Hot Docs to Honour Julias Ivanova and Reichert, Spotlight Italy

By Pat Mullen

Director Julia Ivanova
Photo by Sergei Bachlakov, courtesy of the NFB

Audiences should not confuse their Julias at Hot Docs this year, but if they do, they’re bound to catch a hot ticket. The festival announced today that Julia Ivanova and Julia Reichert are the recipients of this year’s Focus On spotlight and Outstanding Achievement Award, respectively. The Focus On distinction honours a Canadian filmmaker with a commendable body of work, while the Outstanding Achievement Award acknowledges the work of an international filmmaker who has made a significant contribution to documentary. This year’s Hot Docs festival will feature special programmes offering a selection of films by Ivanova and Reichert.

Hot Docs audiences might best recognize Ivanova for her 2011 documentary Family Portrait in Black and White. The film told the story of Olga Nenya, a Ukrainian woman who adopted nearly 20 mixed-race children and raised them in a community overwhelmingly populated by residents with blond hair and blue eyes. The doc gave a frank depiction of the racial tensions in Europe and scored the prize for Best Canadian Feature Documentary at Hot Docs before earning a Genie nomination. A hit at Hot Docs as well as the Sundance Film Festival, critics praised the film for its even-handed portrait of a well-intentioned matriarch and the mixed results of her efforts in a country with an all-too prevalent skinhead culture.

“Julia Ivanova is a bright light in the Canadian documentary world,” said Shane Smith, director of programming at Hot Docs, in a statement from the festival. “Her adventurousness and passion as a filmmaker, coupled with her acute ability to connect with her subjects and draw out their stories with great insight, is nothing short of remarkable. Julia is a fearless filmmaker and we’re so pleased to showcase her work at this year’s Festival.” Focus On spotlights in recent years have featured the work of Canadian filmmakers such as John Walker, Rosie Dransfeld, and Maya Gallus.

Ivanova was born in Moscow, but immigrated to Canada in the 1990s and has been a rising talent on the documentary scene since her 2000 film From Russia, for Love. The doc told the story of two North American couples on a quest to adopt children in Russia. Ivanova’s films also include Fatherhood Dreams (2007), Love Translated (2010), High Five (2012) and Limit is the Sky (2016), a production with the NFB that looked at various youths in Fort McMurray. The film won the Colin Low Award for Best Canadian Documentary at Vancouver’s DOXA Documentary Film Festival. Ivanova followed Limit is the Sky with the Guardian short doc Ash & Oil (2016). She is currently working on the doc Pipeline in Paradise, which examines the controversial Trans Mountain Pipeline through multiple perspectives.

Julia Reichert
Courtesy of Hot Docs

Julia Reichert, meanwhile, received the news of the Outstanding Achievement Award just as her latest documentary heads to Sundance. Her documentary American Factory, directed with Steven Bognar, premieres at Sundance on January 25th in the U.S. documentary competition and brings a timely story of a Chinese billionaire who sets up shop in an abandoned Ohio General Motors factory where 2000 Americans find their hopes in conflict with a collision of cultures. Reichert and Bognar’s 2009 short doc The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant received an Academy Award nomination. She also received Oscar nominations for Seeing Red (1983), directed with Jim Klein, and Union Maids (1976), directed with Klein and Miles Mogulescu.

Reichert’s list of honours also includes a Primetime Emmy Award (for 2006’s A Lion in the House, also made with Bognar), numerous film festival selections and honours, and the 2018 Career Achievement Award from the International Documentary Association. Her 1971 film Being Female, directed with Jim Klein, was added to the National Film Registry in 2011. Her collaborative films consistently engage with questions of class, gender, and race in the USA.

“Julia Reichert’s exceptional career has spanned almost 50 years, and we’re thrilled to be recognizing her with Hot Docs Outstanding Achievement Award this year,” added Shane Smith. “Not only a lauded filmmaker, Julia is a mentor, community builder and an impassioned chronicler of the complex issues facing America today, and we are honoured to amplify the voice of this master storyteller, who has given voice to so many others through her work.” Previous recipients of the Outstanding Achievement Award include Alanis Obomsawin, Steve James, Patricio Guzmán, Werner Herzog, and last year’s spotlight on Barbara Kopple.

The film selections for both the Focus On and Outstanding Achievement Award will be announced with the full slate of Hot Docs titles in March. The festival also announced that this year’s Made In programme with showcase Italian documentaries with titles to be named in the March unveiling. Italy has enjoyed special attention on the documentary front in recent years with Gianfranco Rosi scoring an Oscar nomination and the Golden Bear at Berlin for the compelling migration saga Fire at Sea and the Golden Lion at Venice for the offbeat Sacro GRA, while Stefano Savona’s Samouni Road won the Œil d’or prize for best documentary at Cannes last year. The program is supported by the Italian Trade Commission and Istituto Luce-Cinecittà.

Hot Docs runs from April 25 to May 5, 2019.