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Home / Arts / Here are the top films playing at Toronto’s HOT DOCS Festival 2024

Here are the top films playing at Toronto’s HOT DOCS Festival 2024


Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary festival, is back from April 25 to May 5, bringing an array of captivating non-fiction films to Toronto cinemas. From intimate personal narratives to global socio-political examinations, Hot Docs promises to deliver a diverse and immersive cinematic experience for audiences eager to engage with the world around them. Here we will highlight some of the 87+ documentaries being featured at Toronto’s biggest documentary film festival this year.

With a focus on themes like power, corruption, and tragedy, the festival offers a thought-provoking exploration of real-world issues through the lens of documentary storytelling.

Whether you’re a seasoned documentary fan or new to the genre, Hot Docs offers something for everyone, inviting viewers to explore, learn, and be inspired by the power of non-fiction filmmaking.

Get tickets

Tickets for the Hot Docs Festival are available for purchase online and in-person starting April 2, with various pricing options including single tickets and ticket packages. For more information go to the hot doc’s website – https://hotdocs.ca/festivals/hot-docs-festival.

Here are all the highlights for this year’s upcoming Hot Docs film festival in Toronto, running from April 25 to May 5.

Top Hot Docs Festival films 2024

American Cats:

The Good, the Bad, and the Cuddly – Samantha Bee correspondent Amy Hoggart sheds light on the practice of cat declawing, offering both humour and insight.

Nice Ladies:

When Russia began bombing the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine, in 2022, every resident had to decide whether to stay or evacuate. For the members of the Nice Ladies—the ages 50-and-up women’s cheerleading squad—those decisions also had consequences for the team: Sveta fled to the Netherlands with her family; captain Valia and coach Nadia stayed behind. Relying on their individual training routines and sporadic phone calls to cope with daily traumas, each of these women fights to stay sane. But as the ladies press onwards to survive at home and abroad, war’s inevitable and more insidious twin weapons—resentment and survivor’s guilt—unleash unexpected, personal wounds.

Born Hungry:

Acclaimed Canadian filmmaker Barry Averich follows the journey of chef Sash Simpson from a large Toronto family to culinary stardom.

Norwegian Democracy:

A racist decides to burn the Qu’ran as an act of free speech in Norway. This is the extent of the logic behind Lars Thorsen’s publicity stunts for his Islamophobic hate group, Stop the Islamization of Norway (SIAN). Thorsen’s antics are unoriginal and offensive, but his protests have the desired dual effect of attracting attention (and outrage) and forcing the police to protect his right to self-expression. To understand SIAN’s inner workings and strategies, the filmmakers present themselves as neutral journalists to Thorsen and his followers. For three years, they watch the braggart entreat anyone in public squares or parking lots to debate his rhetoric and then hide behind the law when his “knowledge” is challenged. What co-directors Fabien Greenberg and Bård Kjøge Rønning deliver is a revealing look at provocation for provocation’s sake, laid bare in a street-level battle for democracy.

Secret Mall Apartment:

Who hasn’t dreamed about living in the mall? From the fantasy of Mannequin to the capitalist threat of Dawn of the Deadto the secret identities and hidden storerooms in season three of Stranger Things, the mall is a metaphor for comfort, consumerism and confrontation. Secret Mall Apartment, the newest member in the mall-movie pantheon, tells the remarkable story of a group of art students who create an apartment inside the Providence Place Mall. They record everything on tiny cameras hidden in Altoid boxes, from the construction of a brick wall to the installation of furniture and a locking door, to tapping into the mall’s electricity.

7 Beats Per Minute:

Jessea Lu’s journey into the depths of the ocean, spanning from the sun-kissed shores of the Bahamas to the icy expanses of Antarctica, has etched her name into the annals of freediving history. With multiple national records to her name, Lu’s passion for exploration knows no bounds. In 2018, she set a world record, diving to a staggering depth of 93 meters. Yet, her ambitious endeavor took a harrowing turn when she encountered a blackout on her ascent, with her life hanging in the balance for four agonizing minutes before being rescued by her vigilant safety team. This near-death experience proved to be a profound turning point for Lu, a moment of reckoning that sparked a journey of self-discovery and resilience. Rather than retreat from the sport she loves, Lu embraced the challenge with renewed vigor, confronting her deepest fears head-on and pushing the boundaries of her physical and emotional limits. As she grappled with the complexities of her own mortality, Lu found solace in the depths of the ocean, a sanctuary where vulnerability and strength intersect in a delicate dance. Director Yuqi Kang’s poignant exploration of Lu’s odyssey delves into the depths of the human spirit, weaving a narrative that transcends the confines of sport.

Any Other Way – The Jackie Shane Story:

Once you’ve heard Jackie Shane sing, you’ll never forget it. Yet, after shattering barriers as one of pop music’s first Black trans performers, this trail-blazing icon vanished from the spotlight at the height of her fame. From modest beginnings in Nashville, Shane soon recognized her talents and, in her late teens, made her way to Boston and Montreal, working the nightclub circuit while taking the stage with Frank Motley, a musician known for playing two trumpets at once. Her arrival in Toronto during its 1960s music explosion made her a highly sought-after headlining act who seemed destined to take her place among the R&B stars of the era.

Cyborg Generation:

After an encounter with the pioneering cyborg artists Neil Harbisson and Moon Ribas, Kai Landre, a young musician from Spain, finds himself drawn to a daring and unconventional path: he decides to undergo the implantation of a cybernetic organ into his body. While such a procedure is undoubtedly illegal, the potential rewards are tantalizing—a newfound sense capable of perceiving extraterrestrial sounds and a wellspring of inspiration for his music. As Landre embarks on this audacious journey, he must confront not only the legal ramifications but also the emotional and scientific complexities that accompany it. With MRI scans tracking his physical transformation and the concern of his loved ones weighing heavily on his mind, he grapples with the fusion of human and machine in pursuit of a higher state of existence.


Winner of the Audience Award: US Documentary, at the Sundance Film Festival. Daughters follows young girls and their incarcerated fathers as they prepare for a special daddy-daughter dance in a Washington, DC, jail. Part of Virginia’s groundbreaking Date with Dad project, the event is the culmination of a 12-week counselling program that assists inmates to foster successful relationships with their daughters both while they’re inside and after their release. Given the statewide decrease of in-person visitation and the increasing costs of video-communication, the dance will be the first moment of physical contact since incarceration for some of these parents and children. Shot over the course of eight years, the film captures the weight of the complex emotions these girls and their dads must navigate, in both the lead-up to the big event and the ensuing separation. Intimate and honest, this heart-rending study uniquely reveals one of the most personal consequences of mass incarceration.

Eternal You:

Imagine you were given the opportunity to talk to your loved ones in the afterlife. With advancements in AI technology, several companies around the world are now trying to source and sell this dream to the living who seek a dialogue with those who have passed away. By implementing and coding people’s memories, online profiles and personal data, digital doppelgängers are created to give a sense of immortality to the dead. Some software manages to mimic the late person exceptionally well. But how accurate can these avatars be overall? What if you’re having a “conversation” with the person you’re grieving, and they don’t say what you want to hear? In the rapidly expanding technological world, these companies are attempting to provide comfort; here, their goals are outlined alongside those of the clients who seek out their services. Eternal life may not be possible; these days, however, it can be coded.

Flying Hands:

Aniqa Bano’s story of raising a deaf daughter in Pakistan evolves into a tale of empowerment and community as she opens a school and home for the deaf.

Kelly – Someone Else’s Dream:

Estonian freestyle skier Kelly Sildaru was just 13 years old when she won gold at the 2016 Winter X Games. Coached by her dad, who took up the sport himself when his daughter turned two, the pair became a media sensation—child prodigy and untrained coach. Setting and breaking record after record, many before the age of 10, Sildaru fused her commitment to cracking expert tricks with her father’s unrelenting drive to excel. Given her unmatched success on the mountains, no one would have predicted the injury that would derail Kelly’s first Olympic run, or the even more devastating secret she was about to reveal: her father had been abusing her for years. Fellow ski legends, sports agents and Sildaru’s mother join the icon herself in this powerful testimonial that sets a new standard of sports bravery

Lost in the Shuffle:

World champion magician Shawn Farquhar investigates a medieval murder cold case while perfecting his latest trick in this world premiere at Hot Docs.


Never Too MuchDawn Porter’s documentary on legendary singer-songwriter Luther Vandross serves as the festival’s official opener after receiving acclaim at Sundance.

Me, Michael & I:

Michael Jackson inspired his share of impersonators, but few can hold a candle to Freddy Duffour, a.k.a. the Truthwalker, a 25-year-old from Quebec who is dedicating his life and body to emulate his hero. Undergoing numerous surgical procedures, from dental reconstruction to nose jobs, Dufour feels it’s just part of his duty to embody the pop star’s physique fully as he attempts to get investors to stage a Las Vegas–level tribute show, complete with backup dancers. One of those dancers is his incredibly supportive girlfriend Danny, who, along with Dufour’s parents, has supported him for years.

My Dad’s Tapes:

On August 9, 2006, Leonard Watson dropped off his eight-year-old son Kurtis at summer camp. That’s the last time anyone saw him. No bags packed, no calls, no activity in the bank account, no note: Watson disappeared, leaving his family behind. He was considered missing until 30 days later, when he was found dead by apparent suicide. Fourteen years later, Kurtis Watson discovers a trove of home videos—hundreds of hours recorded by his father leading up to his death—a discovery that inspires a painstaking search for answers in recorded moments, family testimonials, and conversations with people connected to the event in any way, including the Watson family themselves, who come together for the first time to talk about the weight of this memory in their lives. Discoveries of small details lead to impactful and revelatory moments for them, revealing an ever-present stigma around mental health.

My Sextortion Diary:

A young filmmaker’s laptop is stolen. Two months later, an anonymous hacker threatens to reveal the woman’s sexually suggestive photos to all her work contacts if she doesn’t pay thousands of dollars. Panicked, Pati reaches out to the Spanish authorities for assistance, only to discover the police and courts are completely powerless to protect her. Told through text messages, emails and self-recorded videos, My Sextortion Diarydocuments a chilling and nightmarish scenario that has become increasingly commonplace online. As Pati’s hacker begins leaking her private photos, she decides to take the law into her own hands. With remarkable honesty and humour, Pati reaches beyond her initial feelings of helplessness to tell a powerful story about bodily autonomy and dignity. Part thriller, part mystery, this is a compelling first-hand look into the threat of online blackmail and what it takes to fight back.

Never look Away:

TUES, APR 30, 6:30 PM // Big Ideas presented by Scotia Wealth Management

Get up close and personal with the life and legacy of photojournalist Margaret Moth. Hailing from New Zealand, Moth landed in major conflict zones around the world and was fearless in her coverage of war and its human toll. Settle in with key creatives from the film for a conversation about Moth’s inspiring and fearless life and trailblazer spirit that has ignited journalists around the world to push themselves to the limit to share the truth. Guests: Director Lucy Lawless.

About the film

CNN camerawoman Margaret Moth made the wars in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Lebanon, and Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, real for North American television audiences. While her fellow journalists took cover, Moth ran towards danger, camera in hand, to get the shots. Colleagues including Christiane Amanpour attest to her bravery, but it is Moth’s friends and lovers who reveal the self-destructive nature of the artist behind the lens. Innovative reconstructions of her near-lethal assignment in Sarajevo’s Sniper Alley, which turned Moth into headline news, are paired with unsettling interviews with witnesses to her daredevilry, forming the grit of this unconventional portrait. In her directorial debut, actor Lucy Lawless reveals the fearlessness of a fellow Kiwi woman-turned-groundbreaker, one who immortalized war-reporting history.

The Silence of Reason:

“Essential” does not begin to describe Silence of Reason, a meticulously constructed and emotionally undoing video essay that exposes the rape camps set up by Serb forces in the town of Foca early in the Bosnian War. This piece of performative research, which claimed the Best Directing honour at IDFA’s Envision Competition, employs actual court transcripts that were used to condemn sexual enslavement as a crime against humanity in the first Hague tribunal of its kind.


Witness the struggle of Staten Island Amazon workers, led by Chris Smalls, as they fight for unionization against the industry giant.

Final Thoughts

From the stirring tales of resilience and survival to the thought-provoking explorations of societal issues, each film has left an impression on viewers. While the anticipation for the Best Feature Documentary winner lingers, one thing remains certain: the collective impact of these cinematic journeys will continue to resonate long after the festival lights dim. As we reflect on the stories shared and the conversations sparked, we’re reminded of the profound ability of documentary filmmaking to illuminate the human condition and foster empathy and understanding in a world hungry for connection and enlightenment.

Myles Shane

by Myles Shane

Other articles from totimes.ca – otttimes.ca – mtltimes.ca

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