Fast becoming a must-attend event on the documentary circuit, the seventh annual Hot Docs Canadian Inter-national Documentary Film Festival (May 1-7) drew 1,100 delegates to Toronto’s eclectic ‘Little Italy’ district. Attendees braved the fickle Canadian climate (which ranged from slightly chilly to sweltering) to take in the festival’s screenings, discussions, panels and parties, as well as the launch of the Toronto Documentary Forum. Modeled after the renowned Amsterdam Forum, the Toronto installment proved to be a successful one, with 37 pre-selected projects and three ‘Mountie’s Hat’ picks pitched to an audience of commissioning editors, programming representatives and funding bodies from around the globe (57 attended over the course of the two-day event). (For more information on the pitches, see page 20.)
Possibly the only event this year that did not devote endless hours toward the subject of convergence, Hot Docs’ filmmaker discussions and workshops probed a range of relevant topics, from practical (producing in high definition) to philosophical (ethics and ethnography). Other subjects explored were: personal filmmaking (Is it indulgent or insightful?), the documentary subject, docs on the Net and production in Australia, which complimented the festival’s spotlight on films from Down Under.
Discussions carried over into the festival’s symposium, which took place on May 5 at the historic Royal Theatre. The symposium opened with an engaging keynote address from New York University professor Mark Crispin Miller, who addressed the problem of the ‘corporate takeover’ of cultural industries. The rest of the day was spent pondering the possibility for creative and challenging docs in the context of television, and ended with the question ‘Can filmmakers follow their hearts and still survive?’ Most agreed that the state of documentary funding is in crisis, where docusoaps and docu-tainment dominate the broadcast-driven market, and overall budgets are in decline.
These points were driven home by Hot Docs! Lifetime Achievement award recipients D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, who admitted they rarely get the chance to make the films they want to make. The duo, who are responsible for some of the most remarkable contributions to the direct cinema movement in documentary, including such films as Primary, Town Bloody Hall and Don’t Look Back, revealed that revenue earned from doing more commercially viable work and from their footage archive has kept them afloat over the years. Said Hegedus, ‘Dead rock stars have really kept us alive.’
Although there were no rock stars (dead or alive) present at Hot Docs, the many events and parties managed to attract crowds – and even the police. Party goers literally spilled out the doors of every venue – drinks in hand – much to the chagrin of the prudish Canadian heat, who didn’t hesitate to clear out the Wednesday evening soiree.