Toronto’s 2016 Hot Docs Festival is approaching its halfway point, and a number of films have played—and will play again—that in one way or another cover urban issues, and will transport the urban enthusiast to unfamiliar, sometimes exotic cities across the globe. Some of the issues they face are those that we also face in Toronto, while others deal with very different problems. Either way, these films offer those who love cities an in-depth look at places you will likely never get to see otherwise.

Café Désirs: introduces us to a conflicted society and the stunning city of Constantine, Algeria

Café Désirs

Few UrbanToronto readers will ever have heard of Constantine—Algeria's third largest city—but it's somewhere that the adventurous will suddenly have on their must-visit lists after being immersed in its charms and mysteries in Café Désirs. Situated atop a cliff's edge, and with a deep waterfall-laden gorge running through the middle of it, the ancient Constantine provides a remarkable setting for an exploration of a repressed culture looking for ways to break free of haram—the restriction of freedoms placed on society following Algeria's dark decade of 1992-2002. Director Raymonde Provencher's gorgeous film will have you asking yourself what your city affords you, and whether you feel you've found your place in it.

Friday, May 6, 12:30 PM, Scotiabank Theatre • Look for Tickets 

A military police helicopter tries to pacify a favela in Rio de Janiero in In The Shadow Of The Hill

In The Shadow Of The Hill

Australian filmmaker Dan Jackson's deep-dive into Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro's largest favela, will have you rapt. In The Shadow Of The Hill chronicles turbulent times as Brazil's BOPE, an elite military police force, move in to Rocinha to "pacify" it in advance of the World Cup and Olympic Games. It seems that the BOPE have just replaced the drug traffickers as the bad boys on the block as people still disappear without a trace. Stunning photography and intimate access to this marginalized but vibrant community will give you far more insight into what's going on in the lead up to the world's number one event of this summer. Amazing.

Friday, May 6, 9:15 PM Scotiabank Theatre • Look for Tickets

My Land: a farming family holds out against urbanization on Beijing's edges

My Land

Farmers don't directly own land in China, so when the village council "sells" the land that migrant worker Chen Jun and his family grow vegetables on for development, the family has to leave and take the meagre compensation offered to them, or put up a fight. My Land covers this saga—occurring in so many places in China—in this case on the outskirts of Beijing, where farmers are undervalued and the value they've put into the land is discounted. Years of conflict, determination, and perseverance are captured by the subjects and director Jian Fan.

Wednesday, May 4, 9:45 PM Scotiabank Theatre • Saturday, May 7, 4:30 PM Innis Town Hall • Look for Tickets

A planned propaganda film offers behind-the-scenes look at Pyongyang in Under The Sun

Under The Sun

Director Vitaly Mansky was hired to produce a film touting a watershed moment for Zin-Mi and her family when the eight-year-old joins the (North) Korean Children's Union. Footage that was meant to celebrate the accomplishment, however, is mixed with all the outtakes, showing how stage-managed, hollow, and exasperating the attempt to create some feel-good propaganda actually was. As part of the fascinating fun of Under The Sun, Pyongyang's banalities—through both the personal lives of its citizens and the effect of its architecture, which is both monumental and soul-crushing at the same time—plays out in every attempt to handle what's seen, while what's true is captured when no-one realized the camera was still rolling.

Saturday, May 7, 12:30 PM, Scotiabank Theatre • Rush Tickets Only

Poverty has shaped a Montréal neighbourhood, not all for the worse, in A Centre-Sud Tale

A Centre-Sud Tale / Sleeping With Family

Life in poorer neighbourhoods in Canada's two largest cities is considered in a feature film and short that are playing together. In A Centre-Sud Tale, feature director Danic Champoux turns the camera on his mother and her friends as they go about their lives in Montreal's Centre-Sud neighbourhood. Danic's mother is ashamed of her lot in life but Danic is not, and he looks to show the nobility of having grown up poor. His camera finds both what he wants to see and what his mother despairs of in this sympathetic but realistic portrayal of Centre-Sud life.

Teamed up with it is Nicole Bazuin and Darren O'Donnell's Sleeping With Family, a short film from Toronto's Parkdale neighbourhood where each interviewee is a teenager having to share a one-bedroom apartment with their whole family. How they cope with a situation that few of us will have ever contemplated will surprise. Short and sweet, the 10-minute film suggests we're just looking at the tip of the iceberg, and one hopes the filmmakers will return for a fuller look at life here.

Friday, May 6, 4:15 PM, Scotiabank Theatre • Look for Tickets

Ozersk, Russia, is a closed city now opened up to scrutiny for us in City 40

City 40

Jumping from the most familiar of the settings to the least, Samira Goetschel's City 40 takes a camera to one of Russia's secret, or closed, cities—Ozersk—where materials for nuclear bombs, power plants, and medical isotopes have been created for decades now, and where citizens are paying the price with their health. All city dwellers have to deal with some pollution, but in Ozersk (also spelled Ozyorsk), which didn't even appear on maps until after the iron curtain fell, radiation remains from one of the worst nuclear accidents in history. One woman is advocating for the city's residents, and the state is not too happy about it.

Fri, May 6, 6:30 PM, Innis Town Hall • Sun, May 8, 6:15 PM, Isabel Bader Theatre • Look for Tickets


Of course this is just a short list of HotDocs’ offerings, but ones that people who care particularly about cities will find very interesting. The links take you to the official website to find tickets to those that interest you, and do explore more of Hot Doc's offerings. It's been a terrific year so far!