TORONTO – The topic of female empowerment that’s been dominating headlines with the #MeToo movement is also being heavily reflected at this year’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.
In announcing the lineup for the 25th edition of the Toronto festival on Tuesday, organizers said they’ve achieved gender parity for the first time, with 50 per cent of the films coming from female directors and many projects with themes relating to women rising up.
Last year’s festival, by contrast, had about 48 per cent female-directed films.
“It wasn’t something we were forcing ourselves to do,” Shane Smith, director of programming for Hot Docs, said in an interview.
“We looked at the work, we looked at the great films that were coming in and the important stories that were being told and half of them are made by female filmmakers this year.”
Among them is the opening-night film “The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution” by Canadian director Maya Gallus, which looks at top female chefs who have fought through gender barriers in Toronto, New York, London and France.
“Certainly a conversation about women taking up their space in male-dominated industries is very much in the zeitgeist and ‘The Heat’ is exploring that question through the lens of the culinary world, specifically the restaurant industry,” said Gallus.
While female-focused films are spread throughout the festival, there’s also a program solely devoted to them in Silence Breakers, which features stories of women “speaking up and being heard.” They include “Slut or Nut, the Diary of a Rape Trial” by Kelly Showker, which follows Toronto activist Mandi Gray as she navigates the legal system after a sexual assault.
“I hope that our film is a call to action to support women filmmakers,” said Gray, noting the film was self-funded and didn’t receive any institutional support.
“It’s so great to be able to give the city this film to better educate both people that experience sexual assault, but also those that support people who have been sexually assaulted.”
Other films focusing on women include “Afghan Cycles,” about young Afghan women who are challenging gender and cultural barriers by training on the Women’s National Cycling Team.
Meanwhile, “Netizens” profiles women who have been targets of online harassment and have fought back against it.
And “Commander Arian — A Story of Women, War and Freedom” follows a female battalion as it retakes an ISIS-controlled city in Syria.
A total of 246 films and 16 interdisciplinary projects from 56 countries are at this year’s Hot Docs, which runs April 26 to May 6.
Star-studded offerings include “The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned From a Mythical Man,” about the random scenarios the comedy star has popped up in over the years. “Love, Gilda” profiles the late comedian Gilda Radner. And “Bachman” features Canadian musician Randy Bachman.
Other highlights include “Active Measures,” about Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. “United We Fan” features super-fans of TV shows who have launched campaigns to keep them on the air. And “Behind the Curve” profiles those who believe the Earth is flat.
Two-time Oscar-winning American documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple, whose film “A Murder in Mansfield” was screening at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema Tuesday, will receive an outstanding achievement award retrospective at the fest.
The festival will have another retrospective program devoted to Canadian filmmaker John Walker.
“I think this is the year of the female and it’s also the golden age of documentary,” said Kopple, who won Oscars for “American Dream” and “Harlan County U.S.A.,” and is behind the hit doc “Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing.”
“Female empowerment has been suppressed for so long that now it’s time for it to get out there and to bloom and for people to cheer and to realize that if they can do it, I can do it too.”