As free daytime screenings were available to all students, catching a film at the Canadian International Documentary Festival — better known as Hot Docs — was a great way for many to start off the summer. Now that the festival has ended, some of the titles have had a lasting impact on viewers. Here are three films to look out for.
At Home in the World
Among the various subjects that Hot Docs films delve into, a popular theme this year was immigration and refugees which has been prominent in the media over the past year. At Home in the World, which had its Canadian premiere at the festival, offered an intimate perspective into the everyday lives of refugee children at a Red Cross school in Denmark.
The hour-long film was a project by award-winning director Andreas Koefoed. Told primarily through interviews, it captured the personal struggles of several refugee children and their parents as they grappled with nightmares and mental illnesses, all while learning a new language, adjusting to a new culture, and fighting for residency at the risk of being separated from loved ones.
“In the public debate, people on the run are often reduced into numbers or stereotypes,” writes Koefoed in the director’s notes on the film’s website. “It is easy to forget that they are normal human beings, who happen to be in a very difficult situation. This is my reason for telling this story: I want to tell the story of the refugee children, who often face the same everyday struggles, thoughts and emotions as any other child, except for the fact that they have experienced a life with various atrocities very close to home.”
Audrie & Daisy
Another emotional film that spoke to a pervasive issue was Audrie & Daisy, directed Jon Shenk and Bonni Cohen. The film told the story of two teenage survivors of filmed sexual assaults, Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman, their community’s reaction, and the legal ramifications that followed. The heart-wrenching interviews with the survivors and their families drew tears from the crowd, while the scathing and slut-shaming remarks of the police and the public incited exclamations of outrage. Audrie & Daisy is a must-watch for everyone, as it presented powerful insight into a relevant issue.
“Unfortunately, the story of drunken high school parties and sexual assault is not new,” say Shenk and Cohen in their statement on the film. “But today, the events of the night are recorded on smartphones and disseminated to an entire community and, sometimes, the nation… While the subject matter is dark, we are inspired by these stories to make a film that captures these truths but can also help audiences digest the complexities of the world teenagers live in today.”
Daisy Coleman, Daisy’s mother, and Delaney Henderson — another sexual assault survivor featured in the film — were present at the screenings to answer questions and to speak with the audience in the lobby. Audrie & Daisy had its international premiere at Hot Docs after screening at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it was nominated for the Grand Jury prize.
On a more lighthearted, but no less moving, note was Life, Animated, directed by Roger Ross Williams. It tells the story of Owen Suskind, a 23-year-old autistic man, and his journey to understand the world through Disney animations.
Owen’s story bears all the hallmarks of a good Disney film itself: empowerment, joy, hilarity, heartbreak and struggle. Interviews were creatively presented alongside clips from Disney films, animations of Owen’s life, and animations of Owen’s imaginary world. As the film explains, Disney movies remain constant when everything else changes, a reason why many autistic people find comfort and meaning in them.
In addition to being a touching story about using our different passions to navigate reality, Life, Animated also offers a glimpse into the life of an autistic child growing up and the effects that it has had on his family. The film debunked several myths about the condition, such as how autistic people will never able to hold jobs, have good romantic relationships, or live independently.
Life, Animated also had its international premiere at Hot Docs after screening at the Sundance Film Festival, where Williams won the Sundance Directing Award: U.S. Documentary. The film was based on the bestselling book Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism, written by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ron Suskind, Owen’s father. The film will be released in North American theatres later in 2016.