From City So Real (2020), dir. Steve James (all images courtesy Hot Docs)

Hot Docs is Canada’s premier documentary film festival. Like many others, it’s had to take its programming online this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As these organizations have adapted to the strange new normal of quarantine, they’ve grown more ambitious in scope. If you’re a resident of Ontario, you can now pay to stream an expansive selection of films and related events — not just during the festival proper from May 28 to June 6, but for many weeks afterward.

This year’s Hot Docs slate includes several films Hyperallergic has already spotlighted. There’s the touching character study The Painter and the Thiefthe personal history investigation Trouble, and The Giverny Document, an incisive, experimental portrait of how Black women struggle to feel safe in the world. Here are some other notable titles to check out from the fest.

From Mayor (2020), dir. David Osit


This film profiles Musa Hadid, the mayor of Ramallah, the de facto capital of Palestine. He is in the unusual position of having to handle both commonplace municipal concerns and one of the most incendiary political battles in the contemporary world. With this more extreme example, David Osit demonstrates how small- and large-scale governance are connected.

The Dilemma of Desire

Director Maria Finitzo surveys a variety of subjects who are educating people about clitoral sexual pleasure and health. This film seeks to act as corrective to literal centuries of male-dominated medical opinion, both illuminating the truth and demonstrating how that truth has been historically obscured.

Breaking the Silence

Priscila Padilla examines the problem of continued female genital mutilation in the Emberá Indigenous community in Colombia. She follows Luz, who left her home over the issue, and Claudia, a fellow Emberá activist who’s fighting to end the practice. The documentary uses these personal lenses to depict how a colonial affliction still haunts the modern world.

From Cane Fire (2020), dir. Anthony Banua-Simon

Cane Fire

Director Anthony Banua-Simon uses his own family’s historical materials and footage from various Hollywood films to contrast the paradisiacal pop culture vision of Kauai with its often darker reality. The juxtaposition of the real and constructed shows how the culture industry has aided the agricultural and tourist industries in their continued mistreatment of Indigenous Hawaiians.


This film is an accumulation of perfectly normal high school traditions and procedures: sports games, pep rallies, assemblies, and mores. Except the United States’ hideous strain of gun violence means that there are some fresh additions to these routines, such as active shooter drills. By comparing and contrasting these rituals, director Todd Chandler examines how institutions deal with the challenges of unthinkable systemic problems.

City So Real

Steve James, best-known for his legendary basketball coming-of-age documentary Hoop Dreams, directs this four-episode miniseries about the 2019 Chicago mayoral election. As a staggering 21 candidates campaign, James employs his unique naturalistic style to get the voices of people all over, forming a sprawling portrait of the city in political tumult.

From The World is Bright (2019), dir. Ying Wang

The World is Bright

In 2005, immigrant student Shi-Ming Deng died by suicide in Canada. His parents back in China were given minimal information about the circumstances around his death, and so they launched their own investigation into the truth, which ultimately lasted a dozen years. Ying Wang follows their quest, using reenactment and interviews with those around the Dengs to unravel the secrecy Canadian authorities erected around the incident.


In 2013, the Supreme Court of the Dominican Republic retroactively revoked the citizenship of anyone born to Haitian parents after 1929, leaving hundreds of thousands of people stateless. Director Michèle Stephenson brings this badly overlooked humanitarian crisis to light by following attorney Rosa Iris as she fights institutional racism in the DR.

Hot Docs continues through June 6, with its program available to stream to those living in Ontario. Select films will remain available to stream through June 24.

Dan Schindel is a freelance writer and copy editor living in Brooklyn, and a former associate editor at Hyperallergic. His portfolio and links are here.