While the turn of spring inevitably marks a legion of action-packed blockbusters headed to a theatre near you (and who doesn’t love some old-fashioned ass kicking?), it’s also when we most anticipate the multilayered storytelling of true-life documentaries.
Leading this season’s must-sees are Montage of Heck, the sole authorized bio on ’90s rock luminary Kurt Cobain (it counts daughter Frances Bean among executive producers, no less), and the late Albert Maysles’ final project, Iris, which, you guessed it, takes an inside look at the envy-inducing day-to-day of one Iris Apfel (just catch her blush when Kanye says hello!).
But those aren’t the only ones topping our watch list! After sifting through the hundreds of films making their way onto the festival circuit, we’ve picked five of the greatest pop docs of the year.
1. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
Drawing from intimate journals, home videos and unreleased audio, director Brett Morgen follows Kurt Cobain through childhood to his harrowing death in this unflinchingly honest portrait of the oft-romanticized icon.
Where to watch: Cineplex theatres nationwide, May 4 and 7
2. As I Am: The Life and Times of DJ AM
A mastery of the turntable made Adam “DJ AM” Goldstein an uncontested pioneer while propelling him to worldwide celebrity. As I Am looks beyond Goldstein’s status to unveil the lifelong battle that took his life.
Where to watch: Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, Toronto, May 3
All eyes are on 93-year-old Iris Apfel, a celebrated force whose rise to the top of the fashion pack has led to national retrospectives, sold-out collabs, and the utterly fabulous moniker “geriatric starlet.”
Where to watch: DOXA, Vancouver, April 30–May 10; Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, Toronto, May 15–21; Bytowne, Ottawa, May 28–31; Cinema du Park, Montreal, May 29–June 4; Metro, Edmonton, May 29–June 4
4. What Happened, Miss Simone?
Known for her provocative spirit and affecting lyrics, Nina Simone embodied a wildly contentious time in American history. Liz Garbus mines archival footage to carefully explore the jazz legend’s prolific impact.
Where to watch: Netflix, June 26
5. It’s Me, Hilary: The Man Who Drew Eloise
Through high-profile interviews and narration by mega-fan Lena Dunham, Matt Wolf artfully revives the cherished character of Eloise while paying homage to the series’ charmingly outlandish illustrator, Hilary Knight.
Where to watch: HBO Canada, May 10