Canada Day Streaming Guide: 10 Docs to Watch

Fireworks, non-fiction style

14 mins read

National Canadian Film Day might fall every April, but July 1 enjoys similar status for audiences who celebrate Canada Day with homegrown stories. Documentaries on streaming might provide a useful alternative for readers this year, too, with the ongoing wildfires preventing some regions from lighting their annual fireworks. To help readers ignite some non-fiction fireworks of their own, we’ve assembled 10 films to keep everyone busy on Canada Day. From music docs to shorts with hybrid films, recent gems, classics, and all in the mix, too, here are some films to keep readers busy throughout the long weekend.


Nalujuk Night

Streams on

“Happy New Year,” says a child with uncertainty as she shakes the hand of one of the Nalujuit visiting her town. Nalujuk Night looks to a tradition of strange invaders who descend annually upon the Inuit community of Nain, Nunatsiavut on the ominously prophetic date of January 6. This film by Inuk director Jennie Williams observes in stark black and white the yearly ritual that brings chills and joyous laughter to a community. As the Nalujuit, masked apparitions who roam the town like the walking dead, stroll through Nain with the snow crunching beneath their feet, they confront the living. Only the bravest make it through the night, and Williams’ film observes a game of the survival of the fittest. This tradition is an exercise in resilience and the film captures it beautifully. Winner of the Canadian Screen Award for Best Short Documentary, Nalujuk Night is a significant work from the NFB’s Lab Docs project.


No Sad Songs

Streams on MUBI

A landmark documentary comes out of the vault when No Sad Songs begins streaming on MUBI June 29. This film by Nik Sheehan is one of the first docs to confront the AIDS epidemic—a fact that, for a film that premiered in 1985, can’t be stressed enough with the artful way in which Sheehan considers a crisis that’s only just beginning to unfold. No Sad Songs uses a mixed form approach and blends talking heads and conventions of straightforward factual documentary with elements of performance to ground the urgency in the emotional truth of a community reeling from sudden loss. “You can feel Sheehan’s strategies kick in as No Sad Songs unfolds,” wrote Matt Hays for POV. “And those strategies, as it turned out, would prove incredibly prophetic and prescient. There is the defiant de-victimization of the status of the film’s survivor.” Considering where we are in 2023, renewed attention to No Sad Songs is most appreciated.


Streams on Tënk

If you adore Faces Places, then Gabor is the recommended CanCon for you. Joannie Lafrenière’s poetic road movie delivers an amiable journey riding shotgun with Hungarian-Canadian photographer Gabor Szilasi. The film looks back at Szilasi’s singular eye, which documented everyday life in Quebec with quotidian artfulness. Moreover, the film ushers in a worthy cinematic eye in Lafrenière to tell the story, as her portrait builds upon the personable compositions of her previous work. Her knack for visual storytelling captures the heart and humour of Szilasi with an appropriate understanding of the power of images. “Gabor Szilasi resembles the pianist watching the passing crowd in Truffaut’s Tirez sur le pianist (Shoot the Piano Player),” observed Marc Glassman in our cover story on Gabor. “Quietly but with great affection, he has devoted his time to photography, which he believes is like ‘a poem,’ offering his best to his photo subjects, his family and friends and no doubt to Joannie Lafrenière for making this heartfelt portrait.”


A.rtificial I.mmortality

Streams on Crave

If the power of artificial intelligence has you concerned about truth and images, take a moment to explore the eye-popping range of possibilities afforded by A.I. in Ann Shin’s A.rtificial I.mmortality. The film, which opened Hot Docs 2021, sees the filmmaker wade into the complex ethical and philosophical questions posed by new technologies taking the world by storm. The film considers the process of transhumanism whereby a person’s likeness is captured in avatar form with intelligence that echoes a one’s speech patterns and mannerisms to present an eerily accurate reflection of the self. As Shin sees her own father’s memory slip away while she explores new technology, she and her kids find themselves facing a test that many families could soon encounter. Read more about A.rtificial I.mmortality in this POV profile.


Our Man in Tehran

Streams on Netflix

On the heels of Ben Affleck’s Academy Award winning Argo came this corrective account of the “Canadian caper” and the Iranian hostage crisis. Directors Drew Taylor and Larry Weinstein put Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor in the spotlight and give him a chance to speak about the daring mission in which he and members at the Canadian Embassy in Tehran sheltered Americans during the Iranian hostage crisis and helped bring them home. The film also invites several other participants to explain the unfolding of the events, including CIA agent Tony Mendez, whom Affleck portrays in Argo, as well as some the Americans who escaped the embassy and some who did not. The film therefore gives a distinctly Canadian perspective on the Canadian caper, but it doesn’t do so at the expense of the fuller picture. The event was a collaborative effort in diplomatic relations, so Our Man in Tehran appropriately takes an objective and diplomatic tone and works to acknowledge the many heroes who participated in this chapter of history. Read more about the Iranian hostage crisis in our look at Barbara Kopple’s Desert One.


Stories We Tell

Streams on MUBI and

Stories We Tell again?” you ask. Well, yes. Sarah Polley’s listicle staple gets another plug here in light of her recent Oscar win for Women Talking. Her shape-shifting documentary is a brilliantly layered consideration of the act of storytelling and the vagaries of truth. Great as Women Talking is, though, don’t let that well-deserved Oscar fool you: Stories remains Polley’s best film yet. Use July 1st to salute a Canadian who made us proud, and maybe she’ll consider making the live action Bambi remake a documentary. Read more about Stories We Tell in “Canada’s Documentary Essentials.”


On the Pond

Streams on Tënk

Why not enjoy a double bill for Canada Day by pairing Stories We Tell with On the Pond? Philip Hoffman’s debut film remains a landmark for the hybrid form that gives Polley’s film its power. Hoffman’s 1978 work draws inspiration from family photographs to question the divide between individual and collective memories. On the Pond remains one of the best works from one of Canada’s most innovative voices. Read more about Hoffman two stories from the POV archive: “Barns, Brits, and Birthrights” and “The Harvest of Phil Hoffman.”


Beautiful Scars

Streams on TVO

Musician Tom Wilson (Junkhouse, Blackie and the Roadie King) connects with his Mohawk roots after discovering them as an adult in this powerful film by Shane Belcourt. Beautiful Scars sees Wilson confront bittersweet and cathartic truths as his “cousin” Janie tells the story about how she’s actually his mother and explains how her son came to be raised without knowing his true identity. The film observes as Wilson ultimately redefines himself as an artist and finds a creative second wind as all the pieces come together. Read more about Beautiful Scars in this POV profile.


And Still I Sing

Streams on Crave

Powerful voices also fuel Fazila Amiri’s inspiring music doc And Still I Sing. The film follows contestants Zahra and Sadiqa on the singing competition show Afghan Star, along with one of the show’s judges, pop star Aryana Sayeed. While Zahra and Sadiqa rouse the spirit of the national audience, Amiri observes how they’re fighting for far more than a singing title. Like Sayeed, they’re taking a stand for women’s rights by putting themselves on stage and showing the power of women’s voices. “Afghan Star is really just a hook for Amiri’s deeper study of women’s rights. The film climaxes not with the results, but with the new uncertainty of life under the Taliban,” I wrote while reviewing the film. “Audiences will know the singers’ results in the competition before the film’s final act. However, their fates are urgently in limbo as the USA announces its plans to withdraw troops and peace talks fumble.”


Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World

Streams on Netflix

If the recent festival runs for Ever Deadly and Buffy Sainte-Marie: Carry It On inspired readers to learn more about Indigenous musicians, then jump back a few years to this audience favourite from the circuit. Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World tells the stories of artists like Buffy Sainte-Marie, Robbie Robertson, and Link Wray who took the front of the stage during the formative years of rock and roll. The doc highlights the deeper fight for visibility, equality, and sovereignty entailed in the artists’ amplification of their communities’ voices. “Loudly, proudly, Rumble reclaims its territory of music pedigree for a wider audience,” wrote Jason Gorber while reviewing the film. “From the earliest sounds of Jazz through to folk songs performed at recent pipeline protests, the power and spirit of these Indigenous musicians continues to play a vital role at the heart of this form of expression.”

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

Previous Story

Wim Wenders’ Anselm Picked Up By Sideshow and Janus Films

Next Story

Academy Invites 398 New Members, 34 to Doc Branch

Latest from Blog

0 $0.00