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For the second edition of the Changing Face of Europe, a collaboration between the Hot Docs film festival (April 25-May 5) and European Film Promotion (EFP), 10 European documentaries will offer Toronto audiences a provocative and kaleidoscopic portrait of the cultural forces shaping the continent today.

The program is a study in both intimate, personal stories and the wide-angle view they can bring to the world. “Filmmakers are both looking outwards, but also looking inwards through the lens of the self to see a greater perspective,” says Shane Smith, the festival’s director of programming. “The most resonant stories are the most personal, in a lot of ways. And that’s the skill of these filmmakers: telling a personal story … that someone half a world away can connect with.”

Some of those personal stories reflect the political and cultural cross-currents sweeping across Europe today. Danish director Marie Skovgaard’s “The Reformist — A Female Imam” follows a determined Muslim woman who opens one of Europe’s first mosques run by women. In “To Share or Not to Share,” by Estonian duo Minna Hint and Meelis Muhu, an Englishman abandons a successful career in London to establish a barter-based community in Estonia, hoping to find a life beyond capitalism. “There’s a lot of personal discovery,” Smith says, “including the seeking of alternatives to prescribed lives and prescribed narratives — looking for other ways to live.”

With women at the helm of more than half the films in this year’s edition of Hot Docs, which runs April 25-May 5, eight of the 10 documentaries in the Changing Face of Europe have a female director or co-director behind the camera. Many also offer revealing portraits of contemporary womanhood.
“Easy Lessons,” by Dorottya Zurbó, is the story of a Somali child bride struggling to build a new life in Hungary. In “#Female Pleasure” (Germany, Switzerland), Barbara Miller offers a rousing portrait of five women from around the world risking their lives to question the patriarchal structures stifling female sexual pleasure.

“Scheme Birds,” by directors Ellen Fiske and Ellinor Hallin (Sweden, U.K.), tells the story of a troubled teenage girl in a Scottish housing estate whose innocent childhood games turn toward crime, a portrait of “a young woman who’s recognizing the cycle of poverty … that she’s trapped in, but also trying to find a way out,” says Smith.

In its second year, the Changing Face of Europe looks to further bridge the gap between filmmakers on either side of the Atlantic. Half of the films in the program will be screening in North America for the first time. “It serves to not only introduce the story, the theme, and the subject to North American audiences, but to introduce those filmmakers … to the North American industry for potential opportunities in developing their careers,” says Smith.

To that end, the program features matchmaking sessions that pair European documentary filmmakers and producers with foreign festival programmers, financiers and distribution platforms. A panel discussion will also highlight opportunities for co-productions between European and Canadian filmmakers.

“For Europeans, it’s important to understand how distribution in North America works. There are just so many more options than we have in Europe,” says Sonja Heinen, managing director of EFP, which represents 38 film support agencies across Europe. “They are financing works in a different way, they are producing in a different way.”

While the Changing Face of Europe offers a small sampling of the continent’s documentary output, Heinen says the program reflects a larger push by EFP to help European stories cross the globe. “We would like to have the films traveling, to have sales agents selling the films,” she says. “We want to promote the films throughout the world.”