Monday Editorial: The Politically Charged Atmosphere of Hot Docs 2024

If taken at face value, the opening weekend of the 2024 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival proceeded as it normally would. First-year president Marie Nelson would introduce the opening film Luther: Never Too Much by referencing her prom and a packed opening night party was held at the historic El Mocambo Tavern. However, there were still reminders of the behind-the-scenes turmoil through a summary published by POV magazine and a Globe and Mail report about departures from the Hot Docs Board of Directors.

This year’s biggest difference is that the atmosphere feels much more politically charged. At three of the screenings I attended this past weekend – Stephen Maing and Brett Story’s Union, Philipp Fussenegger and Judy Landkammer’s Teaches of Peaches, and Jennifer Wickham, Jennifer Wickham, and Brenda Michell’s Yintah – all demanding a permanent ceasefire between Israel and Gaza and condemning Hot Docs platinum sponsor Scotiabank for being one of the largest foreign stockholders of in Elbit Systems, which provides arms to Israel. In addition, at the Teaches of Peaches screening, I overheard some presumably pro-Israel people speak about boycotting the festival, and not donating during their year of financial need, in response to the festival’s statement on the situation in Gaza.

I have been trying to maintain a politically neutral stance during these moments, politely applauding along with the cloud, yet not partaking at loud chants of “SHAME” aimed towards Scotiabank. However, I found it difficult to remain neutral during the screening of Yintah and, to no fault of the film itself, I found myself having to leave the theatre due to heightened discomfort and anxiety. The trigger moment for me was a couple of moments in the film when Prime Minster Justin Trudeau appeared in Yintah and was greeted with boos and hostility from the audience.

I don’t make it a secret that I am a lifelong supporter of the Liberal Party of Canada, but it’s not something I actively advertise either. I believe this is my first time putting such support in writing. While I can understand the reasoning why the audience seeing Yintah would boo Justin Trudeau, ranging from tense relations with the First Nations to the current unpopularity of the Liberal Party, I found myself getting personally upset and unable to focus on the film itself, which is indeed a crucial document on the fight by the Wet’suwet’en Nation to prevent an oil pipeline being built on their land, which also happens to be supported by Scotiabank.

With Yintah currently being one of the frontrunners for the Rogers Audience Award, I am hopeful that I will be able to finish and review the film before the end of the festival. Until then, I will try and remain neutral for the remainder of Hot Docs and try not to let any more politically charged moments upset me. That said, I am quite worried about the festival’s future and I do hope that despite concerns about who’s sponsoring the festival enough people donate to ensure that North America’s biggest documentary film festival continues to happen.

This post was proofread by Grammarly