Hot Docs Adds Willie O’Ree, Gordon Lightfoot, Ai Weiwei to Special Presentations Line-up


By Pat Mullen

Hot Docs doubles down in its second wave of Special Presentations announcements. This week’s announcement of 16 Special Presentations offers more top directors, high profile subjects, and festival hits from the circuit. Among the titles is the world premiere of Willie, directed by Laurence Mathieu-Leger, which gives a recognition long overdue to Willie O’Ree, the Fredericton-born athlete who broke barriers as the first Black hockey player in the NHL. The doc pays tribute to O’Ree, who was recently inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, as it connects his journey with present-day efforts to ensure that sports are inclusive and accessible to aspiring stars from all backgrounds.

Today’s announcement includes one doc that’s sure to be among the biggest Canadian draws of the year, Joan Tosoni and Martha Kehoe’s profile of folk icon Gordon Lightfoot, If You Could Read My Mind. The doc, which world premieres at Hot Docs, features exclusive looks at a man who put Canadian music on the map. Other high profile subjects tapped for Hot Docs include sexpert Dr. Ruth Carter (Ask Dr. Ruth), whistleblower Chelsea Manning (X/Y Chelsea), musician Miles Davis (Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool), and author Stieg Larsson (Stieg Larsson: The Man Who Played with Fire). Read more about Ask Dr. Ruth, Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool and other films coming to Hot Docs in our report on Sundance docs.

Today’s announcement also features a number of auteurs set to play the festival. This year’s Outstanding Achievement Award recipient Julia Reichert will unveil the international premiere of her new film American Factory, directed with Steven Bognar, in the Special Presentations programme. American Factory won the directing prize at Sundance earlier this year. Also stopping chez Hot Docs en route from Sundance is Nanfu Wang’s Grand Jury Prize winning examination of China’s one child policy, One Child Nation. The fest also hosts the North American premiere of artist/activist Ai Weiwei’s The Rest, which examines the rise of nationalism in Europe and offers a companion to his excellent study of the global migration crisis Human Flow.

On the true crime front, Hot Docs will offer the world premiere of the mafia epic Our Godfather, directed by Mark Franchetti and Andrew Meier. Erin Lee Carr, who previously chilled Hot Docs audiences with Mommy Dead and Dearest, brings another grim tale with the HBO two-parter I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth vs. Michelle Carter. The film examines the case of a woman who used text messages to coerce her boyfriend into committing suicide. These films join the previously announced list of 15 Special Presentations titles, which include, but are not limited to, Phyllis Ellis’s Toxic Beauty, Fred Peabody’s The Corporate Coup d’État, and John Walker’s Assholes: A Theory. The full 2019 Hot Docs line-up will be announced on March 19. Subscribe today to read about several of these titles in our upcoming Hot Docs issue!

The titles announced today from Hot Docs are:

American Factory
D: Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert | P: Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert, Jeff Reichert, Julie Parker Benello | USA | 2019 | 115 min | International Premiere
When an abandoned General Motors factory in Ohio is reopened by a Chinese billionaire, the local blue-collar employees clash with modern Chinese innovations in this Sundance award-winner co-directed by this year’s Outstanding Achievement Award recipient Julia Reichert.

Ask Dr. Ruth
D: Ryan White | P: Rafael Marmor, Ryan White, Jessica Hargrave, Christopher Leggett | USA | 2019 | 100 min | International Premiere
Do we have anything left to learn from 90-year-old sex therapist Dr. Ruth? In this revealing look at a true trailblazer, she revisits the painful memories of her early life in Germany and the playful milestones of her career as America’s most candid sex ed teacher.

Cold Case Hammarskjöld
D: Mads Brügger | P: Arno Becker, Andreas Rocksén, Bjarte Mørner Tveit | Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Belgium | 2019 | 127 min | Canadian Premiere
Was it accident or assassination when a UN Secretary General’s plane crashed en route to peace talks for the Congo Crisis? In this probe into the 1961 tragedy, sinister new evidence draws the director into a discovery more horrific than he imagined.

Framing John Delorean
D: Don Argott, Sheena M. Joyce | P: Tamir Ardon, Nick Spicer, Don Argott, Sheena M. Joyce | USA | 2019 | 109 min | International Premiere
Car design guru, genius entrepreneur or brilliant criminal—who was the real John DeLorean? Narrative recreations starring Alec Baldwin punctuate revealing interviews with the enigmatic automaker’s inner circle to elegantly parse the man from the scandalous myth.

Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind
D: Joan Tosoni, Martha Kehoe | P: Joan Tosoni, Martha Kehoe | Canada | 2018 | 90 min | World Premiere
From a rural Ontario childhood to Greenwich Village of the ’60s, stadium tours of the ’70s and beyond, vivid archival footage helps chart the career of the legendary songwriter as he reveals the inspiration behind his lyrics and longevity.

I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth vs. Michelle Carter
D: Erin Lee Carr | P: Andrew Rossi | USA | 2019 | 140 min | International Premiere
This two-part HBO docu-series dives past the headlines and into the ethical morass of the case of Michelle Carter, who faces the prospect of jail time after coercing her boyfriend into suicide via text, blowing open troubling questions of how we communicate in the digital age.

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool
D: Stanley Nelson | P: Nicole London, Stanley Nelson | USA, UK | 2019 | 113 min | International Premiere
Never-before-seen footage and studio session outtakes reconstruct the rich inner life of one of the most influential jazz musicians of all time, along with new interviews from the artists he inspired, including Quincy Jones and Carlos Santana.

Mystify: Michel Hutchence
D: Richard Lowenstein | P: Maya Gnyp, John Battsek, Sue Murray, Mark Fennessy, Richard Lowenstein, Lynn-Maree Milburn, Andrew de Groot | Australia | 2019 | 104 min | Canadian Premiere
The enigmatic frontman of wildly popular Australian rock band INXS, who died tragically in 1997, is remembered by the women in his life, including revealing interviews with famous girlfriends Kylie Minogue and Helena Christensen.

One Child Nation
D: Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang | P: Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang, Julie Goldman, Christoph Jörg, Christopher Clements, Carolyn Hepburn | USA | 2019 | 89 min | Canadian Premiere
Through vérité footage and raw interviews, this fearless, Sundance Award–winning exposé unmasks the wrenching costs to millions of families of China’s infamous 1979 “one-child policy,” introduced to curb population growth and boost sweeping economic development.

Our Godfather
D: Mark Franchetti, Andrew Meier | P: Mark Franchetti, Andrew Meier | UK, Russia | 2018 | 93 min | World Premiere
The family of a high-ranking Sicilian mob boss comes out of 30 years of hiding to tell the gripping tale of how he helped convict over 400 Mafiosi—and became the most hunted witness in US criminal history.

Picture Character
D: Ian Cheney, Martha Shane | P: Jennifer Lee, Ian Cheney, Martha Shane | USA | 2019 | 84 min | International Premiere
Explore the evolution of emojis, the colourful and creative pictorial language that surged from a simple set of icons to a swiftly evolving linguistic phenomenon that is reshaping how we communicate with one another.

Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest Story
D: Johnny Sweet | P: Colleen Dominguez, Omar Michaud, Johnny Sweet | USA | 2019 | 116 min | International Premiere
Following an infamous on-court brawl, Ron Artest became the most maligned athlete in sports. This distinctly American biography follows him from his childhood in Queens to his turbulent NBA years to his reinvention as inspiring mental health advocate Metta World Peace.

The Rest
D: Ai Weiwei | P: Ai Weiwei | Germany | 2018 | 78 min | North American Premiere
From Chinese artist and political activist Ai Weiwei comes a powerful work that follows the daily lives of refugees in Europe as they hang in limbo between a disintegrating humanitarian aid system and intensifying nationalism.

Stieg Larsson: The Man Who Played with Fire
D: Henrik Georgsson | P: Mattias Nohrborg, Fredrik Heinig | Sweden | 2018 | 99 min | Canadian Premiere
This compelling look at the Swedish journalist, whose The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series shot to wild posthumous fame, delves into his lesser-known but more significant contribution: fearlessly researching and exposing Neo-Nazism in his own country and beyond.

D: Laurence Mathieu-Leger | P: Laurence Mathieu-Leger, Bryant McBride | USA, Canada | 2018 | 89 min | World Premiere
In the midst of the American civil rights movement, Willie O’Ree became the first Black player to skate in the NHL. An inspiration to many, the remarkable story of this recent Hall of Fame inductee’s courage and resilience transcends the sport.

XY Chelsea
D: Tim Travers Hawkins | P: Julia Nottingham, Thomas Benski, Lucas Ochoa, Isabel Davis | UK | 2019 | 91 min | Canadian Premiere
After her 35-year prison sentence is commuted by President Obama, former military intelligence analyst and whistleblower Chelsea Manning prepares to leave a military prison and transition to her new life as a free woman.