For Mike Rubbo, the Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival (April 30 to May 6) in Toronto was a rollercoaster ride. The Sydney-based producer attended the event on somewhat of a dare by Aussie broadcaster the ABC, to find additional funding for his doc Much Ado About Something. Despite a long career in non-fiction, including 25 years with the National Film Board of Canada and two years as a commissioning editor for the ABC, the task was far from easy.
Says Rubbo, ‘The first few days were sheer hell. I couldn’t reach anybody. There was very little access, and what little access there was was being fiercely fought for by literally hundreds of filmmakers. You had this comical situation outside the pitching venue, where commissioning editors would come outside for a cigarette or a breath of air and people would descend on them.’
Rubbo did not have access to the inside of the Forum as he did not apply in time, but it’s an option he would definitely choose next time. ‘It would have been a very sensible way to find the extra money,’ he notes.
Dublin-based filmmaker Eamon McElwee (Gallowglass Pictures), who pitched his film Paddy Moriyasu, was pleased with the leads he gained as a result of the Forum (KCTS in Seattle and SVT in Sweden expressed particular interest), though he’s not surprised he didn’t close any deals. ‘I don’t know that I expected to get hard cash, but it’s good pr for your company and your project, and it’s feel-good for the people you’re working with. In that sense, I found [the Forum] quite positive.’
Outside the Forum, producers used the Rendez-Vous sessions (15-minute meetings scheduled with commissioning editors, awarded using a lottery system) to make an impression. Peter Leahey, of Babelfish Productions in New York, says he found Rendez-Vous useful, but will definitely angle for a spot in the Forum next year. ‘We had talked with a number of commissioning editors in Europe prior to coming to Hot Docs. I tried to see them, but it was really hard.’
Not all producers in attendance were intent on meeting editors, however. Dany Chiasson of Montreal’s Ann Méo Films, was happy to soak up the atmosphere. ‘My main goal was to see what is being done internationally – what approaches and styles of documentaries,’ she says. ‘The second goal was to see what is being done in Canada – what organizations are supporting the documentary festival, like Vision TV, which was a major sponsor. It told me who’s supporting and who’s interested in documentary.’
As for Rubbo, he ultimately walked away satisfied, despite his rocky beginning at the festival. ‘I had a wonderful encounter with [the BBC's] Nick Fraser. He was with a whole bunch of other commissioning editors whom I had been unable to reach, and they suddenly became very friendly… It ended on a high note.’