Hot Docs ’21: Ann Shin’s A.rtificial I.mmortality to open fest

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Presented online, this year's lineup includes 219 films from 66 countries and will see the debut of its Citizen Minutes project.

The Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival is truly leaning into digital for its 2021 edition.

Being presented online from April 29 to May 9 and available across Canada for the first time, director Ann Shin’s A.rtificial I.mmortality has been tapped to serve as the high-profile festival’s Opening Night Film.

The Hot Docs 2021 slate unveiled today (March 23) features 219 films from 66 countries in 12 programs – with 50% of the directors in the Festival program being women.

Making its world premiere in the Canadian Spectrum program, which is sponsored by TVO, A.rtificial I.mmortality examines how our memories can be uploaded into digital clones, persevering our personality and spirit without the limitations of a physical body.

Producers include Gerry Flahive, Erica Leendertse and Hannah Donegan, while Shin is credited as an executive producer alongside Flahive. Shin is also listed as a writer on the project with Julia Nunes. To celebrate the opening of the festival, Hot Docs will also host a livestreamed Q&A with Shin and special guests.

Other world debuts in the section include: director Caitlin Durlak’s Dropstones; Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers’ documentary feature debut Kimmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy; Tanya Talaga and Michelle Derosier’s Spirit to Soar; Cody Westman’s Hell of Clean Water; Jesse McCracken’s second feature Grey Roads; Katherine Knight’s Still Max; Emmanuel Licha’s Zo Reken; Jason Sherman’s My Tree; Yasmine Mathurin’s One of Ours; and Sean Horlor and Steve J. Adams’ Someone Like Me.

Only two feature films make their North American premieres: director Felix Dufour-Laperriere’s Archipelago and Shannon Walsh’s The Gig Is Up.

The program has two shorts streams: the Canadian Spectrum Shorts Program 1: Stories of Growth and Learning, and Canadian Spectrum Shorts Program 2: Bodies Release.

Some of the titles set include Tiffany Hsiung’s Until Further Notice; Sophy Romvari’s Remembrance of Jozsef Romvari; Trevor Dixon Bennett and Leigh Joseph’s Walking with Plants; Andrew Bateman, Lindsay Fitzgerald and Sean Stiller’s Four Days at the National Preservation Centre; Kijatai-Alexandra Veillette-Cheezo’s Heart Berry; Lorraine Price’s The Hairdresser; Dominique Basi’s Hair; and Siam Obregon and Kyana Lyne’s Jontae, to name a few.

Of note, the Canadian Spectrum program will also see the world debut of Hot Docs’ recently commissioned Citizen Minutes project, which was announced in October 2020 and will be available to stream for free during the festival.

Aimed at inspiring interest and engagement in Canadian democracy and public affairs through exploring stories of civic participation across Canada, the eight titles include Aisha Fairclough’s Body Politics, Rachel Garrick’s The Gift, Roble Issa and Zach Jama’s Mending a Crack in the Sky, Javier Lovera’s Ride Fair, and more.

Films with Canadian roots set for the Special Presentations side include Chinese-Canadian director Yung Chang’s Wuhan Wuhan (Canada/U.S., world premiere), Sol Guy’s The Death of My Two Fathers (Canada/U.S., world premiere), Paul Kemp’s Nike’s Big Bet (North American premiere) and Jennifer Holness’ Subjects of Desire (Canadian premiere), which made its world premiere at SXSW.

Notably, as part of Hot Docs’ Big Ideas series, which is presented by Scotia Wealth Management, singer-songwriter Jully Black and author and assistant professor Cheryl Thompson will join the Hungry Eyes Media’s Holness in a discussion about the cultural shift in beauty standards towards embracing Black features and aesthetics.

In the World Showcase section, director Michal Weits’ Blue Box (Canada/Israel), Reza Farahmand’s Neighbouring The Moon (Canada/Iran/Syria) and Itaru Matsui’s Only I Can Hear (Japan/Canada) will make their world premieres.

Meanwhile, both Dorota Proba’s Between Us (Canada/Poland) and Mania Akbari’s Dear Elnaz (Canada) are set to make their North American debuts.

As well, this year’s festival also includes a new theme program: Systems Down, which is focused on calls for systemic change and challenging the status quo.

The category will see the world premiere of Sheona McDonald’s Dead Man’s Switch a Crypto Mystery; Gary Lang’s The Face of Anonymous; and Jennifer Ngo’s Faceless (Canada/U.S./Hong Kong). The Systems Down Shorts Program also features Canadian project Mika Yatsuhashi’s An Uninterrupted View of the Sea.

Additionally, both Markers and Deep Dive will return for 2021. In Markers, which focuses on films that push the boundaries of the documentary form, John Greyson’s International Dawn Chorus Day is part of the Markers Shorts Program.

Other projects with Canadian roots set for Hot Docs include: Alejandro Bernal’s Rebel Love (world premiere, Made in Colombia, Colombia/Canada/Brazil); Elizabeth D. Costa’s Bangla Surf Girls (world premiere, Persister); Bobbi Jo Hart’s Fanny: The Right to Rock (world premiere, Persister); and Billie Mintz’s Portrayal (Artscapes).

In the Persisters Shorts Program 1: Workforce, two Canadian projects will screen: Sarra El Abed’s Ain’t No Time For Women and Nicole Bauzin’s Last Night At the Strip Club.

Notably, this year’s selection announcement follows the news that Brett Hendrie will depart his position as executive director of Hot Docs. Former executive director and current president Chris McDonald will temporarily assume Hendrie’s responsibilities until a new executive director is appointed.

As well, last year saw Hot Docs postpone its 2020 edition due to COVID-19, later announcing its full lineup to honour and support filmmakers “as they seek opportunities in these difficult times,” according to a previous press release. The festival ended up heading online, presenting over 140 official selections to Ontario audiences.

Image of A.rtificial I.mmortality courtesy of Hot Docs