6 documentaries that get to the heart of things

6 documentaries that get to the heart of things

The films in this year’s Scotiabank Big Ideas Series at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival (April 27-May 7) take us to unexplored terrains, such as ocean floors, remote jungle parks and even outer space. These documentaries also courageously take us to environments that, for better or worse, humans have created for themselves: war zones, courtrooms and protester-occupied streets. With extended Q&As and top-notch panels composed of film directors, subjects and experts, the Scotiabank Big Ideas Series rewards audiences who want to go deeper into the story to discover the context and repercussions of what’s on screen—and perhaps what was left on the cutting-room floor.

City of Ghosts

Not long after the citizens of the Syrian city of Raqqa toppled a statue of President Bashar al-Assad in protest against his regime, ISIS tanks rolled in, bringing with them death, destruction and chaos even as ISIS leaders promised a paradise on Earth. With the founding of the news organization Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, a band of citizen journalists risk their own lives—and those of their loved ones—to get the word out about the atrocities taking place in their streets. This astonishing documentary will have you in tears over the horror humans are capable of, and for the resilience of the human spirit. The Scotiabank Big Ideas screening on Friday, April 28, at 6:30pm, features director Matthew Heineman and a special guest. Hosted by Toronto Star’s Michelle Shephard.


Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press

Where is the line between press freedom and the right to privacy? There couldn’t be a more over-the-top answer to this question than the salacious 2016 civil trial between Terry “Hulk Hogan” Bollea and blog network Gawker Media over the publication of a sex tape featuring the famed professional wrestler. Director Brian Knappenberger, who made Hot Docs fave The Internet’s Own Boy, follows the money, investigating how the involvement of Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel may have helped silence Gawker and put a steep price on free speech. The Scotiabank Big Ideas screening on Sunday, April 30, at 6:30pm, features director Brian Knappenberger and John Cook, executive editor, Special Projects Desk at Gizmodo Media Group. Hosted by The Globe and Mail’s Simon Houpt.


Chasing Coral

In a sort-of climate-change sequel to Chasing Ice, Jeff Orlowski’s award-winning 2012 doc about melting glaciers, the director this time takes us deep into the world’s oceans to find out why coral reefs around the globe have been vanishing. With footage from 30 countries captured over three years, including breathtaking time-lapse photography, Orlowski and his team of divers, photographers and scientists come back with never-seen-before images. What they discover, especially at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, will dazzle your eyes and break your heart. The Scotiabank Big Ideas screening on Monday, May 1, at 6:30pm, features director Jeff Orlowski and founding partner of The Ocean Agency Richard Vevers. Hosted by Daily Planet co-host Ziya Tong.


Bill Nye: Science Guy

Years after the beloved PBS kids’ show Bill Nye the Science Guy ended its run, science nerds were left wondering what became of their goofy guru. Finally emerging back into the spotlight wearing his trademark bow-tie, Nye has now set his sights on grownups, using scientific arguments against climate-change deniers. But when Nye goes head-to-head with an anti-evolution fundamentalist, some experts suggest his strategy might be backfiring. Nye starts to wonder if it might be easier to launch a rocket than to change the minds of ideologues. The Scotiabank Big Ideas screening on Tuesday, May 2, at 6:30pm, features Bill Nye and directors David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg. Hosted by CBC Radio-Canada’s Nicole Mortillaro.


Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower

When China announces the introduction of its National Education curriculum into Hong Kong schools, 14-year-old Joshua Wong worries it’s a brainwashing strategy, aimed to eradicate the distinct identity, and democratic aspirations, of the former British colony. This inspirational and action-packed doc follows Joshua and his savvy fellow student leaders as they confound all expectations, mobilizing tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents to join their Umbrella Revolution against Chinese autocracy. A moving tribute to the power of peaceful protest and the determination of youth. The Scotiabank Big Ideas screening on Wednesday, May 3, at 6:30pm, features Joshua Wong and director Joe Piscatella. Hosted by journalist Rachel Giese.


The Last Animals

Known for her war photography, Kate Brooks this time aims her camera at the brutality humans inflict on at-risk animals in a hard-hitting examination of the destruction caused by poachers and the global trade in elephant tusks and rhino horns. In visually stunning scenes from the frontlines of the battle—it can feel like a war zone inside Congo’s Garamba National Park—Brooks captures the heroic efforts of conservationists, scientists, park rangers and soldiers fighting against the clock to stop species like the northern white rhino from being wiped off the face of the Earth. The Scotiabank Big Ideas screening on Thursday, May 4, at 6:30pm, features director Kate Brooks, director of the Center for Conservation Biology Dr. Sam Wasser and executive director of the Satao Project Gretchen Peters. Hosted by the CBC’s Anna Maria Tremonti.


This is sponsored content. For more information on the Scotiabank Big Ideas series at Hot Docs, please visit www.scotiabank.com/arts