Home Entertainment Hot Docs’ European Program Explores Bodily Autonomy, Rise of Right-Wing, Labor Conditions...

Hot Docs’ European Program Explores Bodily Autonomy, Rise of Right-Wing, Labor Conditions in EU


The seventh edition of The Changing Face of Europe, a section in Toronto’s Hot Docs Film Festival, explores the cultural, economic and political forces shaping contemporary Europe.

From an investigation of a right-wing group in Fabien Greenberg and Bård Kjøge Rønning’s “Norwegian Democrazy” to the fight for bodily freedom in Elina Psykou’s “Stray Bodies,” this year’s selection broaches a series of urgent — and, at many times, highly-sensitive — sociopolitical topics at the forefront of European society from filmmakers who may not always get the support they need within the international festival landscape.

“The section is very important because it allows us to get films from filmmakers who we wouldn’t normally get films from,” Hot Docs festival programming director Heather Haynes tells Variety. “It helps create an exchange and communication between what’s happening in Europe and what we are doing at Hot Docs.”

The Changing Face of Europe, which is presented in partnership with European Film Promotion, will stage the world premiere of Helen Lõhmus and Leana Jalukse’s “Kelly – Someone Else’s Dream.” The film uncovers the parental abuse suffered by Estonian freestyle skier Kelly Sildary, who became the youngest gold medalist at a Winter X Games event at the age of 13. “In Estonia, this story started a snowball. As a society, we need to figure out if a 13 year old should be an Olympic winner,” says Lõhmus.

“We used to have gladiators, but we don’t do this anymore. As a society, we need to ask ourselves questions,” she continues. “Is this what we want youth sports to become? The youth sports industry is growing exponentially so of course the stakes are high but wasn’t this supposed to be fun and games?”

“Kelly – Someone Else’s Dream”
Courtesy of European Film Promotion

Emmanuelle Béart and Anastasia Mikova’s “Such a Resounding Silence” portrays another type of familial abuse, delving into the incest suffered by the “Mission: Impossible” actress and three other survivors. “For Emmanuelle, it was important to co-direct because it’s her story,” says Mikova, adding that the timing of the film follows a wide conversation about incest in French society after the publication of “The Familia Grande” by Camille Kouchner.

With “Woman of God,” Maja Prettner also prodded at a taboo as she followed a Slovenian village pastor who spoke candidly about being the victim of sexual abuse. “[The film] is about a woman saying that she felt good at the moment of abuse, which is shocking to hear, but I imagine there are other traumatized women feeling the same and the guilt is even bigger because they don’t know how to explain these feelings. This is a story about forgiveness,” Prettner says.

Lauded Greek filmmaker Psykou faced a backlash to the controversial poster for her first documentary feature, “Stray Bodies,” at its world premiere at the Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival, but says she is still looking forward to sharing her film about bodily autonomy with audiences. “The backlash got a lot of exposure and to be honest I haven’t yet understood what happened. I made the film wanting to open a discussion about the freedom of our bodies and the European Union. It’s a film that doesn’t give you answers but starts a dialogue instead.”

“Both in Europe and North America governments have become more and more conservative,” Pskou adds. “We have many differences between the continents but the world is becoming more and more conservative. This is something that unites us.”

“Echo of You”
Courtesy of European Film Promotion

In “Norwegian Democrazy,” Greenberg and Kjøge Rønning closely observe the leader of Stop the Islamization of Norway (SIAN) in an investigation of the limits of freedom of expression. “We had ethical concerns about whether the film would become a platform for this right-wing leader to spread his message, but we are firm in our belief that undressing the extremist movement can give the audience a deeper understanding of how not to follow their prejudice,” says Kjøge Rønning.

“The film is about freedom of speech and investigating its limits,” adds Greenberg. “Look at the U.S. with a man like Trump and how he is pushing the limits of what you can say.”

Speaking of limits, with “Limits of Europe,” Czech director Apolena Rychlíková follows a lauded journalist as she goes undercover as a cheap migrant laborer in different European countries to expose the reality of late-stage capitalism. “This film is not only about labor but about human dignity and how easy it is to become somebody without a face and a history. All of us are human and I would like everyone to have access to a normal life,” highlights Rychlíková.

“Stray Bodies”
Courtesy of European Film Promotion

While most films in The Changing Face of Europe touch on highly sensitive subjects of abuse and a grave lack of human rights from a first-person perspective, the three final films in the strand — although still openly political and timely — touch on wider societal issues. Zara Zerny’s “Echo of You” beautifully depicts elderly people speaking about love and loss; Edoardo Morabito’s “The Outpost” follows a Scottish eco-warrior trying to organize a Pink Floyd concert to raise attention about the conservation of the Amazon rainforest and László Csáki’s “Pelikan Blue,” Hungary’s first animated documentary feature, follows a group of young people in the aftermath of the fall of the Iron Curtain.

“Hollywood is obsessed with the young and I think falling in love as an 80-year-old is just as strong, if not stronger, than when you’re 18,” says Zerny, adding that, “even though elderly people can’t work anymore, they still have so much to offer. It’s vital to preserve their dignity. We need to understand how we can use the elderly in our society.”

Adam Felszeghy, the producer behind “Pelikan Blue,” wants the film to speak to the young. “The film is about young people who were so hopeful at the time because suddenly they had MTV and all these new things that were so colorful and in direct contrast with the previous socialist regime. I think it’s important to give this perspective to younger audiences because we are far from the 90s now and can see the drawbacks of capitalism, but back then you couldn’t.”

“The Outpost” also touches upon the barriers between now and then and the ripples of war and colonization. “If the Amazon forest dies the consequences will be felt in Sicily too. The film deals with European problems because we Europeans have colonized half the world, destabilizing social and political realities even on the other side of the ocean,” says Morabito. “Many current problems depend on us, on how we have messed up this planet. Cinema must ask how we can see this world differently.”