By the final cocktail party of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival (April 30 to May 6), the crowd had thinned to the ever-faithful Canadian contingent and a handful of overseas attendees. Still, the mood at the Rogers Industry Centre (the site of each day’s seminars and each night’s post-event imbibing) remained upbeat as guests chatted and mingled, biding their time for the announcement of the awards. About an hour in, film critic Cameron Bailey took the stage. The expected amount of shushing ensued, then all eyes turned in eager anticipation to see who would walk away a winner .
Recognition of Kate Davis’ Southern Comfort came as no surprise. The film took both the Gold Award for Best International Documentary and the Audience Award. Vision Man, by Swedish filmmaker William Long, won for Best Documentary in the National Spotlight Programme (the focus was on Nordic docs). The Best First Documentary prize was awarded to two French films, Alone With War, by Daniele Arbid, and Living Afterwards, by Laurent Becue-Renard. The top prize for Canadian talent went to Gerry Rogers for her film My Left Breast, clearly a crowd favorite.
Meanwhile, event organizers basked in the glow of a successful event. Many of the screenings were full if not sold out throughout the week, and the panels were well attended through to the very end. Even the final Sunday morning session – a filmmaker discussion titled ‘Working in War-Torn or Dangerous Conditions’ – pulled in a full house. In fact, the audience sat riveted to their seats for an hour and a half as panelists, including Sierra Leone native Sorious Samura and CBC journalist Anna Maria Tremonti, spoke candidly about their experiences.
The Toronto Documentary Forum (May 3 and 4) was an equally big hit. ‘I think it was very good,’ says commissioning editor Bjorn Arvas of Sweden’s SVT. ‘The Amsterdam Forum is three days, and that is quite exhausting. Two days is easier to manage.’ Pitches that particularly interested him were Zhang’s Diner, from Finland’s Making Movies Oy; Vietnam Symphony, by Australia’s Jotz Productions; and Love’s Journey, from U.S. prodco Chilmark Productions.
This year’s event was the first for U.S. distrib Louise Rosen, and she was impressed. ‘I really went into it with no preconceived notions, and was pleasantly surprised at the range that was represented, both in terms of experience of the filmmakers and types of projects that were being offered.’
California-based distributor Eve Joffee, of Powersports Millennium International, returned to the Toronto forum for the second time. Her primary goal was to look for trends and projects she could invest in. ‘I didn’t walk away with any feeling about genre. I did find this year that there’s an even stronger demand from commissioning editors to receive programming in the format of their choice. From a distributor’s standpoint, frankly I find that somewhat distressing,’ she says. ‘To be out there selling three different versions of the same show is not viable for the average distributor, unless that’s written into the budget from the very beginning.’
Arvas, Rosen and Joffee concurred that they’ll return again next year. For Arvas, it’s one of the few events he attends, along with the forum in Amsterdam and the Nordic Forum. Joffee says it’s among her top-five events each year. ‘I felt this year was done in a very professional way,’ she notes. ‘It showed that they learned a lot from last year and implemented what they had learned. Not all organizations will do that, and that’s very much to their credit.’
For the producers point of view on Hot Docs and the Toronto Forum, see the Upfront section of RealScreen‘s June issue.