As an international festival based in the culturally diverse city of Toronto, the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival (April 30 to May 6) has made a point of living up to expectations. The 70 films selected for screening have been divided up into three distinct categories: Canadian Spectrum (28 docs); International Showcase (30, nine of which are American); and National Spotlight (12), which this year focuses on Nordic documentaries.
Despite the controlled number of American films, the opening night doc was a U.S. entry – Startup.com, directed by Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim, and produced by D.A. Pennebaker. The buzz following the screening was favorable, though the film’s ending was the source of some debate.
As the crowd moved from the cinema to the opening night party (held at Toronto’s Fly nightclub), several familiar faces from the festival and market circuit were visible, including ABC Australia’s Dasha Ross, Mette Hoffmann Meyer of TV2 Denmark, the BBC’s Nick Fraser, Marie Natanson of the CBC’s current affairs documentary unit and Iikka Vehkalahti YLE TV2 in Finland.
Earlier in the day, the scheduled producer seminars got underway, starting with ‘Meet and Greet the Canadian Commissioning Editors’. From there, topics have broadened out to include (among others) ‘Know Thy Market’ and ‘Navigating the Nordic Landscape’. While the panelists generally represent a good international mix, the audience tends to be predominantly Canadian , so many of the discussions have ultimately had a Canadian slant.
At the ‘Know Thy Market’ seminar, panelists – Jan Rofekamp, Films Transit in Montreal; Paul Black, Minds Eye International in Regina, Canada; Nancy Walzog, Tapestry International in New York; and Mark Atkin of Australia’s SBS International – concurred that broadcasters everywhere are looking inward for content, though such genres as history and science tend to have international legs. Rofekamp advised Canadian producers to make sure they have established 40% to 50% of funding at home before searching beyond domestic borders. Atkin pointed out that although the SBS rates are not high – AUS$7,000 (US$3,650) per hour for a pre-buy – the Aussie broadcaster picks up 350 doc hours from the international market per year.
The ‘Navigating the Nordic Landscape’ seminar introduced producers to the circuit of film institutes (national, regional and inter-Nordic) across the north European countries, including Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden. More than one panelist commented that the funding structure in their region is a relative paradise for doc-makers. For filmmakers looking for a home for their short docs, Sweden-based producer Antonio Russo Merenda (Hysteria Film) noted that Swedish Television has an established slot for one to five-minute shorts. Merenda was joined on stage by panelists Tue Steen Mueller, director of the European Documentary Network; Norwegian producer Hans Otto Nicolaysen, of Bergen Film; YLE TV2′s Vehkalahti; and TV2 Denmark’s Meyer.