activities of the winning film, while the John Kastner Award offers a $5,000 cash prize to a film that “embodies masterful and audacious storytelling, meticulous observation, and a profound trust between the director and the people who share their stories.”

The festival is also pumping up the volume on its 30th anniversary with the Hot Docs Podcast Festival Showcase, presented in partnership with CBC Podcasts. Inspired by its wildly popular fall podcast event, this compact sidebar features non-fiction storytelling by some of the best loved voices in the North America mix, including Kara Swisher, WNYC Studio’s Radiolab, and Scamfluencer’s Scaachi Koul and Sarah Hagi.

The globe-spanning grab-bag of World Showcase includes six world premieres. “After the Bridge” follows a mother’s reckoning following the death of her jihadist son; “Allihopa: The Dalkurd Story” follows a professional soccer team of Kurdish refugees; “Jackie the Wolf” captures the filmmaker’s conversation with his activist mother about her announcement of her death date; “The Lebanese Burger Mafia” tracks the filmmaker, a burger-franchise heir, through rural Alberta to discover the chain’s mysterious origins; “Razing Liberty Square” looks at climate change in a segregated Miami community; and “Rowdy Girl” looks at the transformation of a beef operation into a farm animal sanctuary.

Co-presented with Ukraine’s valiant Docudays UA festival, this year’s Made In program showcases new work from Ukraine, including five features. The program also includes the four winning shorts made through Docudays Civil Pitch 2.0 initiative.

Artscapes, a sidebar program championing creative minds and the arts, includes world-premiering features about the power of music to elicit ecstasy (“Echo of Everything”), the obsessive sketching of a former Nuremberg Trials guard (“Nathan-ism”), and an Icelandic art star’s avant-garde critique of the Soviet Empire (“Soviet Barbara, the Story of Ragnar Kjartansson in Moscow”).

Rama Rau’s “Coven” (three women embark on separate journeys to explore their identities as witches) has its world premiere in Persister, the festival’s popular spotlight on inspirational women’s stories, as does Emilce Quevedo Díaz’s “We, The Women,” which looks at female resilience through three generations of the filmmaker’s family.

Shannon Alexander’s found-footage supernatural chiller “It’s Coming” bows in the Nightvision program, while Inas Halabi’s portrait of the Druze religious minority in occupied Palestine “We No Longer Prefer Mountains” bows in Markers.

European Film Promotion returns for its sixth year as co-presenter of The Changing Face of Europe, a cross-section of stories exploring cultural, economic, and political realities in today’s Europe. World premiering films include Soňa G. Lutherová’s “A Happy Man” and Elena Kairytė’s “Roberta.”

Hot Docs lean mean small-screen sidebar Deep Dive presents the full runs of the world premiering “The American Gladiators Documentary” and “Poison(s),” which examines Vladimir Putin’s lethal criminality.

And one-off Human Kind, a program delivering good vibrations, includes the world premieres of “The Only Doctor” (the only doctor in Georgia’s poorest county won’t give up!) and “Unsyncable” (senior citizens dive into aquatic choreography).

The Special Presentations program—which screens fest-circuit hits, renowned subjects, and unique perspectives on urgent Canadian and international issues—announced its slate March 14 and March 21.

The features lineups of the International and Canadian Spectrum competition programs, and the world-premiering features in the remaining festival programs include:

International Spectrum (competition)

D: Chloé Aïcha Boro, P: Frédéric Féraud, Chloé Aïcha Boro, Faissol Gnonlonfin, Bärbel Mauch, France/Burkina Faso/Benin/Germany, 2023, 83 min, North American Premiere
The death of a Burkinabé family’s patriarch and the division of his estate unearths conflict between his heirs and larger questions about inheritance, belonging and the communal customs of West Africa versus Westernized courts.

D: Ken A. Meyer, P: Ken A. Meyer, Jason Roark, U.S., 2023, 74 min, International Premiere
Swiss-German artist Paul Klee died from a rare autoimmune disease, systemic scleroderma, a diagnosis shared by the filmmaker. Through Klee’s expressive work, the filmmaker finds unexpected parallels and powerful messages about mortality, creativity and making the most out of life.

D: San San F. Young, P: Nikki Parrott, San San F. Young, U.K., 2023, 87 min, International Premiere
When the Chinese government imposes a law on Hong Kong that silences freedom of expression, a filmmaker joins with underground Asian artists to preserve and celebrate their culture, life and creativity amidst authoritarian rule.

D: Marianna Kaat, P: Marianna Kaat, Mette Cheng Munthe-Kaas, Tobin Auber, Estonia/Norway, 2023, 104 min, World Premiere
Yekaterinburg, Russia, is a microcosm of absurdity: debutante balls and Tsar Nicholas tributes cling to an imperial past, while a handful of dissidents try to revive communist and constitutional myths. Shot over four years, careful cameras reveal Putin’s “modern” Russia.

D: Christian Einshøj, P: Mathilde Hvid Lippmann, Denmark, 2023, 87 min, International Premiere
In this tender and humorous autobiographical portrait, 75,000 photographs, 30 years of home videos and a 1,000-mile Arctic Circle superhero road trip bridge the distance between the men in a Scandinavian family struck by devastating tragedy.

D: Edward Lovelace, P: Fleur Nieddu, Sam Arnold, Beyan Taher, Neil Andrews, Marisa Clifford, U.K., 2022, 84 min, International Premiere
After a treacherous journey from Iraq, a young deaf Kurdish boy hones his communication skills at a U.K. school, joyfully discovering how to meaningfully express himself within his family and newfound community, only to later face deportation from his new home.

D: Valentina Cicogna, Mattia Colombo, P: Sebastiano Luca Insinga, Chiara Nicoletti, Italy/Switzerland/Sweden, 2023, 92 min, International Premiere
With bodies mounting in autopsy rooms along the Mediterranean, one doctor makes it her life’s work to identify and reunite deceased refugees with their families, in this story of manufactured tragedy and our collective responsibility to human life.

D: Peter Hammer, P: Vibeke Vogel, Denmark, 2023, 83 min, International Premiere
After a neglectful upbringing, siblings Susie and Sune live together in a tense still life of co-dependency. Using taxidermy to make a living and move forward, can they work through their past and build a more forgiving and constructive relationship?

D: Everardo González, P: Roberto Garza, Inna Payán, Jean-Christophe Simon, Mexico/France, 2023, 81 min, World Premiere
World-renowned Mexican filmmaker Everardo González brings us inside the chilling world of Ernesto, an amalgam of various teenage boys, who, in choosing a gun and a life of organized crime, becomes both victim and perpetrator.

D: Cecilia Aldarondo, Sarah Enid Hagey P: Ines Hofmann Kanna, Cecilia Aldarondo, U.S., 2023, 97 min, International Premiere
In this hybrid documentary, co-director Cecilia Aldarondo returns to her youth to meticulously re-stage some of her most traumatic high school memories. Through elaborate sets with actors, she relives the haunts of her past to make peace with her present.

Canadian Spectrum (competition)

D: Banchi Hanuse, P: Mike Wavrecan. Canada, 2022, 89 min., Canadian Premiere
A young Siksika woman vaults between horses as an Indian Relay rider in North America’s original extreme sport. With family support, she’s a champion in the making, but victory is an uphill battle in this male-dominated arena.

D: Justine Harbonnier, P: Nellie Carrier, Julie Paratian, Canada, France, 2023, 84 min, North American Premiere
Thirty-year-old Caiti spent her childhood in New York dreaming of singing on Broadway. Having been on the cusp of success, she now finds herself living in a remote hippie town in New Mexico struggling to revive her American Dream.

D: Sherien Barsoum, P: Bryn Hughes, Sherien Barsoum, Canada, 2022, 88 min, World Premiere
After a break-in, a mother calls 911 seeking help for her disabled daughter, Cynara. Hours later, Cynara is dead, and her mother is the prime suspect in this gripping story of Canada’s justice system on trial.

D: Kathleen Jayme, Asia Youngman, P: Michael Grand, James Brown, Canada, 2023, 78 min, World Premiere
When the Vancouver Canucks lost the 2011 Stanley Cup final it incited the world’s “first smartphone riot.” Key participants confront the aftermath of what was the beginning of the toxic social media mob mentality that continues to resonate today.

D: Denys Desjardins, P: Denys Desjardins, Canada, 2022, 75 min
With an empathetic and intimate lens, veteran filmmaker Denys Desjardins captures his elderly mother’s experience of neglect in Quebec’s healthcare system and his sister’s fight to secure her an acceptable long-term care solution.

D: Brittany Farhat, P: Peter Dreimanis, Leah Fay Goldstein, Canada, 2023, 83 min, World Premiere
Grappling with a global pandemic and a live music shutdown, hard-touring band July Talk books a drive-in theater and prepares for a massive concert brimming with professional and personal risks. Out of the crisis comes magic.

D: Khoa Lê, P: Khoa Lê, Canada, 2023, 100 min, North American Premiere
A city as liberating as it is oppressive for its diverse LGBTQ+ community, this ode to Saigon interweaves a mosaic of intimate portraits while exploring the city’s dynamic character.

D: Jean-Philippe Marquis, P: Jean-Philippe Marquis, Canada, 2023, 80 min, World Premiere
The human impact on forests is explored through breathtaking vistas and poignant vignettes set in Canada’s Pacific Northwest. Those who rely on this precious resource highlight the tensions and dilemmas between commodification and conservation.

D: Zack Russell, P: Matt King, Andrew Ferguson, Canada, 2022, 75 min, World Premiere
During the pandemic, a young Toronto carpenter builds life-saving shelters for unhoused people facing the winter outside. His actions attract international acclaim but also staunch opposition from the city government.

D: Francois-Xavier De Ruydts, P: Jenny Rustemeyer, Canada, 2023, 90 min, World Premiere
Digging far below the surface, two gritty teams of hobbyist cavers are poised to discover the longest and deepest caves in Canada. Risking life and limb, their curiosity is matched only by their courage to chart the unknown.

D: Georges Hannan, P: Christine Aubé, Canada, 2022, 52 min, Ontario Premiere
With candour, compassion and a healthy dose of humour, an insightful group of morticians and funeral directors take us on a philosophical journey through our inevitable mortality and behind the scenes of their industry’s daily routines.

D: Xin Liu, P: Tianyuan Jiang, Canada, 2022, 71 min, World Premiere
In this hybrid meditation on homecoming, the filmmaker revisits childhood friends in Northern China’s rustbelt, where dreams freeze like the river. Playing fictional versions of themselves, the camera captures them as they explore facets of their real lives.

D: Dominique Chaumont, P: Dominique Chaumont, Canada/Argentina, 2022, 75 min
Don Arturo is a tenacious gaucho who travels the Andes by horseback seeking greener grasslands to feed his herd while witnessing his community’s fascinating, nomadic way of life starting to erode at the hands of climate change.

World Showcase

D: Davide Rizzo, Marzia Toscano, P: Adam Selo, Olga Torrico, Italy, 2023, 66 min, World Premiere
A shocked mother must find peace with her son, a jihadist killed in the 2017 London Bridge attack, in this nuanced and humanizing portrait of a woman grappling with faith, loss and memory in the aftermath of tragedy.

D: Kordo Doski, P: Kordo Doski, Lina Hanson, Jose Moreno Brooks, Paul Canterna, Canada, Iraq, U.S., Sweden, 2023, 91 min, World Premiere
Kurdish refugees come together to form a professional soccer team in Sweden, overcoming racism, xenophobia and their tragic pasts to make European sports history. Victory on the pitch shines a light on their fight for independence.

D: Tuki Jencquel, P: Tuki Jencquel, Estelle Robin You, Andy Cohen, Germany/France, 2023, 93 min, World Premiere
Jackie Jencquel, author and activist, is not terminally ill when she announces her death date—she simply refuses to live beyond a certain age. This unconventional conversation between a mother and her son, the filmmaker, tackles desire, personal autonomy, vanity, and money.

D: Omar Mouallem, P: Dylan Rhys Howard, Omar Mouallem, Canada, 2023, 103 min, World Premiere
The heir to a Burger Baron franchise, the filmmaker chases clues through rural Alberta, capturing the trials and tribulations of Arab immigrants while uncovering the saga of a rogue fast-food chain with mysterious origins and a cult following.

D: Katja Esson, P: Katja Esson, Ann Bennett, Corinna Sager, Ronald Baez, U.S., 2023, 86 min, World Premiere
As climate change erodes Miami’s beachfronts, wealthy developers move further inland to Liberty City, the oldest segregated public housing project in the South, where community members grapple with their gathering place being lost to climate gentrification.

D: Jason Goldman, P: Jason Goldman, U.S., 2022, 72 min, World Premiere
Determined to make the planet a better place, former Texas cattle rancher Renee King-Sonnen transforms her husband’s beef operation into a farm animal sanctuary, encouraging other farmers to transition from animal agriculture to plant-based food production.

D: Cam Christiansen, P: Bonnie Thompso, Canada, 2022, 77 min, World Premiere
Leading thinkers in music, philosophy, astronomy and physics explore music’s universal yet mysterious power to elicit ecstasy, following famed Spanish poet Federico García Lorca’s imaginative theory of its spiritual (or demonic) origins.

D: Elan Golod, P: Melanie Vi Lev, U.S., 2023, 81 min, World Premiere
When a young Jewish recruit is posted to guard top Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg Trials, it inspires 70 years of obsessive sketching and storytelling. But as the filmmaker tries to finally immortalize the old man’s claims, can his outsider art be believed?

D: Gaukur Úlfarsso, P: Gaukur Úlfarsson, Guðrún Olsen, Guðni Tómasson, Kristín Ólafsdóttir, Iceland, 2023, 90 min, World Premiere
In December 2021, Icelandic art star Ragnar Kjartansson opens a Russian oligarch’s museum by re-staging the American soap “Santa Barbara” live. Witness this jaw-dropping avant-garde critique of the Soviet empire play out on the eve of Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.


D: Shannon Alexander, P: Shannon Alexander, U.S., 2023, 95 min, World Premiere
A Brooklyn day trader, wife and mother is accustomed to not being believed having always seen things others don’t. Returning to her family’s ancestral apartment, her supernatural encounters escalate to threaten her children in this genuinely unsettling found footage horror. 

D: Rama Rau, P: Ed Barreveld, Canada, 2022, 88 min, World Premiere
Exploring their identities as witches in today’s world, three millennial women set out to discover if their ancestors’ rituals and sacred places can help them channel their gifts and reclaim their power.

D: Emilce Quevedo Díaz, P: Emilce Quevedo Díaz, Urrea, Colombia, 2023, 70 min, World Premiere
Through three generations of women in her family, the director reflects on the joys of women’s bonds and resilience but also on the devastating impact of traditional gender roles, gender violence and the suffocating weight of religion.


D, P: Inas Halabi, Netherlands/Occupied Palestinian Territory/U.K./Belgium, 2023, 96 min, World Premiere
Fukeiron—or Japanese “landscape theory”—is the structural inspiration of this debut feature documentary from visual artist and filmmaker Inas Halabi, a patient, lucid and forceful examination of the Druze religious minority in occupied Palestine.

Deep Dive

D: Ben Berman, Kirk Johnson (codirector), P: Russell Wayne Groves, Danny Gabai, Andrew Freston, U.S., 2023, 170 min, World Premiere
This two-part ESPN series offers a behind-the-scenes look at this iconic 90s show, revealing the dark and complex world of the campy and colorful spandex-clad giants who battled on our TV screens.

D: Jennifer Deschamps , P: Valérie Montmartin, Jesus Gonzalez Elvira, France/Luxembourg, 2023, 160 min, World Premiere
Vladimir Putin has literally poisoned Russian democracy. From Litvinenko through to Navalny, this stunning investigative series exposes Putin’s lethal criminality, while insiders like Browder, Panetta and Bolton attest to the ruthlessness through which he maintains power.

Changing Face of Europe

D: Soňa G. Lutherová, P: Maroš Hečko, Peter Veverka, Slovakia/Czech Republic, 2023, 80 min, World Premiere
A creative writer and a psychiatrist move to Sweden from the Czech Republic to raise their young family, but adjusting to their new lives is made more complex as one begins the process of gender transition. 

D: Elena Kairytė, P: Rūta Jekentaitė, Lithuania, 2023, 80 min, World Premiere
Roberta is always moving—houses, hairstyles, direction—in this intimate portrait of a young Lithuanian woman grappling with flux while fumbling for purpose and personal values in these times of economic, social and environmental uncertainty.

Human Kind

D: Matthew Hashiguch, P: Anjanette Levert, Matthew Hashiguchi, U.S., 2023, 85 min, World Premiere
After working years without pay, Dr. Karen Kinsell, the only doctor in Georgia’s poorest county for 15 years, now faces the imminent closure of her clinic. Join her on this uplifting story of never giving up or giving in.

D: Megan Wennberg, P: Erin Oakes, Canada, 2023, 75 min, World Premiere
Dive in with seniors in their sixties and beyond who smash stereotypes with their passion for synchronized swimming and determination to not let age (or anything else) get in the way of fabulous outfits and impressive aquatic choreography.

The complete Hot Docs film slate, industry programming schedule, and 30th anniversary special events can be found here.