The Nordic documentaries screening at Hot Docs 2017

What? The Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival is the largest documentary festival in North America, as well as conference and market. The festival has around 200 documentaries screening each year.

Where? Toronto, Canada

When? 27th April – 7th May 2017

Hot Docs Website: http://www.hotdocs.ca/


Strong Island

Directed by Yance Ford / Produced by Joslyn Barnes & Yance Ford / https://www.strongislandfilm.com/

It’s immediately clear why Strong Island was awarded a Special Jury Prize for Storytelling at Sundance. Filmmaker Yance Ford shares his brother William’s life, and his family’s profound grief over his 1992 murder, in an innately original way. William was a black man shot dead in Long Island, New York; William’s white killer was never charged. With each interview shot centre frame, every family photo symmetrically placed in front of the camera, grief is foregrounded and the chronology of the case manipulated to allow the story of who William was to emerge ahead of how he died. Ford essentially crafts two memoirs, one of the family before the murder basking in the promise of social equality, and the second following the post-trauma implosion of their parents’ relationship, the filmmaker’s transgender struggle, their American dream. A triumph of personal cinema, Strong Island creates a powerful presence from a most senseless absence. Synopsis by Myrocia Watamaniuk (Official Hot Docs synopsis)

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Mr Sand

Directed by Soetkin Verstegen / Produced by Michelle Kranot / http://www.soetkin.com/

An historical curio that conjures the dangers that lurk in the dark, Mr Sand features an array of animation techniques that bring to life archival footage. A dark fairy tale for the modern age. Synopsis by Gina Duncan (Official Hot Docs synopsis)

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Last Men in Aleppo

Directed by Feras Fayyad / Produced by Søren Steen Jespersen & Kareem Abeed

Winner of Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize, filmmaker Feras Fayyad offers a masterful look at the harrowing work of Syria’s White Helmet volunteers. Embedded with a brigade at work in the rebel-held northeast of Aleppo, cameras struggle alongside these firefighters and paramedics who set about excavating still-hot bomb sites in the hopes of finding life. Using shovels, picks and bare hands, they unearth innocents from the unthinkable horror that surrounds them. Rallying leader Khaled is still buoyed by hope that the city he loves will endure, while Mahmoud’s reserved pragmatism leaves him vulnerable and wary of the future. More devastating than the graphic loss of life, however, are the scattered glimpses of a devastated people still trying to live in an unending hell. Set in October 2015, audiences already know the protracted years that lay ahead, but this humanizing testament to the Syrian people demands that the international community bear witness. Synopsis by Myrocia Watamaniuk (Official Hot Docs synopsis)

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Front View of My Father

Directed by Nicoline Skotte Jacobsen / Produced by Nicoline Skotte Jacobsen

Father and daughter engage in a series of playful games and trust exercises on a soundstage. Silly exchanges lead to serious discussion about the divorce that deprived them of a deeper relationship. A marvel of multi-camera production, staging and spontaneity, this experimental documentary captures unspoken moments of searing honesty and love, and poses questions most would never dare ask a parent (for fear of the answers). Synopsis by Angie Driscoll (Official Hot Docs synopsis)

Hot Docs Link

Bobbi Jene

Directed by Elvira Lind / Produced by Sara Stockmann & Julie Leerskov

For a decade, Bobbi Jene Smith held a coveted position in the world-renowned Batsheva Dance Company. She grew as a performer, fell in love and established a supportive community while continually pushing herself as a dancer. But in a bold move, she makes the decision to branch out on her own, leave Israel and head back to her home in the United States. For Bobbi Jene, the desire to explore new forms of artistic expression means breaking away from the life she worked hard to establish. Back home, she faces the struggles of maintaining a long-distance relationship while trying to find ways to stand out in an incredibly competitive industry. It’s here where Bobbi’s powerful ambition comes through as she begins to channel all she’s experienced thus far to create the most raw and vulnerable work of her life.  Synopsis by Gabor Pertic (Official Hot Docs synopsis)

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…when you look away

Directed by Phie Ambo / Produced by Malene Flindt Pedersen

Have you ever known who was calling before you answered the phone, or felt you were being watched while in an empty room? Is it possible to exist across multiple worlds simultaneously? When her young daughter insists she’s sometimes human and sometimes an animal, filmmaker Phie Ambo wonders what else might exist outside a singular human consciousness. Committing to the principal of randomness, she plumbs the minds of various leading thinkers, from the father of string theory to a Buddhist monk, from a clairvoyant to a janitor. Just as impressive as their fascinating ideas, however, is the visual correlative of this ever-deepening metaphysical query. Who would expect the mysteries of existence to lurk inside the grease trap at an amusement park or in a single cup of tap water? Prepare to have your reality permanently altered by this mind-boggling, impossible and thoroughly compelling film. Synopsis by Myrocia Watamaniuk (Official Hot Docs Synopsis)

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A Home in Memory

Directed by Helena Oest / Produced by Sonja Linden

“Everything has to go in the end.” This truism is never so prescient as when a multigenerational family home is being packed up and said goodbye to. This family drama plays out one room, one photo, one conversation at a time, piecing together a whimsical portrait of the little things that make a house a home.  By Eileen Arandiga (Official Hot Docs Synopsis)

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HobbyHorse Revolution

Directed by Selma Vilhunen / Produced by Venla Hellstedt & Elli Toivoniemi

Once the plaything of children, the hobbyhorse—a stick with a horse’s head—takes on greater importance and symbolism for a group of Finnish teens who organize flash mobs and post videos dedicated to the object of their devotion. The (mostly) girls who practise competitive hobbyhorse dressage and show jumping are not horsing around. With backs straight, shoulders square, knees up and toes pointed, these fantasy athletes are part of an underground scene and sport that’s taking hold of a new generation of riders—who also happen to be the ride. With a punk rock attitude, these hobbyhorse rebels use make believe and social media to challenge what’s considered age-appropriate or different. Bullies be damned. Hobbyhorse Revolution catches a trend in its infancy along with the imaginative and brave pioneers who refuse to be categorized or kept down for being true to themselves and their passion. By Angie Driscoll (Official Hot Docs Synopsis)

Hot Docs Link

Heart of the Land

Directed by Kaisa Astikainen / Produced by Kaisa Astikainen / http://toivolafilmi.fi/

A couple on the verge of retirement run a small dairy farm in the Finnish countryside. Without anyone to carry on the family farming tradition, the work of generations is quietly coming to an end. A film about letting go that won’t soon let you go, this unforgettable record of the farm’s final year brims with affection for the land, its livestock and lifestyle. By Angie Driscoll (Official Hot Docs Synopsis)

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Grey Violet – Odd One Out

Directed by Reetta Aalto / Produced by Liisa Juntunen / https://www.facebook.com/GreyVioletOddOneOut

A person with angel wings enters a supermarket, sets up ladder and rope in the lighting department, and is hanged by two comrades. This strange scene takes place in Moscow, where the provocative street-art group Voina has carried out numerous performance art pieces. The winged character is Grey Violet, a mathematician by profession and a queer activist at heart, who prefers the pronoun ze and whose hanging act was strictly condemned by President Putin himself. In ultra-conservative Russia, where taking part in gay pride or a protest in favour of Pussy Riot is enough to get beaten, ze has become the victim of police persecution and far-right fundamentalism. Invited to a mathematics conference in Finland, ze decides not to return home. With a compelling narration by Grey Violet’s mother, Reetta Aalto’s documentary follows the asylum process and offers a unique perspective on dissidence and queerness in the face of authoritarianism. By Charlotte Selb (Official Hot Docs Synopsis)

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Every Other Couple

Directed by Mia Halme / Produced by Aleksi Salmenperä / http://www.sahadok.fi/

Every year, new couples make the sacred marriage vow to stay together until death do they part. But statistically, many marriages don’t last. In this deeply personal and touching story, award-winning filmmaker Mia Halme takes us into the intimate and secret spaces of several Finish couples as they go through their separation processes. Reflecting on happier times when love blossomed, they recount that fateful and unforgettable day when they knew the marriage was over and they had fallen out of love. Coping with the stigma of a broken family, financial concerns and how to navigate redrawn social circles, they must face their own pain. In some cases, they must also move forward for the well-being of their children. How do you pick up the pieces when the life you were accustomed to living has dramatically changed? By Heather Haynes (Official Hot Docs Synopsis)

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Out of Thin Air

Directed by Dylan Howitt / Produced by Margret Jonasdottir & Andy Glynne

“Every Icelander knows about this case.” By all appearances, 1970s Iceland was a bucolic country of farmers and fishermen. It was an isolated place with magical landscapes and romantic associations, where everyone was related and life was crime free. When two men disappear under suspicious circumstances and foul play is suspected, the police blame the arrival of hippies, drugs and the counterculture. Determined to quash growing public hysteria, state prosecutors and the police respond with multiple arrests, coercive interrogation techniques and brutal prison conditions. Amazingly, after four decades and multiple convictions, this infamous murder case is still being tried, debated and re-examined. This taut psychological thriller incorporates archival footage, personal diaries, false confessions, dramatic recreations, wrongful convictions and multiple narratives to explore the most intense criminal investigation in Iceland’s history. Synopsis by Chris McDonald (Official Hot Docs Synopsis)

Hot Docs Link

La Chana

Directed by Lucija Stojevic / Produced by Susan Muska, Lucija Stojevic, Greta Olafsdottir & Deirdre Towers / https://www.lachanafilm.com/

Antonia Santiago Amador, better known as La Chana, was a flamenco legend that mysteriously disappeared from the spotlight at the height of her career. Through archival footage of La Chana’s many jaw-dropping television performances, Lucija Stojevic’s IDFA Audience Award–winning debut is an invigorating portrait that unravels the story behind a feisty and energetic presence. Highly spirited, the Catalan pioneer reflects on a storied career and what could have been. La Chana endured years of emotional abuse at the hands of her domineering ex-husband—whom she refers to only as “the father of my daughter.” He turned down opportunities on her behalf from Hollywood and legendary actor Peter Sellers, effectively forcing La Chana into early retirement. Now in her late 60s, more determined and empowered than ever, La Chana embarks on one last show, returning to the only place “where she can feel free and where she is the master.” Synopsis by Ravi Srinivasan (Official Hot Docs Synopsis)


69 Minutes of 86 Days

Directed by Egil Håskjold Larsen / Produced by Tone Grøttjord-Glenne

Through a crowd of refugees standing by a shoreline, a wide-eyed young girl with a puffy coat and a Frozen backpack emerges, about to start a very long excursion. Three-year-old Lean is our focal point as she and her family trek through Europe with the goal of reaching her grandfather and a new home in Sweden. With minimal dialogue, we travel alongside Lean and get to understand the deep courage and will Syrian refugees must have as they search for a better life. Part of a new wave of documentaries that depict the various elements of the Syrian crisis, 69 Minutes of 86 Days takes a poignantly humanistic approach. In its quiet beauty, it unravels the physical and emotional challenges refugee families face every day. While Lean may not fully understand what she’s experiencing, her strength and optimism shine through, giving hope to those who need it the most. Synopsis by Gabor Pertic (Official Hot Docs synopsis)

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Tongue Cutters

Directed by Solveig Melkeraaen / Produced by Ingvil Giske

Cod tongue is a delicacy in Norway, and the job of cutting the cod’s tongue is traditionally reserved for children. In this charming and whimsical coming of age story, nine-year-old Ylva dreams of following in her family’s footsteps and earning money by working a season in the fisheries of northern Norway. Leaving her big city Oslo life behind, she arrives in a small fishing village and meets 10-year-old Tobias, a highly skilled and ambitious tongue cutter who takes her under his wing and shows her the art. With slickers on and knives sharpened, the joyful duo dive into their work. Over time, they discover they have much in common, and as Tobias’ big dreams inspire Ylva, their bond grows. A beautiful friendship is formed while knee-deep in fish heads. Synopsis by Heather Haynes (Official Hot Docs Synopsis)

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Thank You For the Rain

Directed by Julia Dahr / Produced by Hugh Hartford / http://thankyoufortherain.com/

Kenyan farmer Kisilu Musya records climate change’s roller-coaster ride of flash floods and devastating droughts. For the past five years, he’s kept a video diary documenting the damaging effects of wild weather on his family’s life and livelihood. Convinced that planting trees is the answer to counteracting global warming in his community, Kisilu organizes local farmer groups, makes endless presentations and, with the support of his wife and Norwegian filmmaker Julia Dahr, takes his message all the way to the COP—the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change. But is anyone listening? This emotional, earnest and essential film about climate change is driven by Kisilu’s point of view. It gives voice to a natural leader who expects politicians to be doing as much as he is—to care and to be interested in hearing from those directly affected by the environmental transformations taking place on this planet we all share. Synopsis by Angie Driscoll (Official Hot Docs Synopsis)

Recruiting for Jihad

Directed by Adel Khan Farooq & Ulrik Imtiaz Rolfsen / Produced by Jonathan Lie, Ulrik Imtiaz Rolfsen and Lars Løge

Filmmakers Ulrik Imtiaz Rolfsen and Adil Khan Farooq followed the well-known Islamist missionary Ubaydullah Hussain for three years. A charismatic and intelligent man, he is also a recruiter with ties to ISIS who acts as the spokesperson for The Prophet’s Ummah, a Salafi-jihadist organization in Norway. Hussain is more than happy to share his views and practices with the camera, offering unparalleled insight into the life of an extremist. At first presenting himself as rational, open-minded and tolerant, Hussain’s ideological contradictions and prejudices are slowly revealed in this compelling and eye-opening exposé. The stakes get even higher as people we see Hussain recruiting become linked to terrorist acts. Eventually the documentary footage is seized by police as evidence, leading to a court case that also raises questions about freedom of the press. Recruiting for Jihad is an essential and groundbreaking piece of investigative filmmaking. Synopsis by Adam Cook (Official Hot Docs Synopsis)

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A Bastard Child

Directed by Knutte Wester / Produced by Therese Högberg / https://www.horungen.com/

In early 20th century Sweden, an unmarried woman gives birth to a baby girl, a great shame to her family and the conservative mores of the time. Labelled a whore, she is forced to place her “bastard” in various shelters, foster families and orphanages, where little Hervor grows up in dire conditions, unwanted by all and rejected from society. Like a real-life version of a Charles Dickens novel, this is the moving childhood story of artist Knutte Wester’s grandmother, who later became a pioneer of women’s rights. Drawing from her vivid recollections, Wester illustrates this extraordinary memoir with a mix of haunting watercolour paintings and poetic archival footage. A testimony to how powerfully animation can bring tales from the past to life, A Bastard Child is also a striking reminder that society always feels the need to create outcasts as a way of uniting its members. Synopsis by Charlotte Selb (Official Hot Docs synopsis)

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The Monster 

Directed by Lisa Gustafsson & Johan Palmgren / Produced by Johan Palmgren & Lisa Wahlbom / http://www.themonster.se/

As a child, Elena had a fascination with the blood and gore of splatter movies. As she matured, this bloodlust became her dark and dirty little secret. We join her on a journey of discovery and awakening as she tries to come to terms with her very particular tastes. Synopsis by Eileen Arandiga (Official Hot Docs Synopsis)

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Loving Lorna

Directed by Annika Karlsson & Jessica Karlsson / https://www.facebook.com/lovinglornafilm

A young redhead rides her horse along the green lawns and grey housing complexes of an impoverished Irish suburb. This unusual vision strikes the viewer as almost surreal, but in Ballymun, outside Dublin, horses have been an important part of the community’s culture for generations. For 17-year-old Lorna and her family, caring for horses is a way to stay out of trouble, giving purpose and joy to a life seemingly predetermined by their harsh socioeconomic reality. Proud and strong-willed, Lorna has long set her heart on becoming a farrier, a traditionally male job. But her constant back pain threatens to thwart her dreams. Shot over her last summer holiday from school, the film follows the young girl as she trains at the stable or rides her beloved and faithful Bigfoot. Loving Lorna is a tender and lucid coming-of-age story, in the best tradition of British social realism. Synopsis by Charlotte Selb (Official Hot Docs Synopsis)

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Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.