By Sean Boelman
The Hot Docs festival is returning again in 2021 with another massive slate of documentary films to be watched virtually by cinephiles and buyers across Canada. Stay-at-home festival-goers can expect to be delighted by nonfiction cinema from across the world, from new films by established masters to exciting prospects from up-and-coming voices. Below are some of the films we at disappointment media think you should check out:
In the Same Breath
There are more than a few documentaries about the COVID-19 pandemic playing at this year’s festival, but none is likely to be better than Nanfu Wang’s In the Same Breath. After debuting at the Sundance Film Festival in January, this film about how the Chinese government used propaganda to spin the story about the coronavirus in their favor has been touring the festival circuit to great acclaim. It’s probably the most eye-opening documentary I have seen yet about the topic as of yet, and viewers are almost certainly going to be shocked by what they see.
The Sparks Brothers
The first documentary by fan-favorite filmmaker Edgar Wright, The Sparks Brothers tells the story of one of the most underappreciated bands in all history. Wright and Sparks honestly seem to be a match made in heaven, as the quirky style of the former aligns brilliantly with the idiosyncratic music of the latter. Even at over two hours in length, it moves along very quickly and is one of the most tremendously enjoyable films you could see at the festival. For those of you who can’t wait to see Annette this summer, this is an amazing opportunity to learn about the guys behind its music.
Summer of Soul (...or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
Questlove is perhaps best known as the drummer for The Roots, but he is a phenomenally talented multi-hyphenate, and now he can add filmmaker to his list of skills. An archival music documentary about the Harlem Cultural Festival (referred to some endearingly as the “Black Woodstock”), this contains some excellent performance footage from some of the most iconic musicians of all time. It’s a fascinating dive into the culture of the time, but if nothing else, it serves as an excellent excuse to listen to some great tunes for nearly two hours.
Although it is also about COVID-19, Udi Nir and Sagi Bornstein’s film Viral couldn’t be more different than the other film featured on this list about the same issue. Exploring how a group of individuals struggled their way through the pandemic with the help of their online lives, it’s a much more hopeful film than many of the documentaries we have seen come out of this period so far. Nir and Bornstein do an excellent job of investing the audience in the lives of their subjects, resulting in some genuinely funny and surprisingly touching moments that remind us of the humanity that unites us.
Writing with Fire
Winner of the Audience Award and a Special Jury Award in the World Cinema Documentary competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Writing with Fire is one of the most inspiring films audiences will have the pleasure of seeing in this year’s Hot Docs lineup. Following a newspaper in India run completely by women, this is a really powerful film about the role that journalism has in society. Anyone who loves to see stories about extraordinary women busting down walls will be floored by this moving film.
The 2021 Hot Docs Film Festival runs virtually April 29 through May 9.
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