As the 2015 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival kicks off in Toronto today (April 23), Industry Programs director Elizabeth Radshaw (pictured, left) talks to realscreen about admitting master documentarian Frederick Wiseman (right) to the Forum and putting doc shorts in the spotlight and online.
When documentarian Frederick Wiseman takes his seat around the Forum roundtable next Thursday (April 30) to pitch his 40th film, In Jackson Heights, it will be his first time pitching at the Canadian event. His wasn’t an application the Hot Docs team was anticipating, but it served as a pointed reminder that no filmmaker is insulated from shifts in the industry.
“He’s someone that we were very pleased [about] when he applied, but we also thought, ‘Wait a minute, what’s Fred Wiseman applying to the Forum for?’” Elizabeth Radshaw tells realscreen, adding that Wiseman is to further discuss the venture in a special ‘In Conversation’ industry event next Wednesday (April 29).
The master filmmaker’s study of the Queens, New York neighborhood is one of 19 projects being pitched at the Forum, which sees entries from both veteran documentarians and newcomers on what Radshaw describes as “a level playing field for all experiences.”
An Honest Liar director Tyler Measom is pitching a film on MTV titled New Sensation, while Checkpoint filmmaker Yoav Shamir presents his latest offering The New Missionaries, and Hugo Berkeley – whose film Why Poverty? – Land Rush took home a Peabody Award in 2013 – is at the Forum with The Jazz Ambassadors.
Meanwhile, the event also welcomes new documentary filmmakers such as Magdalena Szymkow, who comes with her found-footage portrait of Polish writer and journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski, Reporter; as well as Marouan Omara, who is to pitch his work on the Egyptian beach resort of Sharm El Sheikh, Dream Away.
The Forum received 150 submissions this year, but Radshaw says it’s difficult to pin down a specific theme. She notes that films on major political issues such as ISIS as well as environmental films generally come through with a lot of attention but aren’t always selected.
“They have to be outstanding and outspoken projects that meet the needs of excellence and creativity in storytelling and filmmaking,” Radshaw advises.
As for who the filmmakers will be addressing, this year’s crop of commissioners include representatives from Al Jazeera America, Al Jazeera English, ARTE, ARTE/ZDF, BBC Storyville, CANAL +, CBC, CNN Films, DR Danish Broadcasting Corporation and EBS. Remaining broadcasters include France Télévisions, HBO Europe, NDR, Netflix, NHK, PBS, RAI 3, SBS Television, Shaw Media, SRC, SVT Sveriges Television, Showtime, Super Channel, TVOntario, WDR, YLE and ZDF.
Elsewhere, returning Forum mainstays include the “real cash, no strings attached” Cuban Hat Award, for which money is collected by Forum observers during the course of the two-day event and later presented to their favorite pitch, determined by ballot; as well as the Shaw Media-Hot Docs Forum Pitch Prize, which awards a CAD$10,000 (US$8,150) cash prize to the best Canadian pitch, and the Entertainment One Mounties’ Hat Pitch, which gives one observer the chance to pitch their project.
Lastly, alongside the Forum is Hot Docs’ one-on-one, pitch meeting Dealmaker program, which matches curated projects with buyers and funders in pre-scheduled meetings.
Addressing broader industry programming, Radshaw highlighted the launch of the Hot Docs Short Film Pitch, which sees six filmmaking teams pitch their short doc projects to an audience and panel of judges for the chance to win a portion of the BravoFACT-sponsored $75,000 prize. The event – which takes place on April 30 at Toronto’s Revival Bar – is part of a mission to provide doc shorts with a commercial after-life.
“Once these films are done, and they go on the festival circuit and they come out, how do you generate revenue from them if your film is 24 minutes long, or 11 minutes long?” says Radshaw.
One solution has been the creation of curated compilations under the ‘Hot Docs Short Docs’ banner, which have joined the Hot Docs Collection of festival films on iTunes: an initiative Radshaw also bills as a response to the festival’s 2014 audience research report, which found that doc audiences were under-served in Canada.
“When we conducted our study, we learned a lot from it,” she says. “Specifically, that our doc audiences outside of the festival wanted to watch documentaries in more places and have more access to them. And the store – whether it be iTunes or any of our platform partners – is exactly that place of discovery.”