15 Special Presentations titles begin the rollout for the 30th anniversary line-up of Hot Docs. The slate features some of the most acclaimed and star-studded films on the documentary circuit this year. Headliners include Academy Award winner Davis Guggenheim’s portrait of Canadian actor Michael J. Fox in Still: A Michael J. Fox Story. The film premiered to rave reviews at Sundance earlier this year. Still features Fox as he reflects upon his stardom in sitcoms like Family Ties and blockbusters like Back to the Future, and how his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease at age 29 took his life in an unexpected direction. (Subscribe today to read more about Still in our upcoming issue.)
Hot Docs will also screen the Canadian premiere of Academy Award winner Roger Ross Williams’ Berlinale title Love to Love You, Donna Summer. Directed with Summer’s daughter, Brooklyn Sudano, the documentary is an expansive portrait of the late disco diva. Other stories of Black icons can be found in the fashion doc Invisible Beauty, directed by Bethann Hardison and Frédéric Tcheng, which uses Hardison’s modeling career as a springboard to examine racial discrimination in the style industry. Similarly, Black Barbie: A Documentary, directed by Lagueria Davis, unpacks the birth of the Black sister of Mattel’s iconic blonde. Peter Nicks’ Stephen Curry: Underrated, meanwhile, recaps the career of the titular basketball star.
The festival, which returns to a full theatrical presentation after a hybrid event last year, also features docs about pressing social issues and the figures at the centre of world events. Director Greta Stocklassa takes audiences into the life and career of Swedish diplomat and former United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix in Blix Not Bombs. The film will have its North American premiere at Hot Docs, as will Special Presentations selections Igor Levit – No Fear, directed by Regina Schilling, which profiles the pianist as COVID-19 closures forces a turn in his career, and Praying for Amageddon, directed by Tonje Hessen Schei and Michael Rowley, which unpacks the infiltration of American Evangelicals into the political system. Lukasz Konopa and Emil Langballe’s Theatre of Violence, finally, has its North American premiere at Hot Docs with its portrait of child soldiers confronting their actions of the past. War stories also fuel Innocence, director Guy Davidi’s consideration of mandatory military service in Israel.
Hot Docs will also screen Sundance premieres The Deepest Breath, which takes audiences deep underwater, and Food and Country, which sees author and food critic Ruth Reichl tackle America’s broken food system. Lina Lyte Plioplyte’s Periodical, finally, has its international premiere at the festival and invites audience to salute “that time of the month” with its study of menstruation.
Hot Docs announces its full slate of programming on March 29. It previously revealed that the Focus On and Outstanding Achievement Award retrospectives would spotlight visual researcher Elizabeth Klinck and filmmaker Christine Choy. This year’s festival runs April 27 to May 7.
The first Special Presentations titles for Hot Docs 2023 are:
Black Barbie: A Documentary
D: Lagueria Davis | P: Aaliyah Williams, Lagueria Davis | USA | 2023 | 100 min | International Premiere
We all know the Malibu blonde with a big head and bigger fan following, but do you know her Black counterpart? Discover the true story of Black Barbie from her origins to her contemporary presence in Mattel’s metaverse of dolls.
Blix Not Bombs
D: Greta Stocklassa | P: Radovan Síbrt, Alžbeta Karásková, Erik Winker, Mario Adamson | Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden | 2023 | 85 min | North American Premiere
What the hell is happening in the world? A millennial filmmaker looks to UN diplomat Hans Blix, who led the investigation into weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, for answers. Can diplomacy still play a role in averting catastrophe?
The Deepest Breath
D: Laura McGann | P: John Battsek, Sarah Thomson, Jamie D’Alton, Anne McLoughlin, Robert Ford | UK, Ireland | 2022 | 109 min | Canadian Premiere
Champion free-diver Alessia and safety diver Stephen seemed destined for one another above and below the water. Experience the astonishing risks they take as Stephen helps Alessia chase her dream of a new world record in this thrilling ocean epic.
Food and Country
D: Laura Gabbert | P: Laura Gabbert, Ruth Reichl, Paula P. Manzanedo, Caroline Libresco | USA | 2023 | 99 min | International Premiere
Concerned about the survival of small farmers, ranchers and chefs hobbled by America’s policy of producing cheap food, Ruth Reichl, trailblazing chef, food writer and editor reaches across political and social divides to uncover a broken food system and innovators risking everything to transform it.
Igor Levit – No Fear
D: Regina Schilling | P: Thomas Kufus | Germany | 2022 | 118 min | North American Premiere
The sold-out world tour of classical piano sensation Igor Levit was an intended focus of this up-close portrait, but when COVID hits, a career-defining crisis takes centre stage. Witness a true virtuoso transform musical performance with or without an audience.
D: Guy Davidi | P: Sigrid Dyekjær, Hilla Medalia, Margreth Jonasdottir, Kaarle Aho | Denmark, Israel, Finland, Iceland | 2022 | 100 min | Canadian Premiere
Mandatory service in the Israeli Defense Forces makes citizens confront the prospect of violence and the inevitable choice to accept, reject or rationalize it. Diaries and videos of both eager and reluctant recruits question whether innocence and militarization can co-exist.
D: Bethann Hardison, Frédéric Tcheng | P: Lisa Cortés, Paul Dallas | USA | 2023 | 115 min | Canadian Premiere
Pioneering Black model Bethann Hardison turns the camera on herself as she takes us behind the runway and into her life as agent, activist, and, most importantly, a mentor in the fight for racial diversity.
Love to Love You, Donna Summer
D: Roger Ross Williams, Brooklyn Sudano | P: Julie Goldman, Christopher Clements, Carolyn Hepburn, Roger Ross Williams, David Blackman, J. Daniel Torres | USA | 2023 | 107 min | Canadian Premiere
Featuring a trove of exclusive, previously unseen footage, the life and times of the one and only Donna Summer are richly detailed in this vibrant exploration of the singer whose iconic voice changed music forever.
D: Lina Lyte Plioplyte | P: Pegah Farahmand | USA | 2022 | 95 min | International Premiere
Enough with “being on the rag” and ditch “Aunt Flo,” it’s time to start treating menstruation with some respect. Activists, doctors and celebrities deconstruct sexist junk science and share the truth: your period is an asset and not “the curse.”
Praying for Armageddon
D: Tonje Hessen Schei, Michael Rowley | P: Torstein Parelius, Ingrid G. Aune Falch, Christian Aune Falch| Norway | 2022 | 96 min | North American Premiere
By infiltrating the machinery of the US politics, powerful American Evangelicals push to realize the biblical prophecy of Armageddon and manifest the Apocalypse, exercising influence that not only threatens American democracy but also foreign policy in the Middle East.
Stephen Curry: Underrated
D: Peter Nicks | P: Peter Nicks, Ryan Coogler, Erick Peyton, Sean Havey, Ben Cotner, Marissa Torres Ericson | USA | 2023 | 110 min | International Premiere
The life of one of the greatest NBA players playing today is explored with unprecedented access, from his humble beginnings to his now historic record-breaking career.
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie
D: Davis Guggenheim | P: Davis Guggenheim, Annetta Marion, Jonathan King, Will Cohen | USA | 2022 | 95 min | Canadian Premiere
With trademark wit, honesty and insight, Canadian icon Michael J. Fox recounts his improbable rise to the heights of Hollywood stardom alongside his private journey following his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease at 29.
Theatre of Violence
D: Lukasz Konopa, Emil Langballe | P: Helle Faber, Heidi Kim Andersen | Denmark | 2023 | 106 min | North American Premiere
As the first former child soldier–a forced recruit into Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army–faces trial in The Hague, his lawyer prepares a compelling defense that questions the international justice system, culpability and how communities recover from trauma.