New life for old films through Hot Docs

Hot Docs plans to launch an online library next month, providing free, public access to some 200 documentaries.
December 21, 2009

Toronto-based international doc fest Hot Docs plans to launch an online library next month, providing free, public access to some 200 documentaries.

‘This is going to be good visibility,’ said Brett Hendrie, Hot Docs managing director, during a recent sneak peek of the Doc Library at Telefilm Canada’s Toronto office.

‘We want to kick-start a Canadian audience for online viewing of Canadian docs, and we’ve got an audience of 122,000 doc lovers in Toronto alone,’ he added, noting that the figure marks the attendance of the ’09 festival.

The initial offering will be a 50/50 split of Hot Docs’ shorts and features, ranging from 1956′s Skidrow by the late Allan King to Crimes of the Heart, John Haslett Cuff’s more recent take on adultery.

‘People always ask ‘Where can I see this film?” Haslett Cuff said. He’s enthusiastic about the library because, he notes, ‘it’s always very, very difficult to get distribution,’ and he wants people to see his work.

The library will not screen docs currently in circulation, says Hendrie. ‘We don’t want to compete with active theatrical distribution or broadcasting,’ he says. The library will be made up of ‘older titles that are not available through conventional means, effectively giving these films a new life,’ he explains.

‘We’re taking our [Hot Docs] brand and helping filmmakers get their work in front of online audiences,’ he adds, noting the new website will be separate from its password-only sales tool Doc Shop. The sister sites will be linked with the main Hot Docs site and relaunched as a package in January.

The new library has a price tag of approximately $800,000 over three years, says Hendrie. Canadian Heritage kicked in $400,000 and the balance is being covered by the festival, the OMDC and the City of Toronto.

The Doc Library will also include titles from ‘partner festivals and libraries’, says Hendrie, including docs from the NFB, the Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montreal, imagineNATIVE and the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival. The NFB has made a similar push online, most notably with the recent launch of its iPhone app.

It will include films by documentarians such as Jennifer Baichwal, Nettie Wild, Avi Lewis, Serge Giguere, Jean-Daniel Lafond, Alan Zweig, Kevin McMahon and Shelley Saywell.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.