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Big Ideas & Live Events

Throughout the 2021 Hot Docs Festival, there are a number of live events.

Opening Night Live Q&A

Celebrate the opening of the 2021 Hot Docs Festival with a livestreamed Q&A featuring A.rtificial I.mmortality director Ann Shin and special guests—both real and virtual—to dicuss this year’s opening night film.

Artificial Immortality 1

APRIL 29, 7:30 PM // A.rtificial I.mmortality

  • Canada
  • 74
  • World Premiere
  • Ann Shin

As technologies advance faster than our ability to understand their consequences, virtual immortality awaits us through developments in artificial intelligence. For self-help guru Deepak Chopra, this is an opportunity to free our minds from physical constraints. For others it's a Pandora's box of ethical repercussions. What separates us from machines when androids assume our identities? Director Ann Shin explores the broader and more personal implications of a post-biological world by collaborating with programmers and robotics engineers. By uploading her memories to create a digital clone, she gives her future descendants the option to have a simulated conversation with her, rather than rely on photo albums and family memories alone. As her aging father faces a faltering memory, the desire to preserve her own past takes on a new urgency. Our unique desire to become eternal raises fundamental questions about who we truly are and what price we're willing to pay to conquer death. Alexander Rogalski

Big Ideas presented by Scotia Wealth Management

Hear from notable subjects and experts on issues featured in the film. After the live event, the recorded discussion will be available to stream with the film.

Big Ideas presented by
Crave logo

Street Gang 1

APRIL 30, 7:00 PM // Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street

  • USA
  • 107
  • International Premiere
  • Marilyn Agrelo

Meet Sesame Street original cast member Sonia Manzano (Maria) along with director Marilyn Agrelo, and producers Ellen Scherer Crafts and Trevor Crafts, as they discuss the enduring legacy and lessons of this iconic show and the feat (and fun!) of capturing the origin story of Sesame Street in a documentary.

About the film
In the late 1960s, as the US was rocked by dissent and social change, a socially conscious media executive working in the fledgling world of public television was presented with a challenge: could she create a children's show that would "master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them"? Inspired by the civil rights movement, Joan Ganz Cooney envisioned a program that would both entertain and educate, specifically reaching less-advantaged children to fight the educational gap created by racism and poverty. She assembled a team that included Jon Stone, the original director who set the tone and style of the series, and the incomparable Jim Henson, whose Muppets became an iconic part of the magic that is Sesame Street. Featuring exclusive footage from behind the scenes of the first two decades of the show, as well as over 20 original cast and creator interviews, Street Gang introduces us to the people (and the Muppets!) who entertained and educated children like never before. The result was one of the most influential and enduring children's programs in television history.

Playing With Sharks 1

MAY 2, 7:00 PM // Playing with Sharks

  • Australia
  • 91
  • North American Premiere
  • Sally Aitken

Legendary marine conservationist and photographer Valerie Taylor joins director Sally Aitken and producer Bettina Dalton to discuss her pioneering work with sharks, commitment to ocean conservation and the experience of being the subject of the camera instead of wielding it.

About the film
Asked if swimming with sharks is dangerous, Valerie Taylor, the preeminent underwater photographer, filmmaker and shark advocate, chides that "even a cup of tea can burn you." That blend of disarming adventurer and sheer nerve fuelled an unmatched career that brought the wonder of sharks to the world. Valerie and her husband Ron were the first ever to film great white sharks without cage protection, the first to capture a white-tip feeding frenzy for their landmark 1971 documentary Blue Water, White Death, and she personally shot the near-lethal live scenes that would make Jaws a global phenomenon. But her work also had unforeseen consequences, glorifying the dangers sharks pose rather than the respect nature's most perfect predators deserve. As only 10 per cent of the world's shark populations survive today, her marine conservation work may pose the riskiest challenge yet. Vowing to dive in a wheelchair if necessary, Taylor shines in this captivating portrait of everlasting determination. Myrocia Watamaniuk

We Work 1

MAY 4, 7:00 PM // WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn

  • USA
  • 101
  • International Premiere
  • Jed Rothstein

Featuring Maria Ressa, Rappler co-founder, executive editor and CEO


Join director Jed Rothstein, as well as subject and Wall Street Journal reporter Maureen Farrell and subject and former WeWork employee Megan Mallow, for a provocative discussion about the community-centric, people-first ideal that sent the little co-working venture sky-rocketing into unicorn investment territory—and what was really going on behind the scenes.

About the film
How did the idea of sharing office space snowball into a 47-billion-dollar corporate valuation and one of Wall Street's most infamous flameouts? WeWork CEO Adam Neumann spread his message of harnessing collective business energy to a willing millennial crowd so spectacularly, his hippie spin on what was essentially a real estate start-up attracted a messianic following. Scores of celebrities, interns and kombucha-swilling entrepreneurs gladly handed over their money, but where were the grown-ups? In this post–prime mortgage era, how could the world's most powerful powerbrokers be fleeced again? And how could Neumann walk away from his IPO dumpster fire unscathed and a billionaire? Academy Award–nominated filmmaker Jed Rothstein (Killing in the Name, The China Hustle) assembles WeWork insiders, financial analysts and key journalists to explain the unbelievably bombastic rise and fall of an investment unicorn. Myrocia Watamaniuk

Mau 4

MAY 5, 7:00 PM // Mau

  • Austria, USA
  • 76
  • International Premiere
  • Benji Bergmann
  • Jono Bergmann

Design visionary Bruce Mau and partner Bisi Williams Mau join directors Benji Bergmann and Jono Bergmann for a fascinating conversation about creativity and the relationship between filmmaker and subject, maintaining optimism during times of crisis, designing your life and building a better world for all.

About the film
Directors Benji and Jono Bergmann deliver an intimate portrait of Canada's own legendary designer Bruce Mau. Diving into the roots of his childhood in Sudbury, Mau reveals the hardships he faced growing up and how those experiences inform his ways of seeing. He often sought escape by venturing into the woods near his childhood home, an experience that went on to define one of his key design principles: "Think Like You Are Lost?in the?Forest." From creating Coca Cola's global sustainability platform, to reimagining a 1,000-year plan for Mecca, to designing a social movement in Guatemala, Mau revolutionized traditional approaches to design. He continues his work through the Toronto-based educational program and studio Institute without Boundaries and the touring exhibition Massive Change. Working with some of the most renowned designers and architects in the world, such as Rem Koolhaas and Frank Gehry, he approaches each project with a central question: will this be a design for destruction or for a sustainable new world? Heather Haynes

Subjects Of Desire 1

MAY 6, 7:00 PM // Subjects of Desire

  • Canada
  • 103
  • Canadian Premiere
  • Jennifer Holness

Jully Black (singer, songwriter and international recording artist) and Cheryl Thompson (author and assistant professor, School of Creative Industries, Ryerson University) join director Jennifer Holness for a timely, thought-provoking discussion about the cultural shift in beauty standards towards embracing Black aesthetics and features, and how this impacts our understanding of race, power and the construction of beauty.

About the film
Since 1968, the Miss Black America beauty pageant has been celebrating and upholding the philosophy "Black is Beautiful." Capturing the 50th anniversary edition of this once-revolutionary event, the film dives deeper and deconstructs the contemporary meaning of the phrase. It looks at how shifting global beauty standards are moving towards embracing Black aesthetics, but, as one of the contestants points out, on the backs of Black women. Why is it that the same Black features are more desirable when they're on the body of a white woman? In the face of this contradiction, today's Miss Black America contestants embrace all the different variations of what it means to be a Black woman in North America. Featuring interviews with India Arie, Amanda Parris and Rachel Dolezal, Subjects of Desire offers a much-needed deconstruction of the intersection of race and the power of beauty. Aisha Jamal

Hot Docs Awards Presentation

Join us for a livestream of our annual Awards Presentation, where the winners of our competitive programs will be announced and we celebrate all the outstanding filmmakers in this year’s Festival. Over $70,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded.

Watch live on Friday, May 7, 7:00 PM

Rogers Audience Award Announcement

On the Festival’s final night, join us to celebrate our Canadian filmmakers and to announce the winners of this year’s Rogers Audience Award for the best Canadian documentaries. The top five films, as determined by audience poll, will split the $50,000 cash prize, courtesy of the Rogers Group of Funds.

Watch live on Sunday, May 9, 7:00 PM

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