Hot Docs 2021 Films to Watch

Shamima Begum

THE RETURN: LIFE AFTER ISIS is a feature documentary that paints an intimate yet candid portrait of a group of Western women who devoted their young lives to ISIS, but who now want to be given the chance to rebuild their lives back at home. Generally reviled by a hostile media around the world, these women have granted unique access to director Alba Sotorra in an attempt to have their voices heard. Shamima Begum (UK) and Hoda Muthana (US) made worldwide headlines when they left their countries as teenagers to join ISIS. Now, after the fall of ISIS, they are among hundreds of Western women and children being held in detention camps in northern Syria, unable to return home. None of their countries of origin want them back and, in some cases, like Shamima’s, they have been stripped of the citizenship — a ruling her lawyers are challenging. While the world sees the women as a threat, Sevinaz, a local Kurdish woman who is among the team overseeing the camps, is more forgiving. She runs a writing workshop in the camp, which gives Shamima and Hoda the chance to share their stories. Over time, the women grow in confidence and open up about their personal journeys: why they were attracted to ISIS in the first place, the traumas they faced while living under the ISIS regime, and their fears and hopes for the future.  

The Guy Fawkes mask is an iconic symbol of the Anonymous movement, recognized all over the world. The film explores the origin story of Anonymous and gives us the true reason of why this mask was chosen.

The Face of Anonymous: Commander X (a.k.a. Christopher Doyon) spent time on the streets of Toronto and Mexico hiding from the FBI, but this infamous hacktivist feels most at home on the internet where he gained notoriety. Through his affiliation with Anonymous, the purposefully elusive online network responsible for corporate takedowns and political disruption, Commander X had a platform to espouse his beliefs and befriend powerful figures like Julian Assange. He takes credit for crippling credit card companies that were attempting to sideline Wikileaks and claims a role in the Arab Spring as well. It’s completely reasonable to be skeptical as to why an outspoken Doyon wants to spill the beans about his exploits and expose a group that safeguards its secret identity. But in an era when online conspiracies proliferate widely despite being under immense scrutiny, there may not be a better time to hear from someone who’s been at the vanguard of this information age.  

Lady Buds

Lady Buds – Following the widely praised 2016 decision to legalize cannabis in Californio, USA, six courageous women emerge from the shadows to enter the new commercial industry. As farmers, entrepreneurs and activists, these modern-day pioneers find their initial optimism is quickly replaced with uncertainty and fear as the new legislation favors deep pocketed corporations. Those who shaped the foundations of the cannabis industry for decades soon find themselves struggling to fight for their piece of the American Dream in a market they helped create. Lady Buds features second generation cannabis farmer Chiah Rodriques, 72-year-old African-American retired Catholic School principal turned dispensary owner Sue Taylor, Latin queer activist Felicia Carbajal, serial entrepreneur Karyn Wagner, and Humboldt elders The Bud Sisters. Their stories speak to the many opportunities and issues facing commercial cannabis today: the complicated dynamics of raising a family on a cannabis farm, the ongoing fight for those adversely affected by the War on Drugs, educating senior citizens about the healing power of cannabis, and honoring the LGBTQ activists who fought for legalizing medical marijuana over 25 years ago. At every turn these trailblazers defy stereotypes, while revealing that cannabis is much more than a plant – it’s a community!  

It is Not Over Yet

It is Not Over Yet is an immersive, life-affirming journey into the day-to-day rhythm of a controversial nursing home for people with dementia in Denmark. The founding nurse of Dagmarsminde, May Bjerre Eiby, has no interest in specific dementia diagnoses or medicine since neither improves the quality of life for her 11 residents. Instead, she and her staff have developed a new kind of treatment inspired by the methods introduced by Florence Nightingale 150 years ago, as well as Danish philosopher Logstrup. ‘Compassion Treatment,’ as May calls it, prioritizes hugs, touch, talking, humor, eye contact, cake, nature, bubbles, and the joy of community.  

Having suffered the painful loss of her father due to neglect at a nursing home, Bjerre Eiby is determined to inspire a complete change in the way people with dementia are treated in the healthcare system, prioritizing holistic care and kindness over medication of any kind. Filmmaker Louise Detlefsen’s vérité approach offers unique access into the intimate and sometimes intense moments between residents and caregivers, providing a rarely seen and uplifting experience of aging with dignity, grace, and joy.  


Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest – Kim Cannon Arm is not your average grandpa. With killer hand-eye coordination and a mean mullet, he’s a legendary fixture at Copenhagen’s Bip Bip Bar, and renowned for playing the 80s arcade game Gyruss for 49 hours straight on a single coin. With help from his buddies at the bar, a community of heroic outsiders who support one another no matter what, Kim attempts to obliterate his previous record and play for 100 consecutive hours (four days!). 
Dense with nerdy narration and deep thoughts, quantum physics and pattern recognition, this quest follows Kim and the gang as they apply their collective knowledge to the task at hand—leaving their mark on the world and paying tribute to a fallen friend. 
In this quirky comedy, filmmaker Mads Hedegaard provides a surprisingly philosophical look at legendary world records, quirky hairdos, the importance of community, and what a real hero looks like.