My Hot Doctopus Teacher: Eight films to watch at Hot Docs

From Sesame Street to the Soviet empire, these films cover the world and are available across Canada

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You still can’t go to the movies in most parts of Canada, but Toronto’s Hot Docs Festival, which runs April 29 to May 9, can come to you no matter what region you call home. Now in its second (and final?) year of fully virtually screenings, Hot Docs’ more than 200 offerings from across the globe can be viewed across the country. Here are eight features that piqued our interest.

A.rtificial I.mmortality

Ann Shin’s opening-night documentary is a brief, deep dive into a place where religion, science, technology, philosophy and neuroscience collide, leading to some truly big questions. Chief among them: Is it possible to create a copy of yourself that would live forever? And: Would you want to?

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street

What would television do if it loved people instead of trying to sell to them? The question is asked and answered in director Marilyn Agrelo’s look at the hearts and minds behind the famed children’s show. Or as Sesame Workshop co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney explains, the idea was to figure out what kids liked to watch on TV, figure out what was good for them, and then combine the two.

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Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy

First Nations filmmaker Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers starred in one great film from 2019 – Jeff Barnaby’s Blood Quantum – and directed another, The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open. Her newest project takes viewers into Canada’s opioid crisis as it plays out on the Kainai First Nation in Alberta, where her mother works as a doctor.

Four Seasons in a Day

The departure of Britain from the EU has stoked memories and fears of Irish-British conflict and The Troubles that many thought had been put behind them. Annabel Verbeke put her cameras on the Carlingford Ferry, a tiny boat the takes people and cars across a glacial fjord on which one side is Britain’s Northern Ireland and the other is now a politically separate Europe. Britons, Irish and tourists all have their say.

Set!

Like a Christopher Guest mockumentary made real, filmmaker Scott Gawlik delves into the world of “competitive tablescaping,” where individuals and teams (including some mother/daughter pairings) compete for Best in Show at the Orange County Fair. “I forgot the fork,” one contestant explains of her biggest cutlery fumble. “I call it forking myself.”

Fanny: The Right to Rock

You know you’re doing something right when you can count David Bowie among your fan base. Still, all-female rock band Fanny never hit the level of fame seen by, say, The Bangles or Bikini Kill. Filmmaker Bobbi Jo Hart aims to set the record straight, interviewing the band members today and a host of famous fans who are more than happy to sing their praises.

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Ostrov: Lost Island

Once home to a collective fishery and some 3,000 people, today the island of Ostrov in the Caspian Sea has no electricity, no government and just a handful of residents, most of them engaged in illegal fishing. Directors Svetlana Rodina and Laurent Stoop explore a forgotten outpost of the former Soviet Empire.

The Gig Is Up

Outside your various Uber drivers, who are the gig workers in your neighbourhood? Shannon Walsh finds some of the faces behind the gig economy, a multi-trillion-dollar global phenomenon. Some participants like the freedom. Some have no other choice. Or as one man puts it: “This can be amazing. This can be disastrous. And I hope this is going to be amazing.”

The Hot Docs festival runs from April 29 through May 9. More information and tickets can be found at hotdocs.ca.

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