Hot Docs to Honour John Walker and Barbara Kopple with Retrospectives

John Walker in Quebec My Country Mon Pays
Photo by Katherine Giguère

By Pat Mullen

This year’s Hot Docs film festival honours two prolific documentary icons: John Walker and Barbara Kopple. Walker will be the subject of this year’s Focus On retrospective, an annual showcase that highlights the films and career of a veteran Canadian filmmaker. Walker has had a distinguished career as a director and cinematographer. His films include Arctic Defenders, Men of the Deeps, The National Parks Project, Passage, and Strand, Under the Dark Cloth, which won a Genie for best documentary feature. Most recently, he debuted the personal exploration of Canadian/Quebecois identity Quebec Mon Pays My Country at Hot Docs 2016 and was a festival favourite. Walker is also a co-founder of DOC, the Documentary Organization of Canada, which advocates for non-fiction filmmakers across the country. Both icons are fitting and overdue choices for the retrospectives at Hot Docs’ 25th anniversary.

“A creative visionary and compelling storyteller, we’re thrilled to celebrate the work of John Walker with our Focus On retrospective during this year’s Festival,” said Shane Smith, director of programming for Hot Docs, in a statement from the festival. “A bold, uncompromising filmmaker, John has been a vital voice in Canadian documentary for many years, and his singular vision continues to yield thought-provoking perspectives on meaningful stories from around the world.”

Barbara Kopple
Photo by Andrew Walker

Kopple receives this year’s Outstanding Achievement Award, which acknowledges the work of an international filmmaker who has made a significant contribution to documentary. Kopple has a prolific body of work that includes films on a variety of subjects ranging from social causes to arts and entertainment, often fusing the two, and broke ground for women behind the camera. Her 1976 film Harlan County USA (arguably the best documentary ever made) went to the front lines of a miners strike in Kentucky to chronicle the fight of the miners and their wives on the picket lines. The film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Kopple’s other films include the Oscar winner American Dream, the Dixie Chicks/free speech doc Shut Up and Sing, and the backstage doc Miss Sharon Jones!. Last year, Kopple debuted two docs on the festival circuit, This is Me: Gigi Gorgeous and A Murder in Mansfield.

“Barbara is a documentary force whose limitless ingenuity and passion have led her to create some of the most memorable, provocative and illuminating films of our time,” added Smith. “She is a trailblazer whose extensive body of work resonates with audiences spanning generations and tastes, and we’re honoured to recognize Barbara’s exceptional career with the Outstanding Achievement Award at this year’s Festival.”

Film selections for both retrospectives will be announced leading up to the festival. Previous recipients of the Focus On series include Past Focus On honourees include Maya Gallus, Rosie Dransfield, Peter Mettler, Kevin McMahon, and Alan Zweig, while previous honorees of the Outstanding Achievement Award are Steve James, Werner Herzog, and Tony Palmer.

Hot Docs runs April 26 to May 6, 2018.