Toronto was a-buzz Thursday evening at the kick off the popular Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival.  North America’s essential international documentary market event, this year’s Festival is comprised of 232 films from 51 countries; 61 of those films are Canadian.

2017 is a major year for the ever-growing Festival, not only because submissions continue in staggering numbers, but also because — due to a $5 million grant that enabled Hot Docs to purchase the theatre which had served as its home base — Thursday’s opening was the first opening night to occur in the new Hot Docs Ted Rogers cinema.

Hot Docs 2017 kicked off with a world premiere screening of the anticipated Bee Nation.  The inspiring documentary follows Kahkewistahaw First Nation Reserve students as they prepare to compete, for the first time, in Canada’s National Spelling Bee.  The story shares the tensions involved in the competition as well as an intimate depiction of what life is like for those on the reserve.

Why make this film? Director Lana Šlezić told the audience it was “partly out of ignorance… You don’t really know something to be true until you see it for yourself.”  She explained more about her process and discoveries in an exclusive Q & A after the screening…  before guests moved on to the night’s other awaited event, Hot Docs’ opening night party at the Royal Ontario Museum.

In addition to Bee Nation which will screen again this week, other standouts of the Festival include Chasing Coral, Becoming Bond, Can I Be Me, Gilbert, and Bill Nye: Science Guy.