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Hot Docs 2017: Ten global affairs documentaries to see

As the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival takes over Toronto April 27 to May 7, here are 10 films for the internationally minded viewer.

By: /
27 April, 2017
Still from the documentary film 69 Minutes of 86 Days

The Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival runs April 27 to May 7, bringing 230 documentary films to Toronto. Here are some of the many films that bring issues of global interest to light. For a full listing of all films, visit

1. City of Ghosts

City of Ghosts 2

American filmmaker Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land) takes viewers to Syria, following the actions of the citizen-journalism group called Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS). “There are many films that showcase examples of bravery, but few have the immediacy and incredible on-the-ground access that this film so impossibly provides,” Hot Docs reviewer Sarafina DiFelice writes.


Friday, April 28, Hot Docs Cinema
Saturday, April 29, Isabel Bader Theatre
Saturday, May 6, Hot Docs Cinema
Sunday, May 7, Hot Docs Cinema

2. Let There Be Light

This Canadian film narrows in on one of the most urgent issues facing the planet — the race to find new and sustainable sources of energy. But how far should scientists go to find it, and will the attention on the issue last long enough to see their work through? This is the story of the efforts to turn nuclear fusion into a real possibility as a solution to climate change.


Friday, April 28, Hart House Theatre
Saturday, April 29, Scotiabank Theatre 3
Friday, May 5, Hart House Theatre

3. Winnie

Winnie creates a complex portrait of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the former wife of Nelson Mandela and a lead campaigner with the African National Congress. Director Pascale Lamche attempts to show all sides of her subject, with footage from moments in South African history and interviews from Madikizela-Mandela’s supporters and critics alike. “Uncovering those layers, bringing them into the air to be re-oxygenated and examined deftly within a story-timeline is fascinating,” Lamche told the Toronto Star


Saturday, April 29, TIFF Lightbox 2
Sunday, April 30, TIFF Lightbox 2
Thursday, May 4, Isabel Bader Theatre

4. 69 Minutes of 86 Days

To understand the plight of the millions of refugees currently on the move, the filmmakers of 69 Minutes of 86 Days put viewers in the shoes of a three-year-old Syrian girl as she journeys from Greece to Sweden. “In its quiet beauty, it unravels the physical and emotional challenges refugee families face every day,” writes festival reviewer Gabor Pertic. Part of Hot Docs’ Syria 360 series.


Saturday, April 29, TIFF Lightbox 4
Sunday, April 30, Scotiabank Theatre 4
Sunday, May 7, Aga Khan Museum

5. Death in the Terminal

Death in the Terminal

With headlines of terrorism-related shootings often unable to delve into the personal stories behind the incidents, this documentary goes deep into the testimonies of a shooting in a bus terminal in Israel on Oct. 18, 2015. The questions raised are more pertinent than ever — is there an objective truth to events? And how does prejudice influence our views and memories? 


Wednesday, May 3, Innis Town Hall
Friday May 5, Scotiabank Theatre 3

6. Machines

Machines is a modern-day slavery story, where labourers in Gujarat, India, work to support their families deep within a textile factory. Their stories paint a picture of a changing world and the real-life impact and challenges of globalization. 


Monday, May 1, TIFF Lightbox 4
Wednesday, May 3, TIFF Lightbox 4
Sunday, May 7, TIFF Lightbox 3

7. Thank You For The Rain

As drought and famine strike several countries in East Africa, this film serves as a reminder of those on the ground fighting for a better life and livelihood. Specifically, Kenyan farmer Kisilu Musya takes his years-long campaign to bring awareness of the impact of climate change all the way to the United Nations. On this issue, voices such as his are not often heard and yet vital for understanding the impacts of climate around the world. 


Tuesday, May 2, Scotiabank Theatre 3
Wednesday, May 3, TIFF Lightbox 3
Sunday, May 7, TIFF Lightbox 2

8. This Cold Life

What is life like 300 miles from the North Pole? This film looks at the environmental and economic challenges of small, remote communities — specifically Longyearbyen, Norway, where social unity is key. 


Thursday, April 27, TIFF Lightbox 2
Monday, May 1, Scotiabank Theatre 3
Saturday, May 6, TIFF Lightbox 2

9. About My Liberty

About My Liberty
For proof that young people aren’t indifferent about politics, look no further than the Japanese youth that mobilized in 2015 against a constitutional change that would allow the Japanese military to get involved in foreign wars. As one Pacifist activist shouts in a scene in the film — in a line that might sum up an unofficial Hot Docs festival theme — “Politics is for the people, right?” 


Sunday April 30, Innis Town Hall
Tuesday, May 2, Scotiabank Theatre 3

10. Devil’s Freedom

Still an underreported story, the impact of violence from Mexico’s ongoing war on drugs continues to be hard felt in many communities. Victims of the war tell their own story in this film while wearing masks, their facelessness representing a lack of visibility globally. 


Friday, April 28, Scotiabank Theatre 3
Saturday, April 29, Hart House Theatre
Friday, May 5, Innis Town Hall

Others not to miss

While these 10 films give a taste of the variety the festival has to offer, there are many more films worth mentioning here:

State of Exception: On Brazil, the World Cup and resistance.

Zaineb Hates the Snow: On Zaineb, a nine-year-old Tunisian girl who moves to Canada. 

Hondros: On the life of award-winning conflict photographer Chris Hondros. 

A River Below: On the activists trying to save the Amazon pink dolphin from extinction.

Last Men in Aleppo: On the life-saving work of the White Helmet volunteers in Syria. 

In Procedure: On the lives of refugees living in limbo in Europe.

My Enemy, My Brother: On two former enemies in the Iran-Iraq war — who fought as mere teenagers — and meet 25 years later in Vancouver.

The People’s House: On life and times in the White House under the Obamas.

Recruiting for Jihad: On Islamist missionary and recruiter Ubaydullah Hussain.

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